Best HIIT Routines

by Nathan Tomasello

Well my friends, summer time is right around the corner, and if you are like most people, this is the time of year you want to start leaning up for the beach or simply shedding any extra weight you accumulated during the winter months.  Are you someone that dreads the word “cardio”, as it conjures up images of monotonous hours plodding along on a treadmill? Many people have the wrong idea of what style of conditioning workouts burn fat efficiently, and let me tell you, it doesn’t need to be an hour long mind numbing run or bike ride.  The best type of routines for burning fat, improving your conditioning, and building strength at the same time are High Intensity Interval Training - or HIIT.

HIIT is a system which takes a low to medium intensity work load and alternates it with high intensity intervals.  This is essentially sprint work - a short duration of all out effort, followed by a recovery phase, and then back to a sprint.  This type of training has been proven to burn more fat than long low intensity exercise, and it has a lasting effect as it raises your metabolism so you burn more calories thru out the day.  HIIT training will also increase muscle endurance and strength, whereas traditional lower intensity cardio can actually cause the body to burn muscle for fuel. If you want a good visual of how this type of training can impact your build, think of the body type of an olympic sprinter contrasted with a marathon runner.  Which one would you rather look like?

Today I am going to share with you 6 of my favorite HIIT workouts - one for each piece of cardio equipment in your gym.  All of these routines are under 20 minutes so you no longer have a reason to put off your conditioning work.

  1. Tread mill:

Hill Sprints

#of Sprints: Speed: Incline: Duration (run/rest)

4 10mph 0% 20 seconds on/10 seconds rest

4 10mph 2% 20 seconds on/10 seconds rest

4 10mph 4% 20 seconds on/10 seconds rest

-keep repeating this cycle, raising the incline by 2% after every 2 minutes (4 sprints) until 20 seconds becomes difficult to complete.  At that point switch the intervals to 10 seconds on/20 seconds off and maintain the same incline for as many sprints as possible.

Start by warming up with a 3 minute jog and then stretching.  Set a treadmill to the highest possible speed you can run at, ideally 10mph (or 12mph if you are in outstanding condition).  After your first 20 second interval, carefully grab the side rails and step off for a 10 second rest while the treadmill continues to run.  After completing 4 sprints, raise the incline by 2% for another 2 minute cycle. Keep repeating this pattern until the 20 second run becomes difficult to complete, at which point you will switch the intervals to 10 second sprint with 20 second rest and maintain the same incline while completing as many sprints as possible.  A good goal to strive for is each time you complete this workout try to end with either a greater number of total sprints, or complete your sprints at a higher incline. For advanced athletes, I typically have them start this workout at 2% or 4% rather than a flat treadmill.

  1. Bike - Tabata Torture

20 seconds Max effort/10 second rest x 8 sets

-rest 3 minutes then repeat

Tabata is a type of HIIT training that was developed by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo.  Dr Tabata and his team of researchers determined that the most efficient use of HIIT intervals is a 2/1 ratio, and if done at max effort, 8 rounds of 20 seconds work/10 seconds rest are all that is necessary,  The key to correctly utilizing the Tabata protocol is effort - the 20 second intervals must be Max Effort.  That factor makes it difficult to do a true Tabata workout on a treadmill (tabata is a great fit for a track workout, however), but this sequence is perfect for ergometers such as a Bike or upper body erg (UBE).  The resistance needs to be set as high as possible and you truly have to go “all out”. Give 20 seconds of lung burning, lactic acid filled maximum effort then rest for 10. Repeat this sequence for 8 sets. Rest 3-5 minutes then repeat the entire workout.  My favorite way to do this workout is to complete one Tabata sequence on a bike, and after a 3 minute rest complete a second sequence on a upper body ergometer such as a stand up Sci-Fit.

  1. Stairmaster:

20 minute burner

2 minutes easy “recovery”

1 minute “Ladder” - increase speed every 10 seconds

1 minute Max Effort

-then back to recovery.  Repeat for 5 continuous rounds

Although this is not a true HIIT workout due to its length and structure, it remains my favorite fat burner for the Stairmaster.  This routine is basically 5 sets of a 4 minute block repeated back to back for 20 minutes total. Start on an easy setting for 2 minutes of what becomes a recovery phase in the later rounds of the workout.  At the start of the third minute, initiate a “ladder”, turning the speed up every 10 seconds until you begin the forth minute. The forth minute should be max effort, ideally with the machine set at full speed.  At the conclusion of the forth minute, immediately bring the speed down to your “recovery” setting for the next two minutes. You will be amazed how the first 2 minute slow speed block drags on forever, but the later 2 minute recovery rounds seem to fly by.

