Best HIIT workout for women

HIIT For Women: 5 Workouts, Exercises, Benefits & Tips

September 24, 2021

Whether you are just getting into high intensity interval training or you are looking for new HIIT exercise and workout ideas, LADIES we have you covered. In this article, you are going to learn everything you need to know about HIIT. Specifically, HIIT workouts for women.

HIIT workout for women

WHAT IS A HIIT WORKOUT? 

HIIT stands for high intensity interval training. In a nutshell, the workouts involve intervals of intense exercise that get your heart rate up high (approx. 85-90% max heart rate) followed by rest or active rest. For example, 20 seconds intense burst of exercise, 10 seconds rest, repeated for a certain number of rounds. 

The ultimate goal is to have a period of near max heart rate followed by a rest period that doesn’t allow your heart rate to drop below ~65% max. So, by the time your heart rate starts to hit 65% or so, you will perform another intense set to bring it right back up.

The concept is quite easy, but the workouts are NOT. That said, the workouts can be tailored to different fitness levels.

There are plenty of ways to go about high intensity interval training. They can be done with sprints, cycling, bodyweight exercises or even weights, using various work-rest intervals. The myriad options for creating HIIT workouts allows you to always keep things fresh and challenging.

Now that you know what HIIT is, it’s important to understand the “science” behind it...

The general purpose of HIIT is to burn calories, lose weight and even build muscle.

It’s quite different from traditional cardio (steady state low intensity running or cycling). HIIT workouts are anaerobic NOT aerobic, meaning your muscles don’t use oxygen as their primary source of energy. Like weight training, due to the shortage of oxygen for energy consumption, your body relies on glucose and creatine phosphates (ATP) to fuel your muscles with energy. As such, HIIT is more like weight training than cardio. BUT, it does share some major benefits with cardio, as it does weight training.

If you combine weights with HIIT at the same time, things can get really serious! 

Finally, it should be noted that because HIIT is so intense (it’s in the name, right?), you can’t have long workouts like you can cardio. Work intervals are generally no more than 60 seconds and the entire workout around 20 minutes or less. Thankfully, that’s all you need to have positive effect with HIIT. It’s not like cardio where you need 30+ minutes to actually get an effect.

IS HIIT GOOD FOR GIRLS? 

HIIT is just as good for women as it is for men. In fact, many experts claim that HIIT is especially beneficial for women because (if done properly) it is fantastic for hormone balance, muscle retention, and bone density. Not to mention, stress management.

All things us women need.

What’s more, research shows that women burn more fat during HIIT than men AND they can handle more work in the gym when it comes to fat loss. Basically, women are better at burning fat during workouts than men, but not during rest, which makes HIIT even more attractive for women. 

Now, of course, HIIT is also great for men. However, that doesn’t mean the workouts have to be exactly the same. High intensity interval training can be effectively tailored to women based on their fitness level and strength, which is why we’ve made this HIIT guide specifically for females. 

BENEFITS OF HIIT FOR WOMEN 

The benefits of HIIT for women are twofold considering...

  1. Women have more potential for burning fat during intense workout than men (and they can handle more workload with this kind of training).
  2. Women are more susceptible to thinning bones, which HIIT helps combat.
  3. Women have monthly hormonal changes, which HIIT can help mitigate. 

AND, they get all the same benefits of HIIT as men too, which are... 

1. Efficiency 

HIIT workouts achieve a lot in a short period of time. With just ~20 minutes of high intensity interval training, you can burn as many calories as a long duration traditional cardio workout does in around 40 minutes. Plus, you get additional benefits that cardio can’t give you, such as muscle growth. 

Now, it’s not to say that HIIT is better than cardio, but in terms of calorie burn, it’s definitely more efficient. On average, long duration low intensity cardio burns around 10 calories per minute, whereas HIIT burns 15-20 calories per minute. However, the point of how HIIT burns more calories doesn’t end there... 

2. Metabolism (EPOC) 

After a HIIT workout, your post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) will be much higher, which means for hours after your workout you will be burning calories at a considerably higher rate. This is because your body is working to restore itself back to pre-exercise levels.

