Five ideas for fun cardio HIIT workouts

Five Ideas for Fun Cardio HIIT Workouts: woman exercising on yoga mat
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If you want to take your fitness to the next level, these five cardio HIIT Workouts could well be for you. Challenging, rewarding and supremely time-efficient, High Intensity Interval Training essentially combines short bursts of very intense exercise with bouts of relief (or recovery) that are used either to rest or perform relatively moderate exercise. Why not check out our guide to the best rowing machines, for an idea of the kind of equipment you can perfect these HIIT workouts on.  

The American Council on Exercise isn't alone in recognizing how "hugely popular" HIIT has become in recent years. Why is it so popular? Well, along with being extremely convenient, this type of training is an incredibly efficient way of increasing your heart rate, thereby helping to burn more fat in less time. Moreover, HIIT can be easily added to just about any type of existing cardio workout. This means that you can apply it to your favorite fitness regime, be it running, rowing, or jumping rope, with relative ease. This goes some way towards explaining why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has been promoting HIIT since 2018.

And if you're interested in supporting your fitness program with some great exercise equipment for home use, have a look at our articles exploring rowing machines vs treadmills and are exercise bikes good cardio? 

What are cardio HIIT workouts?

In general, the intense exercise bouts that make up cardio HIIT workouts can last anywhere from five seconds to eight minutes. In order to be truly effective, however, each period of exercise should ideally be performed at 80-95% of your estimated maximal heart rate - this is the maximum number of times your heart can pump in a minute without over-exerting yourself. 

Although there's no hard-and-fast rule, the relief phases can be as long or short as the exercise periods. Those who opt to exercise during these periods rather than rest do so moderately, typically performing at 40-50% of their estimated maximal heart rate. 

Five Ideas for Fun Cardio HIIT Workouts: woman running on treadmill in a gym

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Cardio HIIT workouts continue in this way, alternating between exercise and relief, for anywhere between 20-60 minutes. That being said, most people find half an hour of HIIT more than enough!

So what are the rewards? Well, alongside the immediate feeling of intense satisfaction that often accompanies an intense workout, you can look forward to losing weight, building muscle, increasing endurance and boosting your metabolism. And if that isn't enough, studies - like this review from Sports Medicine - have shown that your body will continue to burn calories even after you finish exercising, a process known as 'afterburn' or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

Cardio HIIT workouts at home

Regardless of how well set up your house or apartment is for working out, doing cardio HIIT workouts at home is a breeze. Treadmills in particular lend themselves very well to all manner of fun HIIT workouts. If you're looking for something that's straightforward yet still challenging, simply set your machine up for a 100-meter sprint, cover the distance as quickly as you can, then rest until your heart rate drops below 120bpm (beats per minute). Repeat this process for a total of 10 rounds if you can. 

If you'd like to get your rowing machine involved then give this a go. Set the machine up for a 2,000 meter row and then give it all you've got for 60 seconds - no more, no less. When you hit the 60 second mark, dismount and perform five hollow rocks, then jump straight back on and get rowing again. Once you reach the two minute mark, hop off and do another six hollow rocks. Continue this cycle of rowing for a minute / doing +1 hollow rocks at the start of each new minute, until you finish rowing the 2,000 meters. Expect to feel an intense burn in your abs.

Cardio HIIT workouts at the gym

Despite what you may initially think, you don't need to sign up for group classes to enjoy high-quality HIIT time at the gym. Plus, it's also the case that many gyms nowadays provide only basic interval training - i.e. training without the high-intensity aspect - in their group fitness arenas, or Low Intensity Impact Training, or LISS, which takes the opposite approach to HIIT.

Five Ideas for Fun Cardio HIIT Workouts: woman working out with battle ropes

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As simple and visceral as any apparatus around, battle ropes are outstanding options for any HIIT routine. Indeed, a 2020 randomized trial featured in the Physiology & Behavior journal highlighted as much. 

They're so easy to set up; just grab the ropes and get them moving. It's up to you whether you do 'slams' or 'waves', just make sure you go hard and fast to get that heart rate up. Once you’ve worked up a sweat, aim to go for 30 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds. Do this for 10-15 minutes. 

Tip: get closer to the anchor if you want to make the workout harder - this will force you to create bigger waves, thereby ensuring you'll have to raise your arms more and use more energy.

Cardio HIIT workouts outside

If you're lucky enough to have some natural inclines near where you live then you'll find hill sprints, in HIIT terms, truly are the gift that keeps on giving. You can tweak this one as much as you like once you're up to speed but when you're first starting HIIT training, simply find an empty green space with a gradient (e.g. a hill) and sprint up it for 20-30 seconds. Once you hit your mark, walk back down to your starting point and go again, completing a total of 10 rounds. This provides an especially good workout for your abs. 

Five Ideas for Fun Cardio HIIT Workouts: image of woman running outside

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Short on hills in your neighborhood? Don't worry; how about trying a straightforward sprinting workout at your local park or sports court instead? All you need to do is sprint intensely for 60 seconds, giving at least 90% effort, and then jog for 90 seconds. If you feel like you still have some gas in your tank by the end, then by all means go again.

A word of caution: it's smart to start slowly when you're first finding your feet as a HIIT newbie - a few intervals for short bursts mixed with some easy recoveries will be just fine. And be sure to follow the Mayo Clinic's lead and include a warm-up/cool down, too.

Bo Heamyan

Bo Heamyan is a UK-based freelance writer hailing from a Sports / Football Science background. Passionate about action, adventure and adrenaline, this former football coach and swim instructor is a zealous advocate of highlighting the many benefits a healthy lifestyle affords. When not working, Bo is happiest exploring the beautiful surrounds of rural Cambridgeshire, hiking, cycling and kayaking with his increasingly adventurous little girl.