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The 12 Best HIIT Exercises For A Calorie-Torching Workout From A Trainer

Work hard, burn hard.

Headshot of Andi BreitowichBy Andi Breitowich
preview for Kelsey Wells | Advanced HIIT Workout

There’s a reason HIIT workouts stand the test of time. They’re effective, accessible, and optimize your time. After all, HIIT workouts are an efficient way to combat a sedentary lifestyle, reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, and improve your overall health, recent research has found.

“HIIT workouts pack a quick punch and are an easy way to get heart rate elevated while continuing to focus on your exercise form,” says Alex Lyons, CPT, a NASM-certified personal trainer and coach on House Of Athlete Plus. “If you feel like you have hit a wall in your fitness, adding HIIT offers variety and huge rewards when it comes to cardio training, because instead of parking on a treadmill or elliptical, 20 minutes of intense HIIT work can get you to the burn you crave quicker, and you’ll be moving in all planes of motion.”

Meet the experts: Alex Lyons, CPT, is a NASM-certified personal trainer and coach on House Of Athlete Plus, a holistic health and fitness platform, who has taught boxing, bootcamp, and HIIT classes. Tatiana Lampa, CPT, is an ACSM-certified personal trainer, former instructor at Fit House in New York City, and founder of Training With T.

There are all sorts of ways to do HIIT, but the basic principle is this: Instead of going at a steady, moderate pace for the duration of your sweat sesh, you alternate between periods of intense work and recovery, says Tatiana Lampa, CPT, an ACSM-certified personal trainer and founder of Training with T App. The goal is to push at your max capacity and rev your heart rate during those work intervals and use your breaks to rest and get ready to go all-out again.

And whether you're in the gym, at home, have weights handy, or want to sweat equipment-free, HIIT workouts will serve you major rewards.

Benefits Of HIIT

  1. Burn calories. If you’re looking to torch calories, HIIT workouts can burn a lot of cals in a short amount of time because you're hitting your max effort. Your metabolic rate also tends to be higher after a HIIT session, which means you will continue to burn calories post workout, Lyons adds.
  2. Build muscle. “Using a HIIT workout to complement your pure strength workouts will help overall muscle strength and endurance,” says Lyons.
  3. Boost cardio. HIIT improves oxygen and blood flow. “Our lifestyles are so sedentary, so getting our heart rates up and blood pumping is so important for the health of our hearts and circulatory systems.”
  4. Maximize your time. “My motto is movement is best, and if you only have twenty minutes to get your endorphins for the day, HIIT is a great way to do it," says Lyons.
  5. Relieve stress. Sometimes you just need to let it all out, and HIIT workouts are a great way to pump up your endorphins and reduce the negative effects of stress, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Inspired to start a speedy sweat? To make your next HIIT sesh a full-body affair, pick from the below list of trainer-approved HIIT exercises that are home workout-friendly and guaranteed to get your heart pumping and blood flowing.

Time: 20 minutes | Good for: full-body, cardio | Equipment needed: mat, kettlebell (optional), stair or step (optional)

Instructions: Choose five exercises from the list below. Perform each for 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds before continuing onto the next. Once you've completed all five movements, rest as needed (for up to one minute), then repeat twice more for a total of three rounds.



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How to:

  1. Start in a plank position.
  2. Quickly jump your feet outside of hands, dropping your butt below knees into a low squat, lifting torso up, and raising hands to chest level.
  3. Reverse the movement to return to start. That's 1 rep.

Star Jump

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How to:

  1. Start standing with feet together and arms at sides.
  2. Bend knees to crouch down, bringing fingers to hover above toes.
  3. Then jump up into the air bringing legs straight and wide outside of shoulders and arms out overhead, forming "X" with body.
  4. Softly land back into a crouch. That's 1 rep.


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How to:

  1. Start standing, with left leg bent and lifted in air behind right, left arm crossed in front of chest.
  2. Hop to the left side, crossing right leg behind left and reaching right arm in front of body.
  3. Reverse the motion and hop to the right side, crossing left leg behind right and reaching leg arm in front of body. That’s 1 rep.
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High Knees

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How to:

  1. Start standing with feet under hips and arms bent so forearms are in front of the body and parallel to the floor, palms facing down.
  2. Pick left knee up to hip height, return foot to floor, and repeat with right, switching feet as fast as possible. That's 1 rep.

Mountain Climbers

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How to:

  1. Start in a high plank.
  2. Drive right knee toward chest, return to a plank, and quickly repeat with left knee. That's 1 rep.


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How to:

  1. To start, stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at sides at back of mat.
  2. Hop up off floor, land softly, then jump body forward into plank position, quickly lowering stomach all the way to the mat.
  3. Push back up and reverse movement to return to start. That's 1 rep.
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Jump Squat

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How to:

  1. Stand with feet parallel and shoulder-width apart, arms at sides.
  2. Engage core and push hips back as if lowering into a chair while simultaneously reaching arms forward until clasped at chest height. This is your start position.
  3. Press through feet to straighten legs and jump up off the floor. (Swing extended arms behind body as feet leave the floor.)
  4. Land in a squat position. That’s 1 rep.