As such, the calories burned with a HIIT workout must also include the EPOC, making it even greater than a traditional cardio workout which doesn’t create the same reaction. 

Overall, this has a great effect on your metabolism, which will help you to shed fat and keep it off.

3. Muscle Growth 

HIIT is puts a lot of stress on your muscles similar to weight training, which means it can also promote hypertrophy (muscle growth). If you continue making your HIIT workouts a little more difficult over time, you can continue building muscle and strength. At the VERY least, HIIT will ensure you maintain muscle mass (and strength), unlike cardio where if done in certain ranges of time and speed can potentially cause some muscle loss. 

4. Versatility & Scalability

HIIT workouts are both versatile and scalable.

In terms of versatility, you can use different workout times, workout formats and intervals, exercises, and even equipment. This ensures your HIIT workouts never become stale.

As for scalability, because they are so versatile, you can make them progressively harder. HIIT workouts can be highly effective from beginner all the way to elite levels.

On top of all that, HIIT will help you build a strong and healthy heart, improve flexibility and range of motion (bodyweight HIIT workouts are like a form of dynamic stretching), stronger bones, and overall athleticism (balance and coordination). PLUS, you’ll get a serious flow of endorphins soon after you finish!

hiit for women

FAQs About High Intensity Interval Training: 

Is HIIT really better than cardio? 

HIIT and traditional cardio have plenty of similarities in that they are both effective for burning calories and thus losing fat. HIIT just does so in a more efficient manner. 

Because of that, HIIT and cardio are often interchangeable.

BUT, the two are different. Cardio isn’t just about burning calories, it’s about cardiovascular health.

While HIIT has some benefit on cardiovascular health, it’s not to the same degree as long duration low intensity cardio simply due to the nature of the two workouts (cardio is low intensity which keeps you in the cardiovascular range and provides your muscles with oxygen for energy, HIIT doesn’t). 

HIIT also isn’t just about burning calories, even though it is superior in terms of calorie burn efficiency. It helps promote bone density, muscle growth, strength and more. Basically, you can think of HIIT like a hybrid of cardio and strength training. 

As such, we can’t say HIIT is better for cardio because they are different. Ideally, you should be doing both.

However, if the question is which is better for burning calories quickly and overall fat loss goals, HIIT reigns supreme because it can help you build muscle and keep your metabolism running strong, which is crucial for staying lean. 

Is HIIT more effective for weight loss?

HIIT is highly effective for weight loss because it causes you to burn more calories at rest long after the workout is over and it boost your metabolism through this and the fact that it promotes muscle growth. Most people want to lose weight in the form of fat, in which case HIIT is more effective for that kind of weight loss.

Are HIIT workouts good for belly fat? 

HIIT is great for losing belly fat. While you can’t spot reduce fat, HIIT is shown to be the most effective form of exercise for fat loss. Studies show it will significantly reduce abdominal and visceral fat mass with regular practice.

Remember, all the ab exercises in the world won’t help you get a nice toned stomach or six pack unless you bring down your body fat percentage. If you want that, you need HIIT. 

HOW LONG CAN A HIIT WORKOUT BE? 

HIIT workouts can range from 4 minutes up to 30 minutes, but the best average time length is around 10-20 minutes.

Beginners should start with around 10 minutes for HIIT workouts. However, as you become more advanced, you can work your way up in time (and/or intensity of the exercises itself - i.e. rather than doing sets of air squats do jump squats).

Overall, you need to listen to your body. Remember, HIIT is supposed to be INTENSE. Your body can only sustain a high level of intensity for so long. At some point, intensity will diminish, so when you go on too long and your workout is no longer intense, it won’t even be a HIIT workout anymore. AND if you try to push yourself too far, overuse injuries can occur.

Like with any kind of exercise, you need to start somewhere and then progress. A 5 minute very high intensity workout will be much better than a 10-15 minute mediocre intensity “HIIT” workout. 

HOW OFTEN CAN I DO HIIT WORKOUTS?

Two to three HIIT workouts per week is good. Essentially, you want to give your body at least a full 24 hours of rest and recovery between session. This includes other kinds of strength training workouts that you may be doing.

