Those strength training can have a hard time finding workouts that push their cardiovascular fitness, or they're just trying their best to avoid cardio altogether! It's understandable, lifters don't typically think of cardio as their favorite form of training, but it is important to keep your heart healthy... And it doesn’t hurt that it helps accelerate fat loss. So whether you love cardio workouts or hate them, you can't avoid them forever!
There are two main types of cardio: Low-Intensity Steady State Cardio and High-Intensity Interval Training. Whether you're weight training or just working out for weight loss, every good workout routine has a mix of both types. But HIIT workouts do tend to be the most popular because, unlike traditional steady-state cardio, HIIT accelerates your heart rate, really pushes you to sweat, and helps burn calories during and even after your training - all in a short period of time! So it gives you all the benefits you want from traditional cardio, but allows you to do it in a shorter time period so you have more time to lift weights and balance your hectic daily schedule.
HIIT workouts can be a cardio-saving grace! And we want to help you have a full-body HIIT session that is going to be effective so you reap all the benefits these workouts offer by giving you 12 of the best HIIT exercises that will get your heart rate pumping, your muscles working, and your entire body sweating!
Best HIIT exercises
These exercises will help you get your sweat on (and burn fat 😉) whenever you need to do a quick home workout or need to fit cardio into your strength training routine. We put together a list of bodyweight exercises (no equipment required) with a few that do require equipment that you can include in your exercise rotation. That way you can easily create HIIT workouts you can do at home, but also at the gym!
Plank w/ dumbbell row
Place your hands on a pair of dumbbells and set your body in a push-up position. Make sure that your arms are completely straight with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your palms facing each other. Keeping your abs tight and elbows close to your body, row one dumbbell off of the floor, pulling your elbow as high as you can while you squeeze your shoulder blade back. Return the dumbbell to the floor. Repeat on the other arm.
Tips: As you row the dumbbell up make sure that your torso does not rotate to one side or the other. Make sure your core is tight and engaged throughout the move. For beginners, you can modify the move by doing it in a kneeling push-up position.
Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Begin to shift your weight to your right foot, bend your right knee, and then push through your foot to jump to your left. When you land on your left foot, cross your right foot behind you as you lower your until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment and then repeat the movement to your left, pushing off with your left foot and landing on your right foot.
Tips: Be careful on your jump, make sure it's explosive, but not too much that it causes you to fall or lose balance. For beginners, make this move easier by shortening the jump distance, or slowing your tempo. If you want more of a challenge, hold a dumbbell on each hand, but keep the weight low to avoid unwanted injuries.
Start with your arms by your side, feet shoulder-width apart, head up, and back straight. Keeping your back straight and chest up, squat down as you inhale until your upper thighs are parallel, or lower, to the floor. Now pressing mainly with the balls of your feet, jump straight up in the air as high as possible, using the thighs like springs. Exhale during this portion of the movement. When you touch the floor again, immediately squat down and jump again.
Tips: Make this move harder by adding a weight! Hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest as you do the exercise.
Split lunges w/ shoulder press
Get into a staggered stance with your right foot 2-3 feet in front of your left foot. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms bent 90 degrees and palms facing in. Lower your body into a lunge position and push back up to a standing position as you simultaneously press the dumbbells overhead. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Switch legs and repeat (or do 10-15 reps, then switch legs).
Tips: If you don't have dumbbells do the exercise without them. Or you can also try jumping lunges (without weight) for something a little more intense.
Get into a push-up position (high plank), but instead of pushing down and then up, you'll place your right elbow under your right shoulder, then follow with your left elbow under your left shoulder to be in a low plank position. Make sure that your shoulders are stacked over your wrists and begin to press back up to a high plank position starting with your right arm. Repeat the movement, alternating leading arms each time.
Tips: To modify the move to be more beginner-friendly, get into a kneeling push-up position instead.
Start in a high plank position with ankles close together. Make sure your core is engaged, and your body is forming a straight light from your head to heels. With your core and other muscles engaged, jump both feet out wide and then back together.
Tips: Don't move your feet out too wide, this will only slow you down. Hop your feet out about 3-4 inches from the starting position.
Start by standing tall with your feet together. Then begin to lower your body into a squat and place your hands on the ground and directly in front of your feet. Keep your core tight as you jump back. Jump back far enough so that you are fully extended and in a push-up position. Do not let your butt stick up in the air. Then jump your feet back up to your hands and jump up off the ground.
Tips: If you want to really up the intensity and build lower body strength then try a single-leg burpee. The move is exactly the same, except you start by standing on one leg and complete the move using only that leg and then repeating with the other. This requires a lot of core strength so work your way up to this move by doing core exercises and practicing other lower body unilateral exercises.
