HIIT for beginners

HIIT For Beginners: 18 Exercises, 5 Workouts & Tons of Training Tips

June 10, 2020

If you are new to fitness or you are simply stuck in your current mode of low-to-moderate intensity workouts, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be intimidating. You’ve probably heard about the countless benefits and you see all the best trainers touting HIIT workouts as the best kind of training for building and maintaining muscle while losing fat in a time-crunched manner...But you are still hesitant about starting…Maybe you don’t know how to format an HIIT workout, maybe you don’t know what HIIT exercises are good for beginners, or maybe you are just not motivated enough. In any case, and no matter what the excuse is, this post is here to get you ready for HIIT Training. We are covering all the bases of HIIT, and the good news is, it isn’t complicated. In fact, the concept and workouts are simple. However, HIIT workouts, even with beginner exercises, will be brutal. You’ve been warned.

If you don’t want to get shredded, ripped, cut, lean, or whatever you want to call it, stop reading now…But if you are like us, wanting to get into the best shape of your life, continuing on.

Best HIIT exercises for beginners

Table of contents:

  • What exactly is HIIT
  • Types of HIIT
  • HIIT benefits
  • How often you should do HIIT workouts
  • HIIT results
  • How to do HIIT for beginners
  • Best HIIT beginner exercises
  • HIIT workouts for beginners
  • HIIT workout schedule

What is a HIIT workout?

HIIT is an acronym for High-Intensity Interval Training. As the name suggests, HIIT workouts are very intense, and the rest periods are done using strict intervals. To simplify it, a hit workout incorporates full-body, compound exercises, typically bodyweight-only, which are done in short, intense bursts, at nearly one hundred percent of your max effort, followed by short, sometimes active rest.

For example, 20 seconds at max effort doing a full-body exercise like burpees, followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeat this interval 20 times. That’s a HIIT workout.

HIIT workouts can use various work to rest structures, but the work time will rarely go over 30-40 seconds per set, as it is extremely difficult to go all out for more than that, not to mention, maintain that same effort over the length of the workout, which can range from 5-30 minutes (however, generally in the 10-20 minute range).

To get sciency with it. A HIIT workout alternates work intervals of 85 to 95 percent max heart rate and rest periods that won’t drop your heart rate below 60 to 65 percent max. If you aren’t in this range, you aren’t doing HIIT.

If you have a heart rate monitor, you will know whether or not you are in this range. If not, then use your best judgment. You will know if you are pushing yourself to the max, but the rest period can get tricky, so when in doubt, keep moving (i.e. jog in place). 

best beginner hiit exercises

Types of HIIT Workouts:

Here are a few HIIT workouts. Read through them, that way you will understand how to do HIIT workouts. Later in the article, we will show you the best HIIT exercises for beginners and we will provide a few more HIIT workouts… 

1. Tabata

TABATA is probably the most famous HIIT protocol. It involves one full body exercise, done for 20 seconds at max effort, interspersed with a brief 10 seconds recovery. TABATA workouts typically last 4-10 minutes. So if it was a 10 minute Tabata workout, you’d have done 20 sets, which is 6.6 minutes of work. This allows a quick workout to pack a big punch.

2. Sprints

Sprint HIIT workouts are very straight forward. There are three easy ways to go about it.

A) 8-second sprint followed by 12 seconds of jogging. Do this for 10-20 mins.

B) 30-second sprint followed by 4 min run. Do this for 18-30 mins.

C) Tempo run: 40-yard sprint, walk back to the starting line and repeat as soon as you reach the line. Do this for 10-15 mins.

By definition, sprinting is running at full speed, which means you will be giving it your max effort at every sprint.

Make sure to warm up with dynamic stretches and a few laps before doing sprints/HIIT. Moreover, start your first sprint at 80% and work your way up to 90-100%. If not, you are at risk of an injury like a pulled hamstring.

CYCLING: You can do HIIT workouts in similar ways with cycling on a stationary bike or on a road bike.

3. 15/35, 20/40, 30/30

You can structure your work to rest ratio in various way. Just make sure you can give it max effort each set. 

So, you could do workouts that use 15 seconds work, 35 seconds rest or 20 seconds work, 40 seconds rest or 30 seconds work, 30 second rest. This is good for beginners. 

For more advanced fitness levels, you could do 40/20 (40 seconds work, 20 seconds rest).