If you are a beginner and you are already doing some form of resistance training, start with just one HIIT workout per week, then work up in frequency from there. 

If you plan to only do HIIT workouts, then you could probably be safe around 3-4 workouts per week with a schedule as follows:

  • Monday: HIIT
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: HIIT
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: HIIT
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: HIIT

That said, it’s likely you'll want to do other kinds of workouts, so we will go over how to incorporate HIIT into an existing routine a little further below.

Can I do HIIT everyday?

If you are doing HIIT correctly, which means very high intensity, then NO. It’s definitely not recommended to do it every day. HIIT is taxing on your nervous system, so you'll need adequate time to recover or else you will end up overtraining, mentally burned out, and your efforts for muscle growth simply can’t occur considering you aren’t giving yourself enough rest for repair.

All that said, something like a 5 minute HIIT workout is probably more than doable for most fit individuals. In the end, you really just need to listen and understand your body. If you need rest, take it.

hiit workout for female beginners

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR HIIT TO SEE RESULTS?

It really depends on the individual, how hard your HIIT workouts are, how often you are doing HIIT and what other physical activities you are doing. However, generally speaking, with 2-3 HIIT workouts a week, you should see some great results in as little as 4 weeks. If you stick with 2-3 HIIT workouts per week, especially in addition to other moderate intensity resistance training, you will get into the best shape of your life before you know it. 

HOW TO INCORPORATE HIIT INTO YOUR WORKOUT ROUTINE?

A lot of women like to just do a few HIIT workouts each week in addition to some form of long duration cardio. If that’s the case, aim for 2-4 HIIT workouts each week, spread out so you have enough recovery time in-between sessions. 

If you want to do some weight training along with HIIT, then an ideal workout schedule will look like something as follows:

Monday: Lower Body Workout
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Upper Body Workout
Thursday: HIIT
Friday: Rest
Saturday: Full Body Workout
Sunday: Rest

OR

Monday: Lower Body
Tuesday: Upper Body
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: HIIT
Friday: Rest
Saturday: Lower Body
Sunday: Upper Body
Monday: Rest
Tuesday: HIIT
...and so on

OR 

Monday: Full Body Weight Training
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: HIIT
Thursday: Rest
Friday: Full Body Weight Training
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: HIIT
Monday: Rest
Repeat

Long duration cardio can also be mixed in during mornings of full body weight training days.

OR 

For more advanced...

Monday: Upper Body Workout
Tuesday: Lower Body Workout
Wednesday: HIIT
Thursday: Rest
Repeat

There are so many ways to go about programming HIIT into your workouts. Ultimately, if you are doing a 10-20 minute HIIT workout, you want to give yourself 24 hours before your next workout. If your weight training sessions are intense too, then you need to also give your body and muscles the rest it needs before doing HIIT. 

That said, if you want to do quick HIIT finishers a few times a week, then you could throw in a 5 minute HIIT after a couple of your moderate intensity resistance training sessions per week. That should be more than doable in terms of recovery. 

We will provide various examples of HIIT workouts for women that work with different routines.

HIIT workout for women at home

BEST HIIT WORKOUTS FOR WOMEN 

Let’s first go over some great HIIT workouts for ladies of different fitness levels, then we will run you through how to build your own HIIT workouts, which includes some of the best HIIT exercises to use. 

HIIT WORKOUT #1 - Female Beginners At Home No Equipment: 

This HIIT workout is particularly great for women who are beginners. 

For this HIIT workout, it is full length, meaning you can throw it on your TV, tablet or phone and follow along to it. The video includes a timer so you know exactly when to start and stop, as well as demonstrations of the next exercise in line during rest periods.


Workout Details:

  • 10 Exercises
  • 45 Seconds On
  • 15 Seconds Off
  • 1 Round

1. Power Squats
2. Side Shuffle with Touch
3. Lunge to Knee Drive
4. Jumping Jacks
5. Lateral Walk with Hop
6. High Knee with Pause
7. Good Morning Lunge
8. Step Back Burpee
9. Knee Push Up
10. Elevated Mountain Climbers

Easier Alternative Movements Included

Total Workout Time: 10 minutes

If you want more follow along HIIT workouts like this, please be sure to leave a comment, like and subscribe to our Youtube Channel!

