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3 Short HIIT Workouts That Can Improve Your Fitness and Save You Time

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HIIT might be the workout that your exercise routine is missing. You can do a short HIIT workout almost anywhere and they rarely require that you have equipment on hand. If the weather is nice, you can even take your HIIT workout outside to get the added benefits of exercising outdoors.

HIIT, shorthand for High Intensity Interval Training, is as effective for building fitness as longer format, moderate intensity exercise (such as jogging). HIIT workouts can deliver heart-healthy benefits in as little as four minutes, making it an ideal exercise format for people who feel they have a difficult time fitting a workout into their busy schedules.

Read on to find out about heart rate and HIIT, its benefits, risks and how to perform a series of 4-, 10- and 36-minute HIIT workouts.

How to Calculate Heart Rate During HIIT

One of the most important components of an effective short HIIT workout is monitoring how hard you are working. One way to measure the intensity of your workout is to keep an eye on your heart rate. An effective HIIT workout consists of intervals in which your heart rate is elevated to 85% to 95% of your maximum heart rate.

Here is how you can calculate your ideal heart rate for HIIT:

Take 220 minus [your age] multiplied by .85 to calculate the approximate beats per minute (BPM) range of 85% of your max heart rate.

Take 220 minus [your age] multiplied by .90 to calculate the approximate BPM range of 90% of your max heart rate.

How to Measure Your Heart Rate

You can measure your heart rate manually by placing two fingers on a pulse point on your neck or wrist. Start a timer on your phone or watch, measure how many beats you feel in 6 seconds and then multiply that number by 10. This number will give you your heart BPM.

Because they are quick and intense, it might be challenging to monitor your heart rate manually in the midst of a short HIIT workout. You can also use a heart rate monitor on a watch or chest strap (chest straps tend to be more accurate) to keep track of your heart rate. In a pinch, you can use the “talk test.” If you are able to talk comfortably during your workout, you are probably not working to 90% of your maximum heart rate.

Is HIIT Better Than Cardio?

Many exercise guidelines recommend moderate intensity exercise, which is often broken down into 30-minute bouts of movement, five days per week. Researchers say that HIIT can be considered a way to achieve the same results in less time. HIIT is particularly good for increasing your maximal oxygen uptake, or V02 Max, which is not only an indicator of improved athletic performance, but also supports longevity.

Like moderate aerobic exercise, HIIT improves fitness on a few levels. Research suggests that both formats appear to offer similar benefits when it comes to cardiovascular health, weight loss and insulin sensitivity. Longer form, moderate intensity exercise might be better for your blood sugar. A healthy fitness program can include both formats of exercise.

Risks of HIIT

High intensity training comes with risks. Before starting a HIIT program, be sure to check in with your doctor to make sure high intensity intervals are right for you. If you feel chest pain, abnormal shortness of breath, or dizziness, you should quit your HIIT workout and call your doctor (or 911 in the case of chest pain).

Because HIIT is a high-intensity workout, there is a risk of overdoing it. Overtraining can be detrimental to your health and can negatively impact metabolism and cardiovascular health. There is also injury risk associated with HIIT workouts, especially if the movements are performed with poor form. Research shows that you want to limit your HIIT workouts to 30-40 minutes per week.

Warm Up for HIIT

No matter what kind of workout you are doing, especially if you are going to be pushing your limits with intensity, it is important to warm up.

Warm up exercises increase blood and oxygen flow, preparing your body for more intense movement and helping to prevent injury. An ample warmup includes 5-10 minutes of low intensity movements such as running in place, windmills, and lunge walks.

4-Minute Tabata Workout

A beautiful Asian woman's fitness at home instead of going to the gym. She is doing squats on a yoga mat in the bedroom.

Created by Japanese researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata and speed skating coach Irisawa Koichi, the Tabata protocol is a popular format for short HIIT workouts. A review of 30 studies of Tabata workouts found them to be effective at increasing aerobic capacity, which leads to many health benefits such as longevity, reduced risk of disease and improved quality of life and mood.

The Tabata protocol is a simple format, which consists of the following:

20 seconds of exercise performed at your highest effort
10 seconds of rest
20 seconds of exercise performed at your highest effort
10 seconds of rest

Repeat this sequence four times.

Just like with other short HIIT workouts, Tabata exercises need to be performed at a high intensity for this protocol to be effective. You can achieve this by pushing as fast and hard as you can during the exercise periods without losing form.

Here is a 4-minute Tabata workout for you to add to your home workout routine:

20-Second Burpees with Push-Ups

How to perform burpees with push-ups:

1. Stand with your feet set apart, a bit wider than shoulder width. Point your feet straight forward, or slightly turned out.
2. Jump as high as you can, extending your arms to the ceiling and your toes to the ground (you can also do this with an exaggerated standing motion if jumping is painful).
3. Drop your hands to the floor, and jump back into a plank position.
4. Engage your core and keep it tight.
5. Create a straight line from your head to upper back to glutes.
6. Lower into a push-up.
7. Return to plank position.
8. Jump your feet back into a squat position and move straight into the next burpee with push-ups.