For these kinds of workouts, you can do circuits of various HIIT exercises or just one exercise. It's up to you!

In any case, the goal is to get up to 90-95% of your max heart rate each set, then when resting, not let it drop below 65%. So the work-rest intervals should be according to that. You do the exercise(s) at max effort, then the rest is just enough so you recover to 65-75% of max heart rate, then you go at it again. This will allow you to reap all the real benefits of HIIT workouts.

hiit benefits

HIIT Benefits

HIIT workouts are very effective. For many of the following fitness benefits, High-Intensity Interval Training is the best way to achieve them.

  1. Burn a lot of calories in a short time.
  2. High metabolic rate hours after exercising (which also helps increase overall metabolism).
  3. Lose fat without losing muscle (can even gain muscle using HIIT while cutting weight if you eat a high protein diet).
  4. Improves oxygen consumption and blood flow to muscles.
  5. Reduces resting heart rate.
  6. Reduces blood pressure (mainly for those who are overweight).
  7. Lowers blood sugar levels (great for people with type 2 diabetes).

Other benefits are: HIIT workouts are efficient, they can be done anywhere, and they don’t require any equipment. If you are short on time but you want serious results, HIIT is the way to go. However, you shouldn’t do HIIT every day as it will be too taxing on your body. You need to take the time to recover between HIIT sessions. 

Science-Based: Comparing HIIT Training to Traditional LIIT Weightlifting and Steady State Cardio: 

Let’s consider the above as we compare HIIT to traditional fitness regimens that involve cardio and weightlifting. 

When comparing a 30 minute HIIT, weight training and running workout, research proves that HIIT is king for burning calories and improving metabolism.

Although HIIT workouts are typically less than 30 minutes, if you did a 30 minute HIIT workout, effectively, you’d burn up to 3 times the amount of calories as you would with a weightlifting or steady-state cardio workout (research study).

This means you could burn the same amount of calories as a 30 minute traditional workout in 1/3rd the time. 

As for metabolic rate, like weightlifting and jogging, HIIT increases your metabolic rate. However, HIIT workouts are shown to keep high oxygen consumption for up to 24 hours (which relates to your metabolic rate), whereas weightlifting and jogging typically only increase oxygen consumption for a short period of time after the workout (research study).

HIIT workouts are comparable to traditional endurance workout in terms of metabolic rate, but they can be done in much less time.

Do HIIT workouts burn fat better than weight training and running? 

In terms of reducing fat, HIIT and moderate-intensity workouts both burn fat, but, again, HIIT does it in much less time. The additional benefit that comes with burning fat through HIIT is that you can maintain and even build muscle (research study).

Can HIIT workouts build muscle?

Gaining muscle through HIIT is not guaranteed, as other factors like diet and the individual’s fitness level and body composition come into play, but it will surely be better for your muscles than steady-state running.

The gold standard of building muscle is weight training. 

Is HIIT workout like cardio? 

HIIT is similar to cardio, in that it burns fat and improves endurance. However, HIIT is more like a hybrid of resistance training and cardio, but a lot harder. HIIT offers additional benefits that cardio doesn’t, it is more efficient. 

hit for beginners

Should I only do HIIT Training? 

While we compared HIIT to weight training and cardio, we are not recommending that you only do HIIT workouts. An ideal workout plan will incorporate weight training (or resistance training of some sort - i.e. bodyweight calisthenics), HIIT, and cardio. They all have their place in fitness.

  • HIIT for burning fat, boosting metabolism, and keeping your body in tip-top shape.
  • Resistance training for hypertrophy and strength. 
  • Cardio for endurance and a healthy heart. 

Why everyone should do HIIT? 

HIIT should find its way into everyone's workout plan, and it should remain there for the long run. Everyone should do HIIT because it offers benefits that other types of training can’t compete with. It’s like saying should you stretch? Yes, absolutely. But it’s not all you should do. A good workout plan will incorporate resistance training, cardio, HIIT and stretching. That’s really all you need to have well-rounded fitness. Other things like balance training, explosive work, and so on, can be incorporated into resistance and HIIT workouts. 

Hiit beginner workout

How long should a HIIT workout be?

HIIT workouts range from 5-30 minutes. However, HIIT is most effective in the 10-20 minute range. If you are a beginner to fitness, then aim for 10-15 minutes. If you are in good shape but new to HIIT workouts, go for 15-20 minutes.