Lie on your back with legs straight and arms extend out at your sides. Lift your upper body, lift your heels about 6 inches off the floor and rapidly kick your feet up and down in a quick, scissor-like motion.
Tips: Try not to move too fast, you don't want your legs flailing around. This is a core-strengthening exercise so focus on keeping your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
Sit on the ground with your knees bent, pull your abs to your spine, and lean back a few inches while lifting your feet off the floor. Be sure to keep your back straight. Reach your arms out in front of you, and twist your torso to the right, then to the left, repeating for one minute. Lower your heels to the ground if needed.
Tips: Add a medicine ball or plate to increase the intensity!
Get into a plank position, making sure your wrists are stacked beneath your shoulders and body in a straight line. Step your right foot to the inside of your right palm. Jump your right foot back to plank position. Do the same on the left side, and continue alternating in quick succession.
Tips: If you're up for a challenge and have a gliding disc (a towel works too), then try sliding mountain climbers. You simply position your feet on the discs as you assume a plank position and slowly begin to complete a basic rep, as you move use your non-sliding leg and upper body to stabilize yourself. This variation will fire up your quads more than the original version.
Standing shoulder-width apart, place a kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you and between your feet. Bend slightly at the knees and focus on hinging mainly at the hips to grasp the kettlebell. Pull it back between your legs to create momentum, then drive your hips forward and straighten your back to send the kettlebell up to shoulder height. Let it return back between your legs and then repeat the move.
Tips: Don't use your upper body too much, focus more on using the hamstrings and glutes to power through the move. If you don't have access to a kettlebell at the gym or at home, you can use a dumbbell. For beginners, try practicing the move with a long resistance band before trying it with a kettlebell. Simply anchor the band to a secure point near the floor (bottom of the door or on the bottom of a squat rack), then perform the move as directed.
Stand upright holding one end of a jump rope in each hand, you should be standing in front of it so the rest of the rope is behind you. Keep your elbows close to your body and your arms bent at about 90 degrees out to your sides. Begin to swing the rope over your head and down toward your feet in front of you, jumping over it. Continue jumping until the time is up.
Tips: Don't swing your shoulders too much, primarily use your wrists and forearms, and jump on the balls of your feet. Use a weighted jump rope to increase the intensity.
How can you build a HIIT workout with these exercises?
We want to make sure you're using the above exercises as effectively as possible, so here are a few tips to help you build the best HIIT workout for you...
- Pick the total time first: Ask yourself, how much time do you have to spare? The lovely thing about HIIT is that you can create a 10-30 minute workout and still break a sweat! Once you've picked the amount of time, you can decide on the next crucial step...
- Keep your intervals short: After you select the amount of time you'll be spending, plan your work-to-rest ratio. We suggest keeping your rest and work periods shorter, that is if your main goal for HIIT is to burn fat. Keep your intervals no longer than 45 seconds, and select get anywhere between 10-30 seconds of rest in between exercises. However, someone completely new may need a longer recovery period of 45-60 seconds. Pick a short interval that works with the amount of time you have to do your HIIT workout, but if your new start with a longer rest period, then shorten it as you make progress.
- Alternate different muscle groups: HIIT exercises normally involve total body movements, but most exercises favor one large muscle group over the other. To avoid overusing and causing a strain on larger muscle groups, alternate your exercises so you don't hit the same muscle back-to-back. For example, if you're doing high knees, jumping lunges, plank push-ups, and tricep dips, you wouldn't want to do the two lower body exercises back to back. Instead, you'll start with high knees, to plank push-ups, to jumping lunges, to tricep dips.
- Aim for 80-95% of your max heart rate: HIIT is all about intensity! Remember, you only have a short amount of time, so you want to give it your all in order to reap the fat-burning benefits. Everyone's level of intensity is different, so if you can, measure your heart rate and try to make sure that you're working 80-85% of your maximum heart rate. Your heart rate should stay between 60-65% during your rest periods.
Follow these tips and select your favorite exercise to start building better, effective HIIT workouts completely tailored to your fitness goals and fitness level! Remember, as with any high-intensity exercise don't forget to hydrate, warm up, and cool down! These moves require a lot of jumping so you want to make sure your muscles are warmed up and prepared, and cooling down will gradually reduce your heart rate to help regulate blood flow. To warm-up and cool down properly combine a few static and dynamic stretches.
And if you need more home workout ideas, or just want to have someone plan your workouts for you try the Fit With Iulia app! It's like having a personal trainer, but less expensive, and all at the touch of your hands! The app includes weekly goal-focused workouts planned by Iulia (@Fit.With.Iulia on IG). The workouts include a mix of cardio and strength training and are designed with specific goals in mind so you can get better and more effective results. The best thing is you can try your first workout for free! The first workout of every goal is available for everyone to try for free, no subscription is required. Download the Fit With Iulia app and try your first workout with Iulia for free!