Because my gym is near a University and a federal government building, I spend a lot of time around overworked, stressed-out people. Many of them spend long hours sitting, either studying or working (and drinking coffee, I presume) to get through the day -- and the night. It's inevitable that I get asked what the quickest, most effective way to burn calories and shed pounds is. I have the same answer for everyone: a HIIT workout.
Don't get angry with me, lifting proponents. The science is undeniable that building body mass through weight training is an awesome way to naturally burn fat and sculpt your body. I agree that you look meaner and cooler while pumping iron than, say, hopping from one foot to another like a bunny on hot coals. Personally, I love lifting weights. My gym is a happy place where weight buffs and cardio bunnies coexist. But a HIIT workout is the only way to go when you want to shred fast, and you mean business.
Why a HIIT Workout Rocks
So what does a HIIT workout really mean? HIIT is the acronym for High-Intensity Interval Training. It means blasting through various intense cardio exercises in short spurts and then resting for a moment before moving on to the next one. Also, it means pushing your body to the limits of its abilities. That's because the key to a HIIT workout is the "high-intensity" part. You'll know you've rocked a HIIT workout the right way when, after 20 minutes, you don't know if you want to pee or puke. Either way, you're eyes will be clenched shut because sweat is pouring out of your head.
Why is a HIIT workout so effective?
Speaking of sweat, that's what makes a high-intensity interval training workout so effective at burning calories. Gyms used to be the only cool thing in town, but now you can do a HIIT workout at home or in the park. For overworked people, being able to get an hour's worth of exercise into 20 minutes without leaving home is incredibly efficient. That's reason number one. The next reason it's so effective is that it pushes your heart into the anaerobic zone, where it feels like an alien is about to explode out of your chest. That's a crappy feeling, but it's so good for your heart. And because you can do it anywhere, and it forces your heart into overdrive, you burn a lot of fat off.
Who is it for?
Look, I'm not going to argue about who can benefit more from a HIIT workout: fat people or aerobic junkies. Both of them can benefit from blasting through a high-intensity workout, although only one of them looks good in spandex. After many years of being alive on Planet Earth, I've learned that everyone has their own likes and dislikes, and their own comfort zones. How else can you explain why reality television is still a thing? The fact is that a HIIT workout is incredibly hard. It hurts. And you need to do it a lot in order to get results. If you're not up for that level of commitment, then here's a comfy sofa and the latest season of "The Bachelor."
How often do I need to do it?
Here's the fun part about high-intensity workouts. You need to do it every other day. This workout will seriously kick your butt, so give yourself at least 24 hours of rest and recuperation before doing it again. Scared yet?
How We Reviewed
We're not sticklers when it comes to getting in shape, but the HIIT workout is hard for anyone. Personally, I've gone the HIIT workout route twice in my life, the last time for a full year while I attempted to drop some weight. So, I have some experience with it. Because it's impossible to know everything, we also reviewed knowledgeable sources from places like Men's Health, Shape, and Live Strong, among others. These gave us great tips to help assemble a HIIT workout routine that you can do anywhere.
A word of warning
Just like with any exercise routine, you shouldn't undertake a high-intensity interval training workout without first consulting with your doctor. That's especially true if you've ever had a serious illness or injury, or had surgery within the past couple of years. And of course, if you're pregnant, just don't do it at all. Don't even bother your doctor with it. Don't do it.
A HIIT Workout Routine That Will Shred Your Body
In addition to being a fan of healthy living, I'm also a big fan of keeping your body moving to burn calories and to keep your metabolic rate up. It's one reason I've always been fascinated with that classic '80s movie "Flashdance." You know, where Jennifer Beals works in a steel mill but wants to be a dancer, so she practices like she's basically doing a HIIT workout, but under a can of water? Then she gets accepted into dance school and lands her boss, to boot. That's dedication!
Here is a routine that you can do anywhere, and although you may not have a gallon of water dump on you from seemingly nowhere, you'll certainly sweat enough, so it doesn't matter.
1. Start with burpees
Ah, burpees, everyone's least favorite workout, closely followed by the squat rack. That's because these high-intensity reps will wipe out even the most hardened health nut. So we decided to start your HIIT workout routine with them, just to get them out of the way and to jump start your metabolic rate into action. After doing these 3 times for 45 seconds each, everything else in your routine will be easy.
To successfully do a burpee without dislocating your rib cage or worse, looking like a fool in the park, start in a standing position. Next, lower yourself into a squat, bending at the knees. Place your hands flat on the ground, and kick your legs out behind you so now you're in a push-up position. Here's the fun part: now do a push-up. Once you've done one push-up, kick your legs forward into the squat position again, then jump up into the air and land on your feet in the standing position.
Now do this over and over again for 45 seconds. Stop for 30 seconds, and do it again for 45 seconds. And again. Are you having fun yet?
