You want to squeeze in a great workout, but you need it to be fast. That’s where high-intensity interval training (HIIT) comes in.
When you hear “high intensity,” you might imagine CrossFitters climbing ropes or hauling heavy chains around the gym. And sure, that could be one version of a HIIT workout—but HIIT can actually be far gentler and more approachable than many people think, all while improving your health, turning back your biological clock, and toning your body.
Convinced to give it a try? Here’s everything you need to know before you HIIT the pavement, gym, or your living room.
What is HIIT?
In a nutshell, HIIT is a type of workout that features quick, intense bursts of exercise meant to raise your heart rate. You work pretty hard (hence the “high-intensity” part) during these short bursts (the “interval” part). But here’s the thing: It’s super accessible, even for beginners, because when you’re not rocking the high-intensity moves, you’re catching your breath by actively resting—perhaps by walking, stretching, or lightly jogging.
Intervals are typically measured in a 1:2 work-to-rest ratio (or a 1:1 ratio for the more advanced HIITer). For instance, you might sprint for 30 seconds and then walk for 1 minute, then repeat until you’ve worked out for a total of 10 minutes. And because you’re putting so much energy into those high-intensity intervals, you don’t need to trudge on the treadmill for 45 minutes to get in a good workout. That’s one reason HIIT workouts are short—often just 10 to 20 minutes.
What are the benefits of HIIT workouts?
HIIT workouts are an efficient way to get fit, and a lifesaver on busy days. But there are other HIIT benefits to consider, too:
HIIT workouts are flexible
Although people sometimes think of HIIT as being for hardcore athletes, you can customize the intervals to find a good starting point for you. Plus, HIIT can be done anywhere and without equipment, so you can get actually get started today.
HIIT burns fat and improves your endurance faster than other types of workouts
A 2017 analysis of 18 studies found that HIIT training was associated with larger reduction in body fat and greater improvement in heart and lung fitness in obese adults than traditional exercise (say, a 30-minute run).
HIIT turns back the clock on a cellular level
One recent study published in the European Heart Journal found that interval training can actually increase the length of telomeres, chromosome caps that protect DNA and help you age healthfully. In other words, HIIT workouts might help you age in reverse.
Is HIIT good for weight loss?
You know it! Not only has it been found to help zap body fat, but HIIT allows you to workout harder than you would otherwise, since you’re doing the high-intensity parts in intervals. That increases your heart rate, so you burn more calories, fat, and carbohydrates during your workout—revving up your metabolism. And since it builds muscle, it also increases your resting metabolism, which means you’re burning more calories even when you’re re-watching a season of The Crown (a pretty sweet deal, if you ask me).
What are some good HIIT workouts for beginners?
There are plenty of ways to do HIIT workouts, but I’m going to keep things simple. Try these super-effective workouts to jumpstart your HIIT training:
- Sprint and Jog: Outside or on a treadmill, sprint as fast as you can for one minute. Jog lightly for two minutes. Repeat for a total of 10 minutes.
- Squat Jump and Stretch: Perform a squat jump as many times as you can for 30 seconds. Stretch by touching your toes or doing lunges for 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 10 minutes.
- Push-up and Stroll: Perform as many push-ups as you can for 30 seconds. Walk for 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 10 minutes.
- 15-Minute Total Body Workout: This fast workout, excerpted from my Tone Up in 15 workout DVD, consists of compound exercises that fire up multiple muscle groups at once.
- 15-Minute Ab Workout: Another workout from Tone Up in 15, this series targets every part of your core.
How often should you do HIIT workouts?
Aim for about 2 to 3 HIIT sessions per week, and mix in other types of exercise like endurance training (think a long walk) or strength training (think a weight-lifting session) other days of the week.
This article originally appeared on Prevention US.