H.I.I.T. Cardio: A Practical Guide


When I walk into my gym I often see familiar faces walking on the treadmills or elliptical machines. When I finish my workout some of the same people are still walking on the same equipment. These people are still carrying the same body fat they had when I joined this gym two years ago. If you’ve been following the same program for months and you’re not seeing results why would you continue to follow the same exact program? Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

I can’t think of anything more boring than endless low intensity steady state cardio. I have the patience of a chipmunk so if I had to spend an hour on a piece of cardio equipment I would probably tie a noose to the pull up bar. Luckily, research has shown that Steady state cardio is not the best way to burn fat and it may even hamper all your hard earned effort to build muscle. So what should replace those tedious cardio sessions?

Enter H.I.I.T.

High Intensity Interval Training is comprised of short bursts of all out effort alternated with short periods of low effort recovery time. H.I.I.T. has been around for years and with each new research study more and more benefits are discovered. H.I.I.T. has been shown to burn fat while preserving muscle mass, increase growth hormone, greatly improve cardio capacity and increase your metabolic rate for hours and even days. As if all these benefits weren’t enough, I haven’t even mentioned my favorite aspect of H.I.I.T. training. I can get it done in under 20 minutes.

Be advised that H.I.I.T can be very taxing on the central nervous system. You should ease into it as you would your weight training as if you returned after an extended layoff. I also suggest no more than two H.I.I.T. sessions per week especially if you’re also hitting the weights hard 3 or 4 times a week.


If you’re not accustomed to sprinting you need to use caution. Sprinting is a dynamic movement and notorious for causing injuries including ankle sprains and tears of the Achilles tendon, hip flexor and hamstring. Most muscle tears are a result of your central nervous system triggering a muscle to contract at the wrong time in a dynamic movement. Give your CNS time to gradually adapt to sprinting. Accelerate in a controlled manor and avoid jackrabbit starts. Don’t try to jump right into sprints at a 100 % effort on your first training session or you’ll find yourself limping home while mumbling all kinds of nasty things about me and my bright ideas.

Sprint / Walks

Sprint / walks are the classic example of H.I.I.T. training. First, warm up your body by running at a slow to medium pace for about five minutes. The sprint portion should last between 10 & 20 seconds and the walk portion could last between 20 seconds and two minutes, depending on your fitness level and the progression of your training session. The walk portions tend to increase the further you get into the session. If you choose to do sprint / walks on a track I would suggest that you sprint the straight aways and walk the curves. You could choose not to travel anywhere and just sprint in one direction and walk back to the same starting point. I do this in the parking lot, at my gym, after my resistance work. In my opinion the most interesting option is to choose a running route on the road. I like to leave my house and run out to a point where I feel I’m sufficiently warmed up. My running route has telephone poles spaced every 100 feet so I use those as my markers. If I choose to sprint for three phone poles that’s the equivalent of a 100 yard dash and it takes me about 15 seconds (OK, so I’m not Hussein Bolt but neither are you) I will then walk for a series of phone poles until I feel I can sprint again.

Hill Sprints

Hill sprints are one of my favorite H.I.I.T. style workouts. Most likely you’ve got a steep hill within a half mile of your house. In the time it takes you to run to the hill you’ll already be warmed up. Start at the bottom of the hill and run up to the top as fast as you can. The thing about hill sprints is that they dictate the pace of your run. By the time you get to the top of the hill your 100% effort may equate to barely a run or even a walk. Running up hill gives you a tremendous pump in your legs. You then walk back down the hill and repeat as many times as you choose. After my fourth hill sprint my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest. The run back to your house is your cool down phase.

H.I.I.T. Using Cardio Equipment

You can perform H.I.I.T. style training using cardio equipment. I believe it works best on machines where you set the pace such as bikes or elliptical machines. I have tried it on a treadmill but it’s a pain having to press the buttons to change the speed.

If I use a stationary bike I choose Quick Start and I set the resistance to the highest level so it’s difficult to pedal. After my warm up I’ll start my sprint phase by standing up and pedaling as fast as I can for 30 seconds. Then I’ll sit down and pedal for 30 seconds at a slow pace for my walk phase. I’ll continue this cycle for 20 minutes and my legs will be so pumped I can barely walk.

If I use an elliptical machine I choose Quick Start and warm up. Don’t hold the handles that move back and forth or they’ll limit your sprinting speed. You can hold the stationary handles but I prefer not to hold on because it requires a lot of core activation and it will improve your balance. Again I’ll perform 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds at a slow pace. At the end of some of the walk phases I’ll come to a stop and reverse direction. You’ll find that you can’t sprint as fast in reverse but it stresses your leg muscles in a much different manor.

Git ‘er Done

I’ve always been of the opinion that if you really hate doing something then you won’t do it for long so find some way to do it that you don’t hate. I need to incorporate some cardio into my routine and I don’t have the time or patience for long boring sessions. H.I.I.T. has more benefits and it takes less time than traditional cardio but if you’re truly using High Intensity be prepared for a grueling workout. Back in 1796 Madame de Stael was asked her opinion of steady state cardio vs. H.I.I.T. and she simply stated “One must, in one’s life, make a choice between boredom and suffering.”

About the Author
Jim Vaglica is a Strength and Conditioning Specialist and Team Labrada Athlete, Jim competed on the Reality TV shows American Grit, hosted by John Cena, and Mark Burnett’s Expedition Impossible. He is a Police Sergeant with 16 yrs on SWAT and the Owner of JimVaglica.com

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One Response for H.I.I.T. Cardio: A Practical Guide

  1. Michael Lipp


    May 11, 2013 10:18 am

    Being in my mid 60s, I currently do 100-200 push ups a day, along with weight lifting, which is great for building overall body muscle and strength. I do these 35 at a time throughout the entire day. I need to get back on cardio, but when I do that, I do the cardio for at least 30 min., three to four times a week. I also do 30 seconds at full pace, and 30 seconds at a slow pace. Bottom line, age should not be a factor. You must work the body! Also, I have A-Fib off an on, so if I can do it, you can do it!