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Even running up and down the steps can qualify as HIIT training. You don't need equipment to get your heart racing. Photo by Bruno Nascimento

The DAO of HIIT

HIIT (High intensity interval training) is an important ingredient in your cardio soup. It is an excellent fat burner, and has an after-burn effect of raising your metabolism and burning more overall calories during the day. Plus. challenges your agility, and makes you feel, well, superhuman!

Cardio, as I explain in this article, is important to a holistic approach to health and exercise. HIIT is like an amazing accessory that makes the entire outfit. Read on to get the quickest, most effective workouts you can knock out twice a week.

What’s the skinny?

  • This article reviews the best HIIT workouts I most recommend, which can be part of my overall recommended fitness program you can find here.
  • If you want to explore treadmill and cycling type of workouts, I would recommend visiting my post on the Equinox+ and Peloton apps. Besides machine-related HIIT workouts, they also have HIIT classes
  • This summary calls out HIIT-specific workouts apps and programs, including ones you can do in under 7 minutes.

What is HIIT?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a highly efficient cardio workout that alternates periods of short, intense bursts of exercise with periods of less-intense activity.

You can do HIIT by varying speeds of running, boxing, or cycling. You can even use tradition cardio machines, like the elliptical, for HIIT workouts. Or, you can do full-body HIIT workouts, which combine plyometrics usually with strength training as part of active recovery. I personally like to mix it up.

Why is HIIT effective?

HIIT burns more fat and creates a greater afterburn (technically known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC) than steady cardio at a lower intensity. It also elevates your metabolism more than other forms of cardio. And the kicker is these intervals, when done correctly at 85 percent to 100 percent effort, can be knocked out in as few as 20 to 30 minutes, though I like to add them to the end of a circuit-training session for 30 to 60 seconds.

How often should you do HIIT

To reap the benefits of HIIT, the general recommendation is 1-2 times a week. You generally would not want to go over 3 times a week for several reasons. First, this can take time away from steady state cardio, which is still an important part of a holistic fitness approach. While HIIT has more afterburn effect, steady state cardio is what will help you manage your overall calorie balance. Second, the stress HIIT can cause to your body, particularly to your heart and the microtears in your muscles, needs recovery. You should allow at least 48 hours to elapse between HIIT workouts to ensure maximum recovery.

How long does the workout need to be?

This is the good news about HIIT. You can do it in as little as 7 minutes. Generally, the sweet spot is 10-15 minutes, and then allowing an extra 5 for warm up and cool down. So for example, you were doing HIIT running intervals on the treadmill, you would walk and warm up for 5 minutes, do intervals for 10, and cool down for 5.

How long does a HIIT interval last?

This really depends on your level of fitness and what type of workout you are doing. So, if you are just getting back into things you probably don’t want to start sprinting for a minute. Apps like Peleton already have pre-designed HIIT workouts for the bike or treadmill. Many apps also have HIIT workouts where they build in the interval time plus the rest and recovery time – some even allow you to customize. I wouldn’t get bogged down in the formula. The idea is to feel like you are pushing yourself and that you NEED the recovery to catch your breath. It becomes more intuitive the more you do it.

woman jumping near white wall paint
HIIT elevates YOU to elevaate your heart rate. Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

Best HIIT workouts and apps

TMAC FITNESS – 20-MINUTE WORKOUTS WITH A TOM BRADY DOPPELGANGER

TMAC FITNESS is a 20 minute no equipment, no excuse workout. Todd McCullough is an ex-football star turned founder of major fitness brand. Having trained with him personally in California, I can vouch for his passion and ability to push you to the limits. His HIIT program is a pre-scheduled mix of 20 minute HIIT workouts, all only requiring a yoga mat, with 20 minute “flush cardio” workouts. The idea is that you are supposed to mix up breaking down muscle with HIIT and then “flushing out” the lactic acid buildup the next day with cardio. Each workout is LITERALLY 20 minutes, including the warmup and cooldown, which usually infuse yoga components like downward dog and a savasana meditation. He often includes like-minded fitness entrepreneurs, like from mindbody green or local yoga studios, in his videos. Each video features someone doing the modified version versus the more advanced version.

He also offers a daily “mindright” meditation. You can find him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Although this is technically not an app it works well on a smartphone. If you want a schedule all figured out for you and step by step guidance by a buff man who is easy on the eyes, this is the app for you. 