HIIT Workout #2 - Female Intermediate At Home No Equipment:

This HIIT workout takes things up a notch. It involves shorter intervals because the exercises are harder and more explosive and intense. This is a good HIIT routine for women who are already in pretty good shape. 

Workout Details:

  • 10 Exercises
  • 20 Seconds On
  • 10 Seconds Off
  • 2 to 3 Rounds (no rest between rounds)

1. Jump Squats
2. Mountain Climbers
3. High Knees
4. Star Jumps
5. Plank Jacks
6. Burpees
7. Butt Kicks
8. Tuck Jumps
9. Side Plank with Dip (left)
10. Side Plank with Dip (right)

HIIT Workout #3 - Female Intermediate to Advance With Equipment:

For women who need a seriously challenging HIIT workout, add some equipment into the mix. 

The best equipment for HIIT workouts are dumbbells or kettlebells. However, flat loop resistance bands can also be great!

Because dumbbells are the easiest to access for most, let’s use dumbbells for this intermediate-advanced HIIT routine.

Workout Details:

Equipment: A Pair of Dumbbells

Choose an appropriate weight based on the exercises below and your strength level. You want them to be challenging yet sustainable for 4 rounds. That said, you can switch to a heavier pair or lighter pair mid workout, quickly, if needed.

  • 5 Exercises
  • 30 seconds On
  • 15 seconds Off
  • 4 Rounds 

1. Thrusters
2. Renegade Rows
3. Burpees
4. Reverse Lunge with Curl
5. Sit Up with Overhead Press

HIIT Workout #4 - Sprints (Distance):

Sprints make for an amazing HIIT workout. In fact, it is one of the most popular ways to do HIIT, and all it involves are SPRINTS, which makes it extremely accessible and all levels of fitness can do it.

You can control the difficulty simply by how much work you do, how fast you push your sprints, as well as using an incline for your sprints as you become more advanced.

Option 1: 10 x 50m Sprints 

Sprint the 50m then walk back to your starting line and immediately sprint again. So, your rest time is the walking distance back, which should be about ~30 seconds. As such, this workout involves greater rest time than working time, BUT the sprints should be INTENSE. 

i.e. 

5 Minute Dynamic Warm
5 Minute Speed Walking or Jogging
- You must warm up before sprint workouts

  • Sprint 1: 60% max speed
  • Sprint 2: 70% max speed
  • Sprint 3: 75% max speed
  • Sprint 4: 80% max speed
  • Sprint 5: 85% max speed
  • Sprint 6: 90% max speed
  • Sprint 7: 90%+ max speed
  • Sprint 8: 80% max speed
  • Sprint 9: 75% max speed
  • Sprint 10: 70% max speed

Difficulty level: beginner-intermediate 

Option 2: 10 x 100m Sprints 

5 Minute Dynamic Warm
5 Minute Speed Walking or Jogging
- You must warm up before sprint workouts

  • Sprint 1: 60% max speed
  • Sprint 2: 70% max speed
  • Sprint 3: 80% max speed
  • Sprint 4: 90% max speed
  • Sprint 5: 90%+ max speed
  • Sprint 6: 90%+ max speed
  • Sprint 7: 90%+ max speed
  • Sprint 8: 80% max speed
  • Sprint 9: 80% max speed
  • Sprint 10: 70% max speed

Rest time: Just the walking distance back to the starting line of your 100 meters. 

Difficulty level: Advanced 

HIIT Workout #5 - Sprints (Time):

20 second sprints, 90 seconds rest

This can be done anywhere outside or on a treadmill.

Just run 20 seconds. Distance doesn’t matter. But it is good to keep track of distance as each set or even the next workout you can try to run a little farther. That way you know you are pushing yourself.

After each 20 second set, rest for 90 seconds. Ideally, you will be walking during that 90 seconds. Don’t just stand still (you can walk back to the starting line to keep track of distance or just keep moving forward and see how far you can go!).

