Burning fat and building muscle at the same time is difficult—everyone who’s tried knows this. Steady-state cardio is often offered as a way to burn some calories, but it’ll also cut through your gains at the same time. However, it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) relies on a period of active time, followed by periods of rest.
Pushing yourself hard during these periods of activity can do wonders for burning belly fat while also building muscle at the same time. Down below we’ve collected 12 of the best exercises to do if you’re looking to get shredded more efficiently than ever.
As we touched on above, HIIT training relies on shorter bursts of intense activity, followed by periods of rest. This is usually organized in a set of ratios that can be easily adjusted to the intensity of the workout and your fitness level.
The fact that you’re giving it your all for parts of the workout means that HIIT is very effective if you’re looking to burn fat while also building muscle mass. The catch is that you have to work really, really hard during the work periods. While it’s important to not overwork yourself in general, HIIT relies on you gassing out your muscles in a short time frame.
During the rest periods, you’ll be regaining some energy in order to power through another active period. This cycle allows you to give your 100% for longer, while also finishing workouts faster than steady-state cardio exercises, for example.
The big benefit of HIIT—and the reason most people turn to it—is weight loss. While cardio workouts at a steady pace are usually touted as the best way to lose weight, explosive movements that work up a sweat are fantastic as well. Studies have found that HIIT three times a week for 12 weeks even reduced the chances of cardiovascular disease while improving vascular functions and lowering body fat.
Another key aspect of fat loss with HIIT is the metabolic effects that it has on the body. Doing high-intensity exercises will increase your heart rate and also your metabolic rate—otherwise known as the rate that your body burns calories for fuel.
The higher this rate, the more calories you’re burning and the thinner you’ll become. Due to the intensity, HIIT workouts increase your metabolic rate for hours after working out, which is significantly more than other types of workouts.
The last, big benefit is that HIIT is extremely efficient. You burn significantly more calories in the same amount of time as either strength training or endurance training, which makes it perfect for those with a busy schedule. All of these benefits combined make HIIT an extremely useful tool to have in your repertoire.
As always, it’s important to warm up and stretch before starting a workout—steady-state cardio is a good option, especially if you’re going to be doing a cardiovascular HIIT workout. It’s much more important to warm up and stretch with HIIT training since you’ll be putting your body under significantly more stress than in other types of workouts. A cool-down can also help you recover faster.
You also may way to change the ratios around if you’re a complete beginner at this. There’s no reason to risk injury, especially if you’ll be using weights in any of these exercises. For example, if you’re meant to go 100% during the active period, it’s probably better that you go around 80% instead.
If you’re new to the movement, this could be the difference between injuring yourself and not. Also, it’s better to go slow in order to perfect form before going as hard as you can. You can also move around the times for activity and rest, depending on your needs and fitness level.
This is both a great way to strengthen the lower body and upper body. Your quads and glutes will be fighting to keep you stable against the weights lifted above your head. The split leg positioning will allow you to do the movement faster, making it more intense. You’ll also need to kick your stabilizers into overdrive to keep you upright in the wonky position.
Standing in a staggered stance, place your right foot three feet in front of your left foot. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms bent at 90-degrees. Lower yourself down into a lunge position, pause, and then push yourself back up. Press the dumbbells overhead as you do get to the top of the position.
This movement is amazing at engaging pretty much every single major muscle group in your body. If done at a fast enough pace, it’ll also leave you out of breath with your heart racing. And since it’s a simple bodyweight exercise, it’s great for a home workout.
With feet hip-width apart, squat down and place your hands on the ground. Kick your legs backward into a high plank position and complete a push-up. Explosively bring your feet back towards your hands and then jump up into the air, reaching your arms towards the ceiling.
Plyometrics means any explosive, jumping movement. So how does this work with push-ups? Your arms will be the ones trying to jump your upper body off of the ground, making this exercise a sure way to develop upper body strength and burn calories.
Begin in a push-up position, with your hands slightly wider than your shoulders, body in a straight line. Pay attention to your core and glutes—both of these muscles groups should be activated.
To initiate the movement, bend your elbows until your chest is almost touching the floor. Then, explosively push up so your hands achieve lift-off. Catch yourself as softly as possible and continue for your desired amount of reps.
Although it’s a simple exercise, high knees engage your core, develop the muscles in the legs, and get your heart rate way up. This is a perfect exercise to do if you’re looking to shed some pounds, and therefore, it’s a great movement to do with the HIIT protocol.
Begin with your feet at about hip-width apart—keep your arms by your sides for now. Take your left knee and bring it up as high as possible. You’ll also want to simultaneously bring your right arm upward with elbow bent. Once you get into this position, begin quickly alternating sides—pretty much running in place while bringing your feet up much higher.
Another simple movement, the jump squat is going to recruit a ton of different muscle groups. This includes your hamstrings, glutes, abdominals, and your lower back. It’s a fundamental movement that’ll leave you sweating and help you develop both your other lifts and your functional fitness.
It’s also a versatile movement since you don’t need any weights or equipment—other than a stable floor. Stand with your feet around hip-width apart. Keep your chest up and look straight ahead. You’ll want to hinge at your hips in order to push your butt down and back.
Go low enough so your thighs are parallel to the ground, and then pause. Explosively push down through your feet and jump as high as you’re able to. Make your landing as soft as possible, bending your knees to soften the impact and lowering into another squat.
Mountain climbers are a great movement to both develop your upper and lower body. If done at a quick enough pace, you’ll also be working up a sweat. Although mountain climbers are relatively simple and require no equipment, they’re one of the best exercises to burn calories and trim down. Your agility, endurance, and abdominal strength will also benefit.