  1. Airdyne

2 minutes - 10 seconds easy/20 second sprint - repeat for 4 sets, 2 minutes total

-rest 1 minute

2 minutes - 10 seconds easy/10 second sprint - repeat for 6 sets, 2 minutes total

-rest 1 minute

2 minutes - Sustained Effort

The Airdyne, or “Arm Bike”, is the preferred old school conditioning machine of wrestlers and fighters across the globe.  You are able to get a full body workout on this device, and the push-pull motion of the handles simulates the feel of grappling with an opponent.  The key to the following routine (like most of them on this list), is that the sprints require MAXIMUM effort. This routine can be kind of difficult, or the hardest thing you ever done.  This workout is a quick one - three 2 minute rounds with a minute between each - only 8 minutes total including rest. The first 2 minute block starts with 10 seconds easy followed by a 20 second sprint.  Repeat for 4 sets (2 minutes), then rest for 1 minute. The next 2 minute block shortens the sprint to 10 seconds followed by a 10 second rest. After 6 10/10 sprints, rest 1 minute. The last block is 2 minutes of sustained effort - not a sprint, but as hard as you can go for the entire 2 minutes.  To give you an idea of speeds, on the sprints I try to hit 100 RPMs, and on the last 2 minute block I try to keep my RPMs in the 75-85 range the entire time.

  1. Jump Rope

20 minutes - 40 seconds easy pace/10 seconds all out/10 seconds rest


20 minutes non stop - owe 5 Burpees for every “miss” after 20 minutes is up

Everyone loves options.  I’m sure you are no different, which is why I’ve included two different Jump Rope routines, one of which requires great rhythm and precision, while the other will work for even the novice jumper.  Both of these workouts are 20 minutes in length. The first one is a 20 minute repeating block of 1 minute intervals. For each minute, start out jumping at an easy pace for the first 40 seconds. The next 10 seconds are an all out jump rope sprint - or double under if you are really skilled.  Rest the last 10 seconds of each minute and then start over.

The second routine is better suited for a beginner jump rope practitioner, and it even rewards your mistakes by making the workout for challenging the more times you miss.  Set a timer to 20 minutes and every time you “miss”, etc down the jump rope and immediately do 5 Burpees (complete with a full push up and jump squat on each one). Immediately pick up the rope and start again.  In this way, the Burpee becomes the High Intensity interval, and the jump rope is the medium intensity work. It’s great practice for jumping rope and there is definitely an incentive to improve your form and rhythm.  Once you can get your sets of Burpees to 5 or less in 20 minutes, it’s time to give the first routine a try.

  1.  No Equipment

20 seconds on/10 seconds rest

Burpees x 4 sets (2 minutes)

Body Squats x 4 sets (2 minutes)

Push ups x 4 sets (2 minutes)

Bicycle Crunches x 4 sets (2 minutes)

x 2 rounds non stop, 16 minutes total

All of the other routines I shared require access to a gym’s cardio room.  But what if you have no machines (and assuming no access to the outside for true sprint work)?  Here is a great full body HIIT style workout that can be done anywhere, from the office to the beach.  Perform 4 sets of each exercise 20 seconds on/10 seconds rest before moving on to the next exercise. The key is cranking out as many repetitions as possible in 20 seconds, don’t try to pace your self.  Once you have completed your last set of bicycle crunches, immediately start over with Burpees. After 2 continuous rounds you can finally call it quits.

Now you have plenty of options to get you on the road to being fit and shredded.  Pick one of these routines to hit every other day, or every day if you are on a time crunch with Spring Break or vacation coming up.  My favorite way to train is to hit one of these workouts first thing in the morning for maximal thermogenic benefit, then doing my weight training in the afternoon.  However you choose to incorporate HIIT training, you now have a variety to choose from to break up the monotony of your cardio training. Now get to the gym and get after it!

HIIT Training: Treadmill

HIIT Training: Bike

HIIT Training: Stairmaster

HIIT Training: Airdyne

HIIT Training: Jump Rope

HIIT Training: No Equipment

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