Kettlebell Squat Clean

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How to:

  1. Start in a hinge position (hips back, knees slightly bent, and torso leaned forward almost parallel to floor), with both hands gripping the handle of a kettlebell resting on floor between feet.
  2. Squeeze glutes, straighten legs, and slowly stand up, bending elbows and pulling weight to chest height.
  3. Then, bend knees and sink hips back and down.
  4. Once thighs are about parallel with the floor, press through feet to return to standing position. That's 1 rep.

Hollow Body Rock

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How to:

  1. Start seated with knees bent, toes pointed and resting on the floor, and arms extended on either side of legs.
  2. Slowly roll back onto shoulder blades letting hips lift into air, then rock slightly forward so the upper back comes off mat.
  3. Repeat twice more, then use momentum to rock back up to start. That's 1 rep.
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Bear Crawl

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How to:

  1. Start on all fours with knees elevated a few inches off of the mat.
  2. Step left hand and right foot forward at the same time, followed by right hand and left foot.
  3. Keep back flat and hips level and take three steps forward, then three steps backward. That's 1 rep.

Plank Walkout

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How to:

  1. Start standing, then fold forward to place palms on the floor, keeping legs straight (knees can be bent slightly if hamstrings are tight).
  2. Begin walking hands out into a high plank position.
  3. Pause for a second, then reverse the movement to return to standing. That’s 1 rep.

Kettlebell Swing

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How to:

  1. Start in a hinge (hips back, knees slightly bent, torso leaned forward at 45 degrees) holding the handle of a kettlebell with both hands, arms extended straight toward floor and bell between knees on the floor.
  2. In one motion, squeeze glutes, straighten legs, lift torso, and thrust hips forward, while swinging the weight to chest height, keeping arms straight and core tight.
  3. Reverse the movement, bringing the kettlebell between thighs this time when you hinge. That's 1 rep.
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High Intensity Interval Training FAQ

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Is HIIT safe?

“Any exercise is ‘safe’ when done in proper form with stability and control, but HIIT can be ‘unsafe’ when performed at a pace where form is compromised and your heart rate is high,” says Lyons. That said, form is your first priority and it’s totally acceptable to slow down when you need to come back to proper technique, she explains. However, if you are concerned about safety and would appreciate some expert guidance, consider checking in with a personal trainer or in a group fitness class with an experienced HIIT instructor.

Can I do HIIT more than once a day?

Short answer: no. Just like most things in life, variety is key. “I do not recommend HIIT more than once a day, and I don’t even recommend HIIT every day,” says Lyons. “HIIT done right should be taxing for the entire body and cardio system, and you’ll need time to recover from each session,” she explains. Try alternating between HIIT, pure strength training, and low impact sessions throughout the week. Her ideal number of HIIT workouts a week is only two to three.

Can I do HIIT at home?

Yes! HIIT can totally be done at home and a quick HIIT session is a great energy boost if you work from home and want to break up the day with some movement, says Lyons. “HIIT workouts are a great ‘short on time but need to burn’ activity, and since you don’t necessarily need equipment, HIIT at home is a great idea.”

Is HIIT useful for athletes?

Absolutely! “Quick bursts of max effort alternating with recovery will give massive returns on cardio and respiratory systems,” says Lyons. “HIIT can increase maximal aerobic capacity, increase endurance, and can incorporate movements important for sport.”

How should I warm up before HIIT?

“Before any (and all) exercise, I always recommend a core stabilization warm-up that incorporates glute integration and movement in all planes of motion,” says Lyons. Remember that HIIT workouts should (and will be!) be intense, so you want to make sure your core and glutes are primed to help you through, and your body is ready to put in the work, she adds.

I have knee pain, can I still do HIIT?

HIIT doesn't necessarily need to include jumping, so it can totally be all low impact and easy on the knees, says Lyons. Try this knee-friendly HIIT circuit: deadlift to row, squat to overhead press, lateral bear crawl, mountain climbers, and Russian twists. Perform each exercise for 45 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds before continuing onto the next. Once you've completed all five movements, rest as needed (for up to one minute), then repeat twice more for a total of three rounds.

What muscles do HIIT exercises target?

HIIT can target all muscle groups depending on the programming, says Lyons. “I love utilizing compound movements in HIIT training and alternating with more traditional cardio movements,” she explains. “Your heart rate will still soar without jumping, especially when doing movements that incorporate your entire body in a large range of motion, such as squat to overhead press and lateral lunges with weights at your chest.”

The beauty of HIIT is that you can customize your training plan depending on what muscle groups you want to target. And trust the process, because chances are your whole bod will be on fire after nailing a HIIT workout.

Headshot of Andi Breitowich
Andi Breitowich

Andi Breitowich is a Chicago-based writer and graduate student at Northwestern Medill. She’s a mass consumer of social media and cares about women’s rights, holistic wellness, and non-stigmatizing reproductive care. As a former collegiate pole vaulter, she has a love for all things fitness and is currently obsessed with Peloton Tread workouts and hot yoga.  


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