Fitness Pros Recommend Their Favorite HIIT Workouts For Beginners

"Why quit it when you can HIIT it?"

woman doing a squat, a move that's typical for a HIIT workout for beginners
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If your walks around the block or virtual yoga classes have gotten stale over the last year, maybe it's time to switch it up. Enter high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a type of workout that kicks your body into high gear through short but vigorous bouts of exercise. Though the name may sound daunting, these HIIT workouts for beginners are simple but challenging for newcomers and pros alike.

HIIT training alternates bursts of maximum effort exercise with short periods of recovery, like 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds of walking, as opposed to the continuous moderate effort you expend during a jog. And it's versatile — you can adapt HIIT timing to cardio, strength training, or a combination of the two. The main idea? You're working very hard during those intervals, says NASM-certified personal trainer Donna Walker, which is why HIIT has earned its reputation as one of the grittiest workouts out there.

But you're not putting in all that work for nothing. Those quick bursts of activity drive your heart rate up fast, which 2018 research in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows can improve heart function to boost heart health and endurance. All that extra blood flow can also promote immunity, boost metabolism, and help you think clearly. And HIIT's quick pace helps you reap all those benefits more efficiently than lower-intensity exercise, according to a 2016 study published in the journal PLoS One.

HIIT has seen a steady rise in popularity over the last year. Research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported a surge in HIIT internet searches around the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there's no shortage of online workouts to pick from. So if you're ready to give HIIT a try, check out these beginner-friendly workouts recommended by fitness experts.

Your Favorite Workout, But Make It HIIT

Start by finding what works best for you, recommends Anthony Crouchelli, an NCSF-certified personal trainer. If you're the gym-going type, find a trainer or program that makes you feel safe and supported as you try HIIT on for size, he says. And don't worry about conquering the toughest intervals on the first day, or even the first month. "Clients are often intimidated or feel defeated in the movements," Crouchelli tells Bustle. "Pace is essential so that you can find your stride and work towards your fitness path safely."

Dip your toes in by applying the timing to your favorite activities, says Walker. Whether you're used to hitting the stationary bike or prefer to grind it out with bodyweight exercises on the floor, try adding intervals to level up your usual routine.

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) suggests starting HIIT by alternating one minute of maximum-effort exercise with two-minute recoveries. If that timing feels manageable, you can up the amount of intervals you perform or cut back on recovery time. Find your baseline by by taking this ACE-recommended beginner HIIT workout for a spin on your bike, or adapt it to suit your activity of choice.

- Start with five minutes of light cycling to warm up.

- Sprint for one minute.

- Light pedaling for two minutes.

- Repeat three more times.

- Finish with five minutes of light cycling to cool down.

Mixed-Interval HIIT Workout

If you want to try out several different intervals in one session, Walker recommends this killer HIIT routine that you can knock out in less than 15 minutes.

- Do burpees for 30 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Do squat jumps for 45 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Do V-ups for 30 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Do downward dog ankle reaches for 45 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Do burpees for 30 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Repeat two times.

Tabata-Style HIIT Workout

Tabata-style HIIT is easy to follow and super challenging, according to Crouchelli. A traditional Tabata workout features eight sets of 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for a total of four minutes. You can apply the timing to your activity of choice or modify the proportions to 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off, says Crouchelli. Try his bodyweight Tabata sequence below to get your heart pounding, and mix and match exercises based on your ability level and preferences.

- Do air squats for 20 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds.

- Do mountain climbers for 20 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds.

- Do lunges for 20 seconds, alternating legs as you go. Then rest for 10 seconds.

- Do burpees for 20 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds.

- Repeat three more times.

Every Minute On The Minute Workout

If you'd rather not have to check your timer every 10 to 20 seconds, try an every minute on the minute workout, called EMOMs for short. At the start of every minute, do five reps of each exercise, says Walker. Once you're finished with those 15 reps total, you can rest until the start of the next minute, when you do it all again. "You're trying to transition between each one of the exercises as quickly as possible to maximize the rest you get at end," says Walker. "This EMOM circuit is great to work in during a traditional strength training session to get your heart rate up."

- Grab a set of dumbbells that are a challenging but manageable weight for you.

- Do five renegade rows, five squat presses with dumbbells, and five dumbbell swings as fast as you can in one minute.

- Rest for any time that's leftover.

- Repeat five more times at the top of each minute.

An Equipment-Free Routine

It's no surprise that HIIT has become so popular in the last year thanks to its broad range of at-home and equipment-free options, says Walker. Try this full-body routine at home or outside, no weights necessary.

- Do "walk the planks" (walking your hands into a plank position, then walking them back to your feet) for 30 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Do bear crawls for 30 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Do bicycle crunches for 30 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Do glute bridges for 30 seconds. Then rest for 15 seconds.

- Repeat two times.

Don't Be Discouraged

Though you might feel intimidated by rapid-fire HIIT, don't let it deter you, says Crouchelli. Take it at the right pace for you to avoid injury from overdoing it or trying an exercise that your body isn't ready for, he recommends. "Mentally, the journey can be difficult in the beginning, but if you trust the process the results will pour in the long term," he says.

These workouts are fast and furious, so if you feel pain or need to take a break, listen to your body. But know that if it feels challenging, you're doing it right, says Walker: Put simply, "Why quit it when you can HIIT it? It's going to feel hard, but you'll survive."


Anthony Crouchelli, an NCSF-certified personal trainer in New York City

Donna Walker, an NASM-certified personal trainer based in Chicago

Studies referenced:

Alansare, A. (2018). The Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training vs. Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training on Heart Rate Variability in Physically Inactive Adults. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6069078/

Ding, D. (2020). Is the COVID-19 lockdown nudging people to be more active: a big data analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/54/20/1183

Kong, Z. (2016). Comparison of High-Intensity Interval Training and Moderate-to-Vigorous Continuous Training for Cardiometabolic Health and Exercise Enjoyment in Obese Young Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4930190/