Begin in the high plank position, with your hands underneath your shoulders and your back flat. Engages your abs and ensure that your head is aligned with the rest of your spine. Take your right knee and bring it towards your chest as far as you’re able to. Switch legs simultaneously, pulling one leg in as you push the other one out. Try going as fast as you can without losing proper form.
The basic jumping jack is a staple of gym classes everywhere, and also a great way to introduce some HIIT activity into your workouts. Jumping jacks emphasize the quads, glutes, and hip flexors, with your core and shoulder muscles also being engaged.
Stand with your legs at a hip-width distance from one another, arms by your sides. Crouch down and explosively jump up, spreading out your feet as you get some air. Your arms should simultaneously travel up above your head, almost touching one another. Land softly and bring your legs and arms together once again.
If you’ve ever seen speed skating, then you’ll know where the name of this exercise comes from. It’s pretty much an advanced version of the side lunge, allowing you to go at a much quicker pace. This makes skater jumps ideal for HIIT workouts.
Bring your weight over to your left leg, bending the knee as you do so. Raise your right foot off the ground and jump to the right, pushing through your left leg. Land as softly as you can on the right leg, bringing your left leg behind you and swinging your arms across your body. Pause at this position and then quickly reverse the movement, alternating legs.
Another plyometric exercise, split jumps place a special emphasis on the glutes and your cardiovascular fitness. You’ll be performing a lunging motion after each jump, which will also develop your flexibility and balance. The more energy you put into this exercise, the more you’ll get out of it.
Begin by standing tall, your feet hip-width apart. Keep your hands together, clasped in front of your chest. Take a step forward and enter the lunge position, with both of your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
This is the starting position. Initiate the jump by just slightly lowering the back knee and then pushing up. As you’re in the air, your feet should switch positions—the front foot going to the back and the back foot coming to the front.
Jump ropes are a staple of many HIIT programs. They offer an absolutely amazing workout that works your lower body and your forearms to some extent. They require a lot of coordination to perform, at least for a decent amount of time. But the payoff is great.
Stand tall, holding onto the end of a jump rope with each hand. Keep the rest of the rope behind your legs, and your elbows close to your body. You’ll mostly want to use your forearms and wrists to swing the rope over your head and down in front of you. As the rope nears your feet, jump up to skip over it.
A great strength training and fat burning exercise, the squat and press will challenge your whole body. If you do this movement with a HIIT protocol, then be prepared to feel the burn in your arms and legs.
With a dumbbell (or kettlebell) in each hand, bring the weights up to your shoulders, palms facing each other. Keep your elbows close to your body. Hinge at the hips, going down into a squat. Pause at the bottom and then push through the feet, pressing the dumbbells over your head at the same time.
This exercise, also known as the plank row, is meant to emphasize the upper back and the abdominals. Along with developing anti-rotational core strength, it also makes for a fantastic HIIT exercise.
Take a pair of light dumbbells and get into a push-up position, with a dumbbell in each hand. Engage your core and lift one of the dumbbells up towards your chest while maintaining good form. Slowly reverse the motion and alternate sides.
The movements we looked at above are a great way to get started with HIIT. They can be easily performed without needing to memorize any complex routines, and they’ll be just as effective if done with correct HIIT protocols. The key is to push yourself hard.
However, HIIT workouts tend to be the best way to go since they incorporate several different movements, or lean in on one to give you a workout that challenges your body in a unique way. Below are some of the most popular, ensuring that you burn body fat while developing strength and athletic ability.
This is the most basic HIIT workout, only having you sprint for a few seconds, followed by a resting period. You can customize it to any athletic ability by just changing the amount of time you either sprint or rest. But as with all hit workouts, the harder you push yourself, the more things will pay off.
After warming up, sprint as fast as you can for around 30 seconds. Then, enter a rest period for around 25 seconds. You’ll want to repeat this 10 times or as many as you can.
This workout was created by Izumi Tabata, and it’s structured to be around 8 minutes every 3 days or so. To use this workout, you’ll need some sort of cardio equipment such as a rowing machine, elliptical, or stationary bike.
After warming up for 2 minutes, increase the tension one level above your warm-up level. Pedal as hard as you can for about 20 seconds, and then recover by pedaling slower for 10 seconds. Repeat this once more, and then do 2 intervals. Once you’ve completed this, decrease the machine’s tension to 0 and go for 2 more minutes.
While HIIT is normally known for its calorie burning and fat shedding effects, it can also be a great way to build strength if you include some weights. For a strength training routine, hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands and then do some arm punches, alternating hands.
Your palms should be facing down. Do as many reps as possible (AMRAP) over 45 seconds, and then rest for 15 seconds. Sprint on the treadmill for 45 seconds, followed by another rest of 15 seconds.
Continue with dumbbell lunges for 45 seconds, followed by 15 seconds of rest. Finish the circuit by performing a dumbbell squat with an overhead press, and then rest for 1 minute.
Properly implementing HIIT exercises and routines into your training schedule is a sure-fire way to turbocharge your gains. But these superhuman gains, you’re going to need to take care of your body like a superhuman. No amount of training or hard work will be able to outpace a bad diet, so what you put on your plate has to be at the front of your head.
A diet consisting of healthy, whole foods, with good portions of fats, carbs, and proteins, is a basic and effective way of maintaining total body wellness. Add in an acceptable sleeping schedule, and you’ve got the recipe for the body of your dreams.