How Long Should a HIIT Workout Be?


HIIT is still the buzz word in the fitness world. So, you’ve heard of it, but are you still confused about what exactly constitutes a HIIT workout? Or, how long should a HIIT workout be? Or, how often you should be HIITing it? Then all the hype starts playing with your head as to whether shorter workouts are even effective for your weight loss and body transformation goals. Rest assured, we have ALL the answers.

What is HIIT?

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This type of workout focuses on numerous quick bursts of hard output followed by rest periods. Think of it as a quick hit of intensity, with a reward of rest…then you do it all again. You rapidly increase your heart rate and allow it to somewhat (but not fully) decline during the rest period between sets. What gets confusing is the diverse types of HIIT workouts.

Types of HIIT workouts

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The term HIIT doesn’t just refer to gym-based weights workouts, they also come in a variety of cardio workouts. It could be a sprint running workout; a cycling based HIIT workout involving sprints; a rowing based HIIT workout with intervals. Paddling, swimming, rowing, running – they can all be HIIT based workouts. What’s common is the short bursts of high intensity and varying heart-rate of the workouts.

That’s what makes HIIT workouts different to your regular low intensity steady state (LISS) form of exercise where you just run, ride, swim or row continuously at the same pace or effort.

Why would I bother with a HIIT workout?

Studies suggest that you burn calories both during and long after your HIIT workout has completed. Say what?! Yes, it’s a bonus. This process known as “afterburn” is where your body is forced to use more energy to make up for the impact that high intensity exercise had on your energy stores. Meaning you can burn more total calories overall with a shorter time-efficient HIIT workout. This is the main reason that HIIT based workouts have become so popular in recent times. They are quick, convenient and effective workouts for weight loss and fitness.

How long should a HIIT workout be?

Active8me How Long Should a HIIT Workout Be? Woman on treadmill looking at watch

After a rhythmic style warm-up, your HIIT workout should typically take between 15 to 25 minutes. Remember a HIIT workout is all about making the high intensity part really work for you, so if your workout is going longer, you may not be pushing yourself hard enough during the ‘high intensity’ parts.

Ideally, your HIIT workout will see you elevating your heart rate to your maximal heart rate zone during the workout periods. This is why everyone’s HIIT workout is individual to them. The key to maintaining high intensity for each rep is to have adequate rest periods.

HIIT workouts can come in a variety of work-to-rest ratios to suit your current training needs. You may want to start with a 1:2 ratio of intensity to rest. This means if you are doing a 1-minute high intensity sprint, you recover for 2-minutes with a slow jog or walk to bring your heart rate down before repeating your next 1-minute sprint.

As you progress with your HIIT workouts you may shorten the intensity period, for example, a 1-min sprint goes down to a 45-second sprint. But the intensity should be harder in that 45-second interval than your 1-min interval. Remember you should also reduce the length of your rest in this scenario too.

How important are the interval rest periods?

The rest periods are what prepares you for the ‘high intensity’ part of the HIIT workout. If you are putting in maximal effort for the high intensity set, you will be loving every second of your rest period. Adequate rest periods allow you to remain consistent with your intensity across your workout, which is what you should be aiming for.

It is important to remember that the risk of injury is generally higher during HIIT workouts if/when your technique becomes compromised due to fatigue, making the rest periods even more important.

How often should I HIIT it?

HIIT workouts are high intensity in more ways than one. They are both physically and psychologically demanding. This means it can be taxing on your muscular system (be warned, you will feel sore!) as well as feeling drained from mentally having to push through your workout. Of course, this may also have positive impacts in building mental resilience and associated self-confidence in knowing you will transform your body.

HIIT or miss?

HIIT workouts are effective and we like them, but not every workout can or should be high intensity. They form an essential component of an overall balanced program. If you’re following an Active8me program, your HIIT workouts are scheduled alongside LISS cardio, resistance exercise and recovery periods. If you’re following your own routine, make sure you have at least one to two days between HIIT workouts and consider capping them at two per week.

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