4 Steps to a Great HIIT Workout

In a couple of recent posts, (here and here) I discussed the science behind High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT Training. In those posts, I discussed why HIIT is an essential tool in developing complete physical fitness as well as being a VERY effective fat burning tool.

I have also designed a custom HIIT workout geared to improve your vertical jump, click here.

Today’s post will give you the tools to develop your own HIIT or Sprint Training program.

The 4 Steps to a Great HIITWorkout

1. Exercise Selection

Most of the research studies into HIIT have relied on stationary bicycles or ergo-meters to test the effectiveness of this training protocol. Mainly this is due to the need for these studies to control all of the variables in a closed laboratory setting. Kinesiology lab = Stationary bike.

You, however, are not limited to an exercise bike, treadmill or ergo-meter (stationary rowing machine). HIIT or Sprint Training requires an all-out effort followed by an ‘active’ rest period. As long as you choose exercises that are fully challenging your body for the entire sprint portion, you are limited only by your imagination.

My two caveats are that

  1. You should choose big compound exercises that use as many muscles as possible.
  2. You should choose exercises that involve continuous movement. There should be little to no resting during the exercise – i.e. no bench press, power cleans where you drop the bar to the floor.

Here are some suggestions:

Cardio machines

  • Bike
  • Treadmill – be careful transitioning from sprint to recovery – some treadmills are more suited to this type of exercise than others – Back in the day, I used to keep the treadmill at a fast clip and increase the incline for my sprint and then (as quickly as I could hit the ‘decline elevation’ key, bring the treadmill level for the active rest portion.
  • Elliptical – Same warning as the treadmill
  • Ergo-meter / Stationary Flywheel Rowing Machine
  • Versaclimber, VersaPulley

Body Wight Exercises

  • Sprinting – track, indoor, outdoor, cross-country, etc.
  • Hill Sprints
  • Sand dune sprints
  • Swimming
  • Road cycling – My be difficult to coordinate HIIT if you have to deal with traffic
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Burpees
  • Think gym class calisthenics or take a look at some of the crossfit videos on you tube.

External Resistance Exercises

This is where you are really limited only by your imagination and your common sense. Remember, you should be going full out. Moves that are too complex won’t work when you hit that great big wall of pain.

2. Volume

Simply put, as you increase the volume of your HIIT work, your anaerobic endurance improves and the amount of caloric burn increases.

I have included a linear Volume Progression chart for you to follow. Beginners should start with 1 x 20 minute workout per week. Trainees with a good aerobic / anaerobic base can start with 2 x 20 minute workouts per week.

Don’t underestimate HIIT. It’s not like aerobic or standard resistance training. There is a strong neuro-muscular component to this training. You will over train if you are not careful.

Work to increase your volume to the maximum recommended 3 x 30 minute workouts per week before increasing the intensity or eternal load.

3. Intensity

I am defining intensity in reference to the ratio of sprint time to active rest time. In the McMaster University study, the participants struggled with a 1:9 – Sprint:Active Rest Ratio.

My Intensity Progression Chart takes you from a 1:9 ratio all the way to a 1:3 ratio.

In each Sprint:Recovery Ratio Category, I have provided guidelines based on 4 different sprint durations. Feel free to jump back and forth between sprint durations in between workouts. A 10 second sprint is not necessarily any harder than a 30 second sprint. Depending upon your individual fitness, you may find the 30 second sprint harder than the 10 second, while your training partner may be the complete opposite.

My advice; do whichever length is the hardest for you.

Beginners will start out with the 1:9 Ratio and progress through to the 1:3 Ratio.

The range of Sprints per Workout is to accommodate your improvements in HIIT Volume Progression. In the 1:3 Ratio workout, 30 second sprints performed for 20 minutes will result in a total of 10 sprints. As you progress to a 30 minute workout, you will be doing 15 sprints.

4. External Load

The final step to a great HIIT workout is external load.

Increase the resistance on your cardio machine. Increase the weight of the dumbbell. Or use one of my favorite tools, the X Vest. A less expensive brand of weighted vest is available here.

This is the final step on your path to a great HIIT / Sprint Training Workout.

To Review

  • Choose your HIIT exercise carefully. Big muscle groups, constant motion, not too complex to perform when you are tired, availability in the gym and hopefully something you enjoy performing.
  • Increase your HIIT Volume
  • Increase your HIIT Intensity
  • Increase your external load

With just these 4 steps, you have an endless number of HIIT workout options.

For a custom HIIT geared to improve your vertical jump, click here.

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