Beginners Guide to High Intensity Interval Training

In March of this year Roger Bannister passed away at the age of 88.

Roger was the first man to break the until then illusive 4 Minute Mile on May 6, 64 years ago, a title he held for less than 2 months.  He was an amateur athlete at the time, studying for medicine.  In fact he “retired” from his running career to begin his career as a neurologist.

This is the part that I like best about his story, as he was studying for his medical degree he just did not have a lot time for long periods of exercise and needed to develop his own training regime to hit into his schedule.  His workouts included short intense burst of sprints, followed by short periods of rest on the track.  He would typically complete his workout in less than 35 minutes.

This ever sound familiar … and this was before cell phones and always on Email and Social media pressure!

What he developed and adapted is now known as HIIT:  High Intensity Interval Training, it is broadly defined as periods of intense effort (followed by varied recovery times.  In general the total exercise time for HIIT program is 30 – 40 minutes in duration.

Benefits of HIIT

  • Get you aerobically fit more quickly than traditional exercise programs
  • Has been demonstrated to improve muscle mass and lower fat more effectively
  • Impacts insulin receptors improving sensitivity faster than traditional exercise
  • Improves blood pressure and cardiovascular health

Who Can Do HIIT

While HIIT originated with elite athletes it has proven effective for individuals of all fitness levels as well as those with such conditions as diabetes and heart disease.  Forms of exercise that can be incorporated into a HIIT program include:

  • Walking
  • Running
  • Stair climbing
  • Cycling
  • Rowing
  • Cross-country skiing
  • Swimming

How it impacts one physiology

Without taking you through the full biochemical process of the benefits it is critical to understand how HIIT has such a positive impact on one health over the short and long term, particularly when combined with Intermittent Fasting.   Mitochondria are the main power sources in our cells.   At a cellular level the mitochondria convert water and glucose or ketones into ATP, think of them as packets of energy which power the cells.    The more mitochondria in one has the more power potential that the cells have to draw on.  One of the benefits of HIIT is that is triggers the production of significantly more mitochondria than traditional training.  This applies to skeletal muscles as well as the heart muscle.  Research has demonstrated that the more do HIIT, the stronger and more efficient your heart muscles become.

Another benefit of increased concentration of mitochondria is that they burn fat.

How To Develop a HIIT Program

One of the best features I like about HIIT programs are that you do not need any equipment, you can do this form or exercise at home or at the cottage.   My favourite guide on building a HIIT program for the beginner in a book, “Fast Exercise” by Dr. Michael Mosley.  Here are a few examples HIIT programs taken from this book.

Bare Minimum REHITT (reduced-exertion high intensity training)

40 Seconds (2 x 20 seconds) hard exercise, followed by rest, total time 4 – 6 minutes including recovery time.

The strategy here is to increase gradually (weekly or biweekly) the number of high intensity sets while maintaining the resting periods.  For those less fit you can start with a 2 x 10 building gradually to 2 x 20.  Once you have master this add on (an) additional 20 seconds splits.  Various forms of exercise can be used including peddling, running, or swimming.

The 30- Second Sprinter

2 Minutes hard exercise, Total 16 minutes including 14 minutes recover time

Similar to the Bare minimum REHITT except the intense periods are increased to 30 seconds (at full capacity).  The rest periods therefore are longer to allow more time for recovery between sprints.  Again here one can start at 2 x 30 seconds and build up from there.  The rest periods should be as long as 3-4 minutes if you require it initially.   Start with a gradual warm up, slow peddling or running (2-3 minutes to warm up).  Again biking, running or swimming are all excellent forms of exercise here.

The 60 Second Workout

2 ½ minutes of hard exercise, total 10 – 11 minutes, including 8 minutes recovery

This includes 60 seconds of hard intensity followed by a rest period of 90 seconds.  A simple to remember: 1 minute on, 90 seconds off and repeat.  Again one should start with a 2-3-minute warmup.  A notable difference between this version vs. the other two is the level of intensity.  Given that the duration has increased to 60 seconds one should keep the level of intensity to between 80% – 90% of HR maximum capacity.  To calculate HR maximum visit:  Again start with 1-2 sets of high intensity increasing the number to 5 sets over time.

The Fat Burner

8 minutes of hard exercise, total 20 minutes, including 12 minutes of recovery

This workout can really be done on a bike.  It is a cycle of 8 seconds of high intensity followed by 12 seconds of recovery, repeated initially for 5 minutes and then as you get fitter increased to 15 or even 20 minutes.  Again begin and end with 2-3 minutes of warmup.

These are sample HITT programs, the variations are almost endless and can include adding other exercises like squats, jumping jacks, lunges etc.  They have a common approach short bursts of intense exertion following by rest.

How Often Per Week?

When starting the one should start with 1 per week and gradually increase it to 2 or 3.  Steady state exercise can be added in between HIIT exercises and rest days should absolutely be included.

HITT and Intermittent Fasting

The combination of intermittent fasting and HITT is an excellent means of both reducing fat and accelerating improvements in body tone and cardiovascular health.  A number of my clients move to an intermittent fasting HIIT program after completing the Break Through Program.

If you have any questions, please reach out to me by emailing