3 Things to Know Before Doing HIIT

Shannon Clark
by Shannon Clark
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3 Things to Know Before Doing HIIT

If you’ve been reading up on how to advance your workout sessions, you’ve likely heard of high intensity interval training, or HIIT, before. This advanced form of cardio training has you alternate between brief periods of very intense exercise and active rest periods. This process is repeated five to ten times, making up a 15-20 minute workout session, not including the warm-up and cool-down. When done properly, it offers superior conditioning and fat-burning benefits due to the high calorie burn both during and after the workout.

Sounds great, right? Before you dive right into it, there are a few things that you must know.


HIIT done right is a great form of exercise that will make a perfect addition to your workout program. HIIT done wrong could lead to injuries, burn out, and loss of motivation to continue.

Realize that your body can only handle so much intense exercise per week. If you attempt to do HIIT and full-body weight lifting sessions 5 or 6 days a week, it’s only a matter of time before your system crashes. Remember that even though you may be working different muscles on successive workouts, your central nervous system will still be working hard, generating the strength and power needed to get these sessions done. It needs rest time, too. Even the most fit of individuals should cap it off at four very intense workouts total a week if you’re advanced, or three if you’re at the intermediate level.


The second important point to know is that you must select the right form of exercise.

What’s correct? The key thing to look for is an exercise where you can accelerate quickly. If it takes you 10 seconds to get to top speed and you’re doing 30 second intervals, you’ve just wasted a third of the total time you should be working. Choose an activity that allows you to get to top speed almost instantaneously. Burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, spinning, and running are all great choices.



Most forms of HIIT are going to really stress the lower body muscles, so be mindful of when you do them in relation to lower body strength training. If you’re doing sets of heavy squats, lunges, and dead lifts one day, you’ll wake up the next day seriously dreading attempting a HIIT. Your lower body needs time to recover from the weight days. Skip a day, then do your HIIT workout the following day.

If you keep these points in mind, you should be able to successfully make the transition to high intensity interval training and reap all the benefits it has to offer. Do you have your own HIIT words of wisdom? Tell us about them in the comments below.


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About the Author

Shannon Clark
Shannon Clark

Shannon is an AFLCA certified personal trainer with a degree in exercise science. She has written on the topics of health, fitness, and nutrition for nearly a decade, and her thoughts and advice are regularly published on Bodybuilding.com, shannonclarkfitness.com, and FitRated.com, a leading fitness equipment review site offering fitness insights on equipment, workout plans, and weight loss strategies.

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30 responses to “3 Things to Know Before Doing HIIT”

  1. Avatar Scott says:

    I wish the treadmills at my gym had an HIIT setting. I can run at 20 kph for about 30 seconds, but unfortunately having to manually change the speed on the console whilst running at that speed is tricky.

    • Avatar Amanda says:

      Wow impressive I agree with u on this

      • Avatar DJS says:

        I saw someone recently say something about this: Their solution was to set the treadmill at the HIIT speed and then just get all the way off of it for the rest part. Would that work?

        • Avatar Scott says:

          That’s rather risky, I’ve seen someone do that at the previous gym I went to. I gave it a try myself once, almost ended up going flying.

          • Avatar DHS says:

            I could totally see that …. just posting something I’d read, but I’d probably go flying, too.

          • Avatar Scott says:

            If you can master the delicate art of using the handles at the side of the treadmill to quickly lift yourself up and place your feet at the sides and then place your feet back on the treadmill and instantly get up to speed, it’s definitely do-able.

          • Avatar twistedxtian says:

            The treadmills at our gym can be programmed for intervals, and I’ve been playing around with the settings recently. It speeds up and slows down adequately to maximize the HIIT without being too jerky or sudden.

        • Avatar Nicole says:

          I do it that way. Just careful to fully grasp the handles on the side to lift yourself off and jump feet to the outsides. Then grasp again to get back on making sure you are running fully before letting go. Works great for me!

        • Avatar lGilliganriley says:

          I had a really bad injury back in high school doing this, messed my teeth up something awful.

    • Avatar TA says:

      There are treadmills out there where you can set 2 speeds and toggle between the 2 with one touch of a button. Makes a HUGE difference!

  2. Avatar Mat Laskowski says:

    For those who belong to Retro Fitness, or have access to the Octane Fitness Lateral Elliptical machines, they are great for this kind of training, I’ve been doing it for a couple of months now and it’s jump started my weight loss. I set it for 33 mins… do I 3 min warm up… then alternate between 2 and 8 on the resistance… going hard at 8 for 30 seconds and cooling off at 2 for a minute… what is perfect is the resistance buttons are on the left handle… so I can just change them with my thumb…

    As a hockey player the machine simulates the skating stride very well so the going hard for 30 seconds and getting my wind is great training for being in my games.

    If you have access to this machine or one like it, give it a shot… I love it for HIIT.

    • Avatar Anna says:

      I do similar, though I do a few minutes of 40 seconds hard with only a 20 second break. I’m at level 19 out of 20 for the work then just slow the pace for rest.

  3. Avatar amitsingh21 says:

    Well, luckily due to my intrest. Swimming is my HIIT part and after that I do weight training . Both for 15 and 25 mins and I am getting amazing results.From the above part what I feel advantaje of mine HIIT part is .. I can get to pace quickly and have major involvement of upper body.