Beginner: 7 sprint sets total

Increase difficulty: 

If you like this workout, the next time you do it, try to add 1 more set. However, at some point, you can only increase the number of sets so much. So, to make things more difficult, you can also increase the time or do this workout on an incline. You could even do this on an inclined street or a hill.

Hill sprints are the ultimate sprint HIIT workout, but save it for when you are more advanced because they are BRUTAL.

Treadmill Sprints: 

One of our favorite ways to do sprints on a treadmill is with the treadmill OFF. That’s right.

Get on the treadmill. Don’t turn it on.

Then, holding the front handles, power the belt (get it moving) simply by moving your legs with all your might. As you get going, it’ll be moving just as if it was turned on. 

So, for this one, you do 15 seconds on, 45 seconds off. Aim to do 15-20 sets. It’s killer. 

We like this option of leaving the treadmill off for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a lot harder (it’s essentially like doing sprints on an incline)
  2. When you stop, you don’t have to worry about jumping off the treadmill or pressing buttons to get the speed down to walking. When you stop, it stops as you were powering the belt manually. 

How often can I do sprint HIIT workouts?

Don’t do more than two sprint workouts per week. As a beginner, start with just one. If you want to do more HIIT workouts each week, then also do some bodyweight exercise HIIT workouts, not just sprints. Sprints tend to be the most taxing on the body.

hiit for girls

BUILDING HIIT WORKOUTS FOR WOMEN

To build a HIIT workout, you need to consider a few things:

  • Exercises: What exercise(s) are you going to choose. A HIIT workout can involve one or many exercises
  • Interval Time (workout format): Work and rest periods
  • Total Workout Time: How many intervals/rounds 

So, let’s go over each of these points briefly. 

Best HIIT Exercises for Women:

The best HIIT exercises for women and men are going to be big compound movements and explosive exercises. The only real difference between what exercises women should choose in comparison to men is if the woman in question has some limitations. For example, a lot of women have trouble with upper body strength movements like push ups. It’s important that you can perform the exercise with high intensity and explosive power when doing HIIT. So, if you lack strength in certain areas, then choose alternative exercises that you know you can perform powerfully.

Here is a list of some of the best bodyweight-only HIIT exercises for women:

  • Sprints
  • High Knees
  • Burpees
  • Tuck Jumps
  • Mountain Climbers
  • Jumping Lunges
  • Bicycle Crunches
  • Lateral Skiers
  • Butt Kicks
  • Jump Squats
  • Star Jumps
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Flutter Kicks
  • Plank Jacks
  • Russian Twists

The great thing about the above exercises is that they are suitable for all levels. Intensity can be controlled and easier alternatives can be made.

For example, as a beginner, a full burpee may be too difficult, but a half burpee (without the push up and/or jump) is doable for nearly anyone. 

Related: Best HIIT Exercises for Beginners

As long as you are getting your heart rate up very high, then it doesn’t matter if you are doing as many reps as the next person. Each person’s fitness level is different, so the look of your “high intensity” will not always be the same as someone else’s. 

Best Equipment for HIIT workouts:

  • Battle Ropes (waves and slams and other battle rope exercises make for a great HIIT workout)
  • Dumbbells (a pair of light weight dumbbells will have you rocking!)
  • Kettlebells (Kettlebells for HIIT is quite possibly the best! And all you really need is one!)
  • Medicine Balls & Slam Balls
  • Steel Mace
  • Resistance Bands

Save equipment based HIIT workouts for when your HIIT game is 100% up to par. Bodyweight HIIT is more than enough for most beginner and intermediates. That said, it can be fun to switch things up by adding in a piece of equipment. 

Best HIIT Workout Formats: 

It really depends on what the exercises are. Is it a core focused HIIT? Is it a sprinting HIIT? Are you using equipment or just bodyweight movements?

Generally speaking, the best HIIT workout formats (and thus intervals) for bodyweight exercises (and exercises with relatively lightweight equipment) are...