Push yourself with each workout. If your HIIT workout isn’t killer, you aren’t going hard enough.

How often should you do HIIT?

Ideally, you want to do 2-3 HIIT workouts a week. At a minimum, at least one. Your workout plan should include resistance training, cardio and stretching as well, so you will need to mix in HIIT workouts throughout the week in a manner that doesn’t make you susceptible to overtraining. You need time to recover from taxing workouts. 

When to do HIIT workouts?

If you are doing resistance training and cardio, your weekly plan can look like this: 

Day 1: Resistance Training
Day 2: Cardio
Day 3: HIIT
Day 4: Rest


If you want to do two workouts a day:

Day 1: AM - Cardio; PM - Resistance Training
Day 2: Rest
Day 3: HIIT Workout
Day 4: Rest

Can you do HIIT workout every day?

As you can see, you won’t be doing back to back HIIT workouts, as that is too taxing on the body, especially for beginners. Space out your intense workouts, and do some moderate-intensity workouts as well. Both are effective. Moderate-intensity weight training is great for building muscle.

Also, add in some flexibility training throughout the week. Every few days, do a full body stretching routine. Just don’t do it before a workout! 

how long does it take to see results from High intensity interval training

HIIT Workout Results 

If you are doing 2-3 HIIT workouts a week, along with resistance training, you can expect to see some fantastic results. Of course, a proper diet and enough sleep is needed for the best results and adequate recovery.

How long does it take to see results?

You can start to see results from HIIT in as little as two weeks, but typically, within 3-4 weeks you should absolutely see some positive results. Again, this is dependent on your diet and if you are doing proper HIIT workouts (not all circuit training is HIIT! Don't be fooled).

Is HIIT training good for beginners?

HIIT training is great for all levels. It will be especially effective for beginners. You will see results quickly and they will be noticeable. So, just because you are a beginner to working out, you should still employ HIIT into your workout plan (2-3 times a week). 

The only difference between a HIIT newbie and a HIIT expert is an expert will have to work harder to achieve 95% max heart rate. This means different kinds of exercises are used for HIIT beginners than advanced HIIT trainees.

That being said, many of the exercises are similar, just beginners can do slightly easier variations…i.e. half burpees instead of full burpees. Even with the same exercise, you can control the intensity. For example, an intermediate HIIT trainee may do burpees just like an advanced trainee, but the advanced trainee takes the intensity up a couple of notches by being more explosive.

How do you do HIIT for beginners? 

HIIT for beginners is done in the same manner as HIIT for the more advanced. The workout structure is similar as is the effort and goal (reach near-max heart rate interspersed with rest of no lower than 65% max heart rate). The only difference between beginners and more advanced levels is how you achieve your max heart rate. This means HIIT beginners can do different full body, explosive exercises, which would be too easy for the more advanced and wouldn’t allow them to achieve max heart rate.

All in all, the exercises chosen for a beginner HIIT workout will be as difficult for the beginner as the exercises an advanced person is doing during their advanced HIIT workout. Again, the effort should be the same. Just the way to reach that max effort is different.

high intensity interval training for beginners

What are the best HIIT exercises? 

In general, the following types of exercises are great for HIIT workouts:

  • Burpees
  • Mountain climbers
  • Sprints
  • Tuck Jumps
  • High knees
  • Lateral Lunges with Hops
  • Box jumps

As you can see, explosive, full body exercises are what you want for HIIT workouts.

If you are a beginner, some of these exercises can be too difficult, especially over the length of a HIIT workout. So, that’s why we put together the best beginner HIIT exercises below. 

Best Beginner HIIT Exercises

Paulina Kairys presents 18 fat-burning HIIT exercises for beginners. Use these exercises to create a killer HIIT workout that will get you shredded, toned, and swimwear ready.

See below for a list of these 18 beginner HIIT exercises (with timestamps) and a few beginner HIIT workout examples.