10 seconds rest

20-Second Jump Squats

How to perform jump squats:

1. Stand with your feet set apart, a bit wider than shoulder width. Point your feet straight forward, or slightly turned out.
2. Engage your glutes (squeeze!) and drive your heels into the ground. Be sure to track your knees over your feet, preventing them from going too far in or out.
3. Keep your chest tall and core engaged while clasping your hands and reaching forward to help you sit back into your hips.
4. Slowly lower down, bending your knees as if you are sitting down in a chair behind you, keeping your weight in the center of your foot.
5. When you reach the bottom, spring into a jump, pointing your toes towards the floor.
6. Land back in the bottom of your squat position.
7. Repeat this movement continuously for 20 seconds.

Note: If a jump squat feels too intense or painful, you can swap this movement out for fast-paced squats.

10 seconds rest

Repeat this sequence four times.

For an 8-minute Tabata workout, add this sequence at the end of your first Tabata:

20-Second High Knees

How to perform high knees:

1. Stand with your feet set apart, a bit wider than shoulder width.
2. Pin your elbows to your side and bend your arms so that your forearms are parallel to the ground.
3. Begin to run in place, attempting to hit your hands with your knees.
Important: It is common to try to move the arms down to meet your knees. To get the most out of this exercise, do your best to keep your arms stable in their position.

10 seconds rest

20-Second Mountain Climbers

How to perform mountain climbers:

1. Start lying on your stomach with your hands just outside your shoulders and your fingers spread apart.
2. Set your shoulders by thinking about screwing your hands into the ground.
3. Activate your glutes as you straighten one leg at a time.
4. Engage your core and keep it tight.
5. Create a straight line from your head to upper back to glutes.
6. Begin to “climb” your legs by quickly bringing your knee towards your nose
7. Switch legs rapidly until time is up.

10 seconds rest

Repeat this sequence four times.

10-Minute Full-Body HIIT Workout

Sporty young female athlete doing burpees at city park for leg power workout.

A popular format for HIIT is a short full-body workout consisting of shorter bursts of high-intensity movement. To ensure this workout is effective, it is key to focus on keeping your heart rate up while performing these exercises, as any of these movements could easily be done at a lower effort.

Perform each exercise for 45 seconds and then rest for 15 seconds.

1. Bicycle Crunches

How to perform a bicycle crunch:

1. Start lying on your back with your knees bent.
2. Place your hands on the base of your skull. Exhale and lift your chest.
3. Lift your knees off of the floor, pulling them into your chest.
4. On the exhale, touch your right elbow to your left knee, letting your right leg extend in front of you where it will be hovering off of the floor.
5. Switch legs on every exhale. While you may be used to performing this exercise quickly, slower, more methodical movements will allow you better alignment and strengthening.
Perform 20-30 bicycle crunches.

2. Jump Squats

3. High Knees

4. Push-Ups

How to perform push-ups:

1. Start lying on your stomach with your hands just outside your shoulders and your fingers spread apart.
2. Set your shoulders by thinking about screwing your hands into the ground.
3. Activate your glutes as you straighten one leg at a time.
4. Engage your core and keep it tight.
5. Create a straight line from your head to upper back to glutes.
6. Pull your body toward the ground, but do not let your chest touch the floor.
7. Push your body away from the ground.

Note: if 45 seconds of push-ups feels too challenging, you can drop from your toes down to your knees.

5. Mountain Climbers

6. Tricep Push-Ups

How to perform tricep push-ups:

1. Start lying on your stomach with your hands just outside your shoulders and your fingers spread apart.
2. Set your shoulders by thinking about screwing your hands into the ground.
3. Activate your glutes as you straighten one leg at a time.
4. Engage your core and keep it tight.
5. Press up into a plank position. Create a straight line from your head to upper back to glutes.
6. As you pull your body toward the ground, keep your elbows pressed to the side of your ribs.
7. Push your body away from the ground to starting position.
8. Perform this motion continuously until time is up.

7. Mountain Climbers

8. High Knees

9. Jump Squats

10. Bicycle Crunches

36-Minute 4×4 Run or Cycle

Beautiful sportswoman cycling a bike at home. Cardio training, exercising legs, Cardio workout at home

Research has shown that the 4×4 HIIT format is effective for improving many markers of fitness, such as oxygen intake and therefore longevity and cardiovascular health. The format consists of four, four-minute intervals with rest periods of three-minute bouts of moderate intensity exercise.

One of the simplest ways to implement this format is by running or using your home cycle. You’ll need a stopwatch, watch or timer for this exercise. Simply follow this workout pattern to get in an effective HIIT workout:

  • Warm-up: 5-minute jog or low-effort cycle.
  • 4 minute run/cycle at 85%-95% of your maximum heart rate.
  • 3-minute run/cycle at a moderate effort (60%-70% percent of your max heart rate).
  • 4 minute run/cycle at 85%-95% of your max heart rate.
  • 3-minute run/cycle at a moderate effort.
  • 4 minute run/cycle at 85%-95% of your max heart rate.
  • 3-minute run/cycle at a moderate effort.
  • 4 minute run/cycle at 85%-95% of your max heart rate.
  • 3-minute run/cycle at a moderate effort.
  • Cool down: 3-minute low-effort jog, walk or cycle.

Bottom Line on Short HIIT Workouts

A well-balanced exercise program can include moderate-intensity exercise, strength and resistance training and HIIT. Done properly, there is evidence that all of these forms of exercise support well-being. The most important thing about your workout program is that you engage in activities that you enjoy doing regularly. Short HIIT workouts can be a great way to fit an effective workout into an otherwise busy and hectic day. If you find yourself short on time one day, we definitely recommend giving one of these HIIT workouts a try!

(Image: Shutterstock)

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