(Photo by Karsten Winegeart on Unsplash)

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to effectively get fit and burn more calories. It has consistently been shown to be more effective for both fitness and fat loss than steady-state cardio, and is completed in a much shorter time.

In this article, I explain what HIIT is and the main variations of HIIT, as well as the 4 main benefits of doing this sort of exercise in the morning.

What is HIIT?

There are numerous variations of HIIT, and you can play around with these and find what works best for you. The 4 main types are Tabata, the Little Method, and turbulence training.

Tabata

Pick a movement that you can do at a very high intensity. Some personal favorites are the assault bike or spin bike, burpees, or the rowing machine. But you can also do:

  • Jumping rope

  • Kettlebell swings

  • Run

  • Jumping lunges or squats

Pick one movement, go as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then have 10 seconds of rest. Repeat for 8 rounds for a total of 4 minutes. The key is to go as hard as you possibly can during the 20 seconds.

Little Method

Again, pick a movement. Go hard for 60 seconds and then go easy for 75 seconds. Repeat 12 times for a total of 27 minutes.

Turbulence Training

This one has a strength training component. You complete a strength set of 8 reps, so for example, 8 barbell squats, and then you complete 1–2 minutes of cardio before doing 8 reps of another exercise. Do 45 minutes in total (including warm-up and cool down). With this one, you want to create a circuit, either bodyweight or with weights.

For example, you might do 8 goblet squats followed by 2 minutes on the bike, then 8 push-ups followed by 2 minutes on the rower, then 8 barbell rows followed by a 2-minute run. Rest for one minute at the end of the circuit and then go again for about 35–40 minutes, depending on how long you need for warm-up and cool down.

Put simply,

Tabata: 8x(20s on, 10s off) = 4 minutes

Little: 12x(60s on, 75s low) = 27 minutes

Turbulence: 45 minutes of 8 rep strength set circuit with 1–2 minutes of cardio between each set

EMOM and AMRAP

CrossFit-esque workouts such as EMOMs and AMRAPs can also be considered HIIT, and are a great way to efficiently increase strength and fitness. One of my favorite HIIT training methods is an EMOM (every minute on the minute). Pick as many different movements as you like, pick a number of reps for each movement, and then each minute, start a new movement. For example, a personal favorite EMOM is:

  • 15 kettlebell swings

  • 6 each alternating dumbbell snatch

  • 15 thrusters

  • 15 goblet squats

  • 15 barbell rows

  • 10 calories on the assault bike

At the top of each minute, I start the next movement. So 0–1 minutes I complete 15 kettlebell swings and once they’re done, I rest until the stopwatch hits 1 minute. Then from 1–2 minutes, I complete 6 dumbbell snatches on each arm, etc.

You can choose to rest between rounds or keep going. I will do 4–5 rounds of this.

An AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) is a similar concept to the EMOM, except there is no rest between each movement. Perform each movement consecutively without stopping and see how many times you can get through all of the movements in a certain amount of time.

For example, for the movements above you could choose a time of 25 minutes, and see how many times you can make it through all 6 movements in that time.

I like these strategies because they are taxing on both your muscles and your cardiovascular system. They’re highly intense and burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time.

The benefits of doing HIIT in the morning

1. Metabolism boost — burn more calories all day

HIIT is a great way to boost your metabolism. Not only does it burn more calories than steady-state cardio of equal length, but you will also continue burning calories long after your workout is finished. This is known as EPOC — excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption, and it is higher after completing HIIT than steady-state cardio. Essentially, the more intense your workout, the more calories you will continue to burn once you’re done.

“By jump-starting your metabolism and increasing your core temperature early in the day, you increase your post-exercise oxygen deficit and calorie-burning rate throughout the remainder of the day. Therefore, if you are trying to lose weight or burn fat, a morning exercise session can be highly effective.” — Ben Greenfield

2. Increased energy levels

Movement releases cortisol and endorphins, and increases your core temperature as well as circulation, all of which are going to make you feel more alert, full of energy, and ready to focus. Doing a HIIT workout before you start your day is a great way to improve alertness and energy.

“According to the NIFS [National Institute for Fitness & Sport], working out in the morning can help increase your energy level for the day. Exercise increases oxygen and nutrients throughout your body, which can give you an energy