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2. Jump squats
Since you're already jumping around with those burpees, you might as well transition into jump squats for the next part of your HIIT routine. Jump squats will get the blood pumping through your core and down to your thighs, where it's going to affect the most. The good news is that if you do enough of them, you'll have an awesome butt in a matter of weeks. The bad news is that it's going to hurt a lot to get there.
To pull off a real jumping squat, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your arms along your side or even slightly behind your back. This will stop you from trying to use them for any leverage. This is between you, your thighs, and gravity. Your arms can wait their turn.
Next, squat down with your knees bent. Once you've reached as low as you can go, use your thighs to push yourself up and jump into the air. Weee! Was that fun? Great! Do that a bunch more times for 30 seconds. Repeat.
3. Mountain climber
After three minutes of burpees and two minutes of jump squats, you've earned a rest. So now you'll do something a little easier, such as climb a mountain. Only that ice covers this mountain, and you're laying flat on top of it. Here's where the "pain" is found in the word "aerobic." Remember, that you're trying to whip your body into shape, and train your heart for endurance. After a few weeks of mountain climber exercises, you'll find that you can run, bike, swim, and do burpees longer. This exercise is awesome for building endurance.
Start with your body in a traditional plank or push-up position. Keep your hands flat on the ground with your shoulders over top of them, and your toes dug into the ground. Your body should be straight, and your butt shouldn't stick up or sag. Then, bring your right knee forward to just below your chest, and then back again. Now bring your left knee forward and then back again. Do this over and over, picking up the pace until it looks like you're running in place down a wall. Keep at it for 45 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and hit it again. And then again.
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4. Jumping lunges
After the mountain climber, I bet you wish you could just do some jumping stuff again, amirite? Great news, now you can! Bad news, they're jumping lunges! These will keep that heart rate up where you want it, so keep at them and transition smoothly from the mountain climber to the jumping lunges.
Start with your feet staggered, as if you're taking giant steps or you lost one boot at a really scummy bar, and you're trying to avoid stepping on the sticky parts of the floor. Then, push off from both feet so that you jump in the air. While in mid-air, switch your legs so that your left is where your right was, and vice-versa. You're going to keep at it for 45 seconds, and after 30 seconds of rest, you'll do it again.
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5. Plank jacks
After your jumping lunges, get back on the ground in the push-up position. That's because now you're going to be doing plank jacks, which is a combination of push-ups and jumping jacks, but without any of the nice stuff of either. Finally, your arms get some action, which sat fairly smug all this time while other parts of your body took punishment. Your shoulders, arms, chest, and abs will hate you during this exercise, but they'll thank you afterward when they look and feel awesome.
The key to doing this exercise is to keep your pelvis as steady as possible. Once you're in the plank position, jump your legs and spread them while they're in mid-air. Land on your toes, and then jump them back closed again. Do this over and over, for 40 seconds, then rest. Do this two more times.
6. Jog in place
Finally, you can stop with all the jumping and planking. Instead, you'll do a good-old-fashioned jog in place. Of course, this is a HIIT workout, so you won't be jogging on the spot like when you were a kid. Instead, you'll be keeping your metabolic rate up and pumping hot blood through your entire body. If you weren't pouring sweat already, you will be by the time this is over.
Start by standing in place and then start jogging in place. There shouldn't be too much explanation here. However, you're going to be lifting your legs up high, so your knees are even with your abdomen and just above your pelvis. Do this quickly for a full a minute. You can rest for 30 seconds, and then do it for another minute.
7. Stretch and relax
Relax, the worst is over! If you followed these directions, you spent the past 18 to 20 minutes putting your body through a grueling high-intensity interval workout. Now you'll want to stretch out those muscles to help them recover from that. Do this while the blood is still pumping hot through them. Start with some neck stretches. Tilt your left ear to your shoulder until you feel the stretch, and then roll your head forward until your right ear does the same.
Then stretch out your biceps and your chest by locking your fingers behind your back and lift them up behind you. Move onto your triceps next by holding your left elbow in your right hand and pulling it across your chest. Switch to your other arm to stretch out the other side.
Finally, end by stretching out your abs and back. Stretch these regions by going on your hands and knees and then arching your back while sucking your belly in. Remember to hold it for a few seconds.
Mix It up Every Day
I have something to tell you. Are you ready? I am so proud of you. Look what you just accomplished! You may not have actually done any of the exercises in this HIIT workout, but you read about them, and now you're thinking about getting started. And that's great news. Just be sure that you mix up the order of these exercises every day. You don't want your body to get into a routine. So instead of starting with burpees, surprise your arms with a punishing round of plank jacks.
A High-Intensity Interval Training workout is the best way to get your body in shape. It totally destroys carbs and kicks your metabolism into overdrive. Best of all, you can do it anywhere. So now you know what you need to do, the only question that remains to be answered is what did Jennifer Beals see in that slightly douchy boss of hers in "Flashdance?"