HIIT by Down dog

. HIIT by Down dog is a standalone app of a family of apps by Down dog including Yoga (which is reviewed in my Yoga, Barre and Pilates app). You can customize your workout based on time (as little as five minutes) and level of difficulty for legs, core and arms. You can also customize the intervals and the rest between each.

The style of instruction is a demo model doing the exercises with voice-over guided instruction, which is simple and non-distracting. Another nice feature that ensures your momentum is not interrupted is that the workout model demos the next move in the five seconds that you have left of rest so that you know what is coming, how to do it, and can go straight into it without having to look at the screen.

INTERVAL TIMER – HIIT TRAINER

For HIIT cardio intervals, the interval app is for you. Sure you can probably look at the timer on the machine, or use a stopwatch on your device, but this keeps you organized and honest, It is a simple app that tracks HIIT intervals, even when the phone is locked. and It syncs with your music pretty easily. 

Note if you have the SWEAT APP, you don’t need an interval timer because that is already built into the HIIT workouts incorporated into the routines. 

Here is an example of machines you can use to do HIIT:

  • Rower
  • Treadmill
  • Skierg
  • Versaclimber
  • Elliptical
  • Battleropes (you can buy ones for at home here.)

Here are some example HIIT intervals you can do by seconds on and seconds off. On you seconds on, you are putting in 100 percent effort. As fast and as hard as you can. You should be using the recovery time to catch your breath. Ideally the recovery times should be shorter than the work times, but if you are beginning, you can make the recovery times longer.

Example intervals, lasting for a total of 15-20 minutes:

  • 30 seconds on 30 off
  • 20 seconds on 10 off
  • 45 seconds off 15 off
  • 15 seconds off 45 off

BEST 7- MINUTE HIIT WORKOUTS

Sometimes we don’t even have 20 minutes to workout, because we are busy AF, right? That doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze HIIT into the day. Did you know you can do an awesome HIIT workout in just 7 minutes and that there are apps for that? There is a lot of competition in the 7 minute app market. Here are what I have identified as the best ones:

The Seven app

On the Seven app, you can customize your goals, whether it is to lose weight or get strong. You can also choose a beginner, medium or advance level, though advanced may not be hard enough if you are really advanced. Based on those selections, the app gives you12 movements that you do for 30 seconds with a 10 second rest. During the rest period the app tells you what is next up and you see the demo of that with a mini avatar demoing the move in the middle of a circle . You can also pull up the entire sequence in the workout (kind of like in Google maps where you can see all the steps in the drive at the bottom). 

The 7 minutes app

For this app, you can adjust the exercise duration and rest period for each exercise- for example, you can rest for 5 seconds instead of 10. You can also do more sets if you want to make it a longer workout. Finally the workouts on this app have other options than HIIT, like 7 minute pilates.

Johnson and Johnson 7 minute app

This app has similar 7 minute workouts to the above two apps. It also has a “Smart” workout feature based on questions you answer regarding fitness level and motivation . The same format of the person demonstrating the exercise inside  the circle is used here. You get more coaching and guidance on form in this app (you also have an option to do it without the video). You can also pair this app with your music. 

More comprehensive apps with 7 minute workouts:

If you have either the Jillian Michaels or SWEAT app, which I review here and here, you can select a custom 7 minute circuit. Fir Jillian’s app, she has a category on the menu for 7 minute HIIT; and for Kayla Itsines’ SWEAT app, you can select her “BBG” workout and only complete one 7-minute circuit.

BEST FOR NON-JUMPING HIIT  WORKOUTS 

Madfit, which is available for free on YouTube, fills a distinct niche. It’s designed around HIIT workouts, but ones that do not involve jumping. The YouTube star instructor, Maddie Lymburner,  explains that people who workout in apartment or condo buildings may be dealing with constant neighbor complaints, or may have other reasons to have a “not noisy” workout, like a sleeping baby.

Also, you may want to avoid jumping because of fertility treatments, pregnancy, an injury, or for any other reason. So this is a good option for that purpose.

Key takeaway

HIIT is something you can do without any equipment, and it doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It is an important part of an holistic fitness routine to stay challenged and keep your metabolism up. Try to work it into your routine at least 2-3 times a week.

More:

The top 3 reasons to do High-intensity interval training (Mike Matthews Legion Athletics)

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