  1. 20/10: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off is HIIT interval structure called Tabata. You can do Tabata workouts with one or many exercises incorporated. As you only have 10 seconds of rest, it is usually best done with less exercises or even just one exercise (i.e. 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 10 rounds doing just Jump Squats, Battle Rope Waves, Burpees, or High Knees, etc.)
  2. 30/15: 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off. This is another popular option. Usually for the 30/15 format, the workout will involve multiple exercises, not all are explosive, as 30 seconds of work is a long time in the HIIT world. The 30/15 format is also good for HIIT workouts that involve equipment like dumbbells.
  3. 45/15 or 40/20: 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off OR 40/20. This is a good format for beginners as the movements will generally be less impactful so longer time is needed. In this case, a workout from 10-20 minutes for a beginner with a 45/15 format is good. On the other hand, this interval can be great for people who want to do a really tough yet quick HIIT workout. An advanced female athlete could really REALLY drain themselves with a 5-10 minute HIIT workout doing big explosive movements with a 45/15 or 40/20 format.

Other HIIT style formats are Every Minute On The Minute (EMOM) and As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP) Workouts. 

As for sprints, it’s usually the opposite in terms of work and rest time. For example, a sprint HIIT workout may be sprint for 20 seconds, rest for 90 seconds OR sprint for 15 seconds, rest for 45-60 seconds, sprint for 10 seconds, rest for 30 seconds. However, rest is not usually a complete standstill, it often involves either walking or jogging. 

Essentially, with sprints, you want to give it your all for a duration of time or distance (50-100 meters at most) and then rest just enough so your heart rate doesn’t go below 60-65%. If you are in really good shape, you can simply lower your rest time after each sprinting interval. 

Total Workout Time:

As we’ve already discussed, you really want to give it your all when doing a HIIT workout. As such, HIIT workouts will not be effective if they are too long. 

Keep your HIIT to around 5-30 minutes. 

As a beginner, we recommend somewhere in the 10-20 minute range.

Why do we not choose 5 minutes for a beginner? Well, typically beginners will not be able to really push themselves hard enough for a 5 minutes to be as effective.

Putting it all together: 

  1. Choose a workout duration (i.e. 10 minutes).
  2. Figure out a work/rest interval and the exercises that best suit that workout duration.
  3. Calculate the number of rounds if needed.
  4. GO, GO, GO 

hiit exercises for women

SHOULD I EAT BEFORE A HIIT WORKOUT? 

Some studies show that you will actually burn more fat and overall calories in a 12-14 hour period when you do HIIT in a fed state, while other studies suggest that fat oxidation does increase during fasted HIIT.

In the end, to lose weight, and therefore fat, you need to be in a caloric deficit over time. So, it doesn’t matter if you eat or not in terms of fat and weight loss, but it does in terms of performance...

Some people may do just fine with a HIIT workout in a fasted state. Especially if they are used to exercising fasted. However, most people will see significantly better performance if eating a little 30-60 minutes before a HIIT workout, and with better performance comes better results. 

So, see what works for you. If you are going to do just a quick 5-10 minute HIIT workout, doing it fasted if you’d like might be perfectly fine for you. But, if you plan to do a serious HIIT workout for 10+ minutes, we do recommend getting something in your stomach. 

Yet, don’t eat too much beforehand or your workout will also suffer. It’s never easy to do an intense workout with a full stomach.

Therefore, the perfect meal before a HIIT workout is something like a banana, scoop of peanut or almond butter and a protein shake.

SHOULD I EAT AFTER HIIT WORKOUT? 

Absolutely. Do your best to eat within 15 to 20 minutes of finishing your HIIT workout. Remember, HIIT is similar to weight training in that your muscles are going to be stressed and need fuel to recover. Get some protein and healthy carbs in after your HIIT workout and you are good to go.

Also, drink plenty of water. Hydration is a must for HIIT.

ARE HIT WORKOUTS RIGHT FOR YOU? 

As you can see, there are so many benefits women can reap by doing HIIT and the options for HIIT workouts are endless. This makes HIIT accessible for nearly every lady out there. Not to mention, fun! Yes, maybe a brutal type of fun, but the feel-goods you get after are so worth it. 

So, if you have any interest at all to do HIIT, get your workout gear on and get it in! Train hard, train smart, and the results will follow.



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