18 Best HIIT Exercises for Beginners:

1. Tempo Squats (0:05)
2. Lateral Squats (0:16)
3. Squat to Inchworm (0:27)
4. Up Downs, Low Impact (0:41)
5. Up Downs, High Impact (0:55)
6. Lateral Skiers, Low Impact (1:08)
7. Lateral Skiers, High Impact (1:19)
8. Shuffle | Reverse Lunge (1:30)
9. Fast Feet (1:41)
10. Elevated Push Up | Mountain Climbers (1:48)
11. Butt Kicks (2:02)
12. Lateral Shuffle (2:10)
13. Bear Crawl (2:21)
14. Power Lunge (2:33)
15. High Knees (2:44)
16. Jumping Jacks (2:53)
17. Squat | Lateral Kick (3:04)
18. Jab | Cross | Shuffle (3:17)

Tempo Squats

what are good hiit exercises for beginners

Lateral Squats

hiit exercises

Squat to Inchworm

beginner bodyweight hiit exercises

Up Downs, Low Impact

beginner burpees

Up Downs, High Impact

Beginner HIIT Exercises

Lateral Skiers, Low Impact

how to do hiit exercises

Lateral Skiers, High Impact

hiit exercises for women

Shuffle | Reverse Lunge

calorie burning exercises

Fast Feet

hiit training for beginners

Elevated Push Up | Mountain Climbers

hiit exercises for beginners

Butt Kicks

easy hiit exercises

Lateral Shuffle

hiit exercises for overweight

Bear Crawl

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Power Lunge

hiit training

High Knees

high knees for high intensity interval training

Jumping Jacks

best fat burning exercises

Squat | Lateral Kick

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Jab | Cross | Shuffle

high intensity interval training for beginners


#1) 1-to-1 Circuit (10 mins total):
- Choose 5 exercises
- 30 seconds work-to-rest ratio
- Complete 2 rounds

#2) TABATA (4 mins total):
- Choose the hardest exercises for you (just one exercise)
- 20 seconds on/10 seconds rest
- 8 sets total

#3) 40/20 Circuit (20 mins total):
- Choose 5 Exercises
- 40 seconds work/20 seconds rest
- Complete 4 rounds 

#4) 20/10 Circuit (15 mins total):
- Choose 6 exercises
- 20 seconds work/10 seconds rest
- Complete 5 rounds

#5) The Run Through (15 mins total)
- Choose 15 exercises
- 40 seconds work/20 seconds rest (can also do 35/25 or 30/30 to make it easier)
- Do each exercise, one after the other, until all 15 are completed) 

Be sure to push yourself as hard as you can with each of these HIIT workouts. Try not to rest at all during work time, but if you do, keep the position or just slow the tempo. 

Can you do HIIT training on a treadmill?

We have another great HIIT workout that can be done on a treadmill. Be warned, this one is very intense and probably not best for beginners.

HIIT Treadmill Workout:

Get on a treadmill, but don’t turn it on. This workout will take 16 minutes. 

Holding onto the treadmill bar in front of you, press into the treadmill with all your power and start to sprint (again the treadmill is off, so you will be using all of your power to move the belt. Maintain a sprint with your hands on the handle).

Sprint for 15 seconds, then rest for 45 seconds (you can also do 10 seconds sprint, 50 seconds rest).

Do this for 16 sets (or 16 minutes in total).

Be sure to warm up first.

We promise you, this one is beyond brutal. After a few minutes, you will see. 

how to lose weight for beginners

Hiit and Weight Training Schedule for Beginners

Full body Training Schedule

Day 1: Full Body Resistance Workout (moderate intensity)
Day 2: 40 mins cardio (moderate intensity)
Day 3: HIIT workout (10 mins)
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Full Body Resistance Workout (moderate intensity)
Day 6: 40 mins cardio (moderate intensity)
Day 7: HIIT workout (10 mins)
Day 8: Rest
Day 9: If you need another rest day, take it. Listen to your body. If not, repeat from Day 1.

Upper/Lower Body Training Schedule

Day 1: Lower Body Resistance Workout (moderate intensity)
Day 2: 30-40 mins cardio (moderate intensity)
Day 3: HIIT workout (10 mins)
Day 4: Rest
Day 5: Upper Body Resistance Workout (moderate intensity)
Day 6: 40 mins cardio (moderate intensity)
Day 7: HIIT workout (10 mins)
Day 8: Rest
Day 9: If you need another rest day, take it. Listen to your body. If not, repeat from Day 1.


For resistance training (weights or bodyweight workouts), a good goal for beginners is to do 8-12 sets for each muscle group per week. That’s sets, not exercises.

At-Home Workout Plans

If you are having trouble coming up with bodyweight back resistance workouts and bodyweight shoulder resistance workouts, here are some of the best bodyweight back and shoulder exercises for you.

If you have any questions about HIIT workouts or fitness in general, feel free to reach out to us.

Battle on!

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