This HIIT Workout for Beginners Is Simple Yet Effective

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If you’re looking for a HIIT workout for beginners, there are a few things you should know about that kind of exercise programming before you get started.

For one, when we say HIIT, we’re talking about high-intensity interval training, a type of workout modality that intersperses short periods of hard work with easier recovery periods.

“When you are doing the high-intensity part, you keep it short and reach close to maximal capacity for what you can do,” ACE-certified personal trainer Sivan Fagan, owner of Strong with Sivan, tells SELF.

There’s also not really a set formula for HIIT workouts in terms of work-to-rest periods, she says. In fact, true HIIT is actually a little different from the HIIT many general population exercisers use, or even from the protocols you see in most fitness classes, Noam Tamir, CSCS, founder and CEO of TS Fitness in New York City, told SELF previously. With true HIIT, your work periods are going to be really all-out and pretty short—20 seconds or shorter—to tap into your anaerobic system for energy, and your rest periods will be two or three times as long as that. But in the HIIT we’re talking about, the ratio of work to rest will be smaller, while the intensity won’t be quite as high.

The benefits of true HIIT are performance-based for athletes, as Tamir said previously. But there are still some very solid benefits of the HIIT workouts we’re referring to.

For one, because you will be pushing your effort level higher than you would, say, if you were doing straight reps and sets of an exercise, you’ll be increasing your heart rate and gaining cardiovascular benefits, says Fagan.

“You get the conditioning aspect of things because you are training your heart rate,” she says. “Your heart is going to get stronger from that because you are training to a higher and longer capacity.” Plus, it’s also a very efficient option for those who are short on time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, when looking at the health benefits of exercise, one minute of vigorous intensity exercise counts as much as two minutes of moderate.

If you’re relatively new to exercise, though, there are some things you should keep in mind before trying a HIIT workout for beginners. First and most important, pay attention to how you’re doing the moves: “Don’t sacrifice form for more reps or faster execution of the movement,” Fagan says. “It’s always quality before quantity or speed.”

Beginners interested in HIIT should make sure they feel comfortable with the movements before trying to do them for a set amount of time, which can tempt people to want to crank out more reps than they can do safely. And it’s important to recognize pain, especially in your joints, which is different from the burning you may feel in your muscles when they’re working and moving. If you feel any kind of pain or discomfort, you should stop. And if you have any injuries, it’s important to talk with your doctor or physical therapist before starting an exercise program.

One more thing: If you’re new to exercise, a beginner HIIT workout should include more of a full-body focus than one that’s targeted to a specific area or muscle group (like a HIIT legs workout), says Fagan. Focusing intense work on one area can raise your risk of injury if you’re still building a solid strength base.

If you’re interested in an efficient, 20-minute HIIT workout for beginners, here’s what you need to get started.

The Workout

What you need: An exercise mat for comfort and a pair of sliders. (If you don’t have sliders, a towel or a paper/plastic plate works just fine.)

Exercises

Superset 1

  • Reverse lunge
  • Push-up

Superset 2

  • Side shuffle with floor tap
  • Slider arm circles

Directions

  • For Superset 1, complete 20 seconds of the reverse lunge and 10 seconds of the push-up. Repeat. Rest for one minute. Complete five rounds total.
  • For Superset 2, complete each exercise for 30 seconds (switch sides halfway through for the arm circles). Rest for one minute. Complete five rounds total.
  • If you’re just getting started, you may feel more comfortable completing two or three rounds of each superset.

Demoing the moves below are Nikki Pebbles (GIF 1), a New York City–based fitness instructor for over nine years and an AFAA- and NCCPT-certified personal trainer and group fitness trainer; Erica Gibbons (GIF 2), a California-based personal trainer and graduate student becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist; Tiana Jones (GIF 3), a dance and fitness instructor based in New York City; and Amanda Wheeler (GIF 4), a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength.

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