  4. Avatar DHS says:

    I’ve been using the elliptical for HIIT for about three weeks. Hoping it’s doing some good, it feels good, but I’m wanting to blast the 10-15 pounds of belly/hip fat that’s hanging on (I’m 48). I do 3 mornings a week at 15-18 minutes (not including warm up/cool down) a shot. The machine has an interval program which I modify as I’m using it — I do 9-10 reps @ 25-30 seconds sprint speed and 60-65 seconds rest in between. I do know that eating less has to accompany any exercise I do for weight loss, so am trying to be very constant with calorie intake was well.

  5. Avatar Drac464 says:

    I do HIIT my own way on the treadmill. When my iPhone plays a really good upbeat song that gets me moving I up the incline or speed. Then on less powerful songs I walk more, then on the next upbeat song I run. I decrease and increase speed and incline typically for 5 to 10 minute intervals based on my playlist

  6. Avatar Will.I.am.not says:

    I did HIIT and weight lifting alternate days for 5 days, then rode my bike on the 6th day. I couldn’t move for 3 days. I did lose 5lbs that week!! 🙂

  7. Avatar Scarybagels says:

    I use HIIT training on cycling.

  8. Avatar Erok says:

    Good article, Shannon. I’m mostly concerned with preserving as much muscle mass as possible (meathead powerlifter here), so I’m always looking for the minimum effective dose of cardio, and HIIT is it. I’ve found the rowing machine (Concept CII) or pushing a weighted sled (the “Prowler”) to be my favorites, as the motions required do not have a loaded eccentric component (makes me less sore). As for programming, I like it immediately at the end of a squat workout. The whole body is already warmed up (worn out), so there’s less chance of me overtraining myself than if I HIIT it fresh. If I waited until two days later, though, the DOMS from the squats would prevent me from doing any cardio. I just wouldn’t feel like it.

  9. Avatar em says:

    if you are planning to get serious abou HIIT, have a “fall-back” regimen set in place for the odd times where other rigorous activity is required as a natural occurance (eg. home renos, yard work or anything super hysical…. HIIT leaves you with just the right amount of energy to feel good and recoup… its easy to ‘over-do’ it without realizing… especially if you’re in good shape as it is.

  10. Avatar meghan says:

    I love HI IT training, it’s the only way I do cardio. I do it on the treadmill and the bicycle, but another good one is jump rope. Skip for 30 – 45 secs then rest for a minute, or alternate skipping 30 seconds, 30 seconds box jumps, then 45 seconds – 1 minute rest. Just make sure to stretch out your calves really good if you try it because they’ll be sore the next day!

  11. Avatar MsDinoGal says:

    I love HIIT. It’s so effective! And the best part is that you don’t need equipment to get an amazing workout. I like doing combos of burpees, mountain climbers, and high knees with light jogging or walking. But I’ve also done sessions on my bike trainer at home and they get me sweating like no other!

  12. Avatar Bedetermine says:

    Oh Lord, the overtraining individuals are back at at again

  13. Avatar Garlic7girl says:

    HIIT is effective but all I can say is for my own body I can’t do HIIT more then 3 days in a week. I tank especially when I am doing strength training in between. I totally agree with this article.

  14. Avatar Ann says:

    I am 54 years old and in fairly good condition having done my own HIIT at home for a number of years. I was a member at a gym that exclusively focuses on HIIT. For me, it was too intense and I was running out of energy to get through my day. I was also finding one of my knees was hurting so I have stopped. Is HIIT necessary to be fit?

    • Avatar A. P. Thorsen says:

      No. It’s arguably necessary as competition prep for certain sports, but it’s not required for general fitness. Of course, anything that causes you *actual pain* is contraindicated! (I’m 61. Recovery takes longer, and I detrain faster than when I was younger, so injury “costs” more in fitness terms than it used to. Significant risk just isn’t worth it.)

  15. Avatar Rocco says:

    HIIT is a great way to work out but when it comes to using it for weight lifting for most people 3 days a week is just enough. It will be a large compound movement and a super set of a isolation movment such as standind shouder press followed by shoulder flys then rest 30 sceconds and repeat 2 to 3 sets if this tpye of workout is done properly you will not need cardio.

  16. Avatar Linda Rodriguez says:

    I use an elliptical HIIT. 3 minute warm up at about 4-5mph. Then I begin for 8-10 two minute rounds. I split the round with one minute at 7-8mph and the rest portion is one minute at about 5-5.5 mph.

    I started at 4mph at the rest speed and 6 mph at the speed. Adjust to suit your needs. I quit running years ago so I don’t use the treadmill or simple sprints.

    I do this 1-2 per week to perk up my steady state cardio.

  17. Avatar A. P. Thorsen says:

    True HIIT (high intensity, rather than just interval training), is only advisable for people who have a decent base level of fitness. Beginners don’t *need* it, and it’s riskier in a variety of ways.

    I’ve used HIIT to improve VO2max within a structured, periodized training plan provided by my rowing coach, and it can be important in that kind of context for certain sports.

    Much of what I see described in general health/fitness publications isn’t really HIIT – the term is just a trendy thing now.

    Work out, challenge yourself, make progress, avoid silly risks; whether you’re training for competition or fitness, know your specific improvement goals and understand how to accomplish them. . . what the exercise is called is just a sideshow diatraction.

  18. Avatar Eric says:

    HIIT is great. I’ve been doing it on a excersise bike for a couple months now. I do a 2 minute warm up and start with 15 sec rest vs 30 sec high resistance for 15 minutes. The second 13 minutes I switch to 20 sec rest 40 second high resistance. The last two minutes I go on the highest resistance. I do this everyday. This combined with the 16:8 fast and low calorieish diet ive lost 27 pounds in 8 weeks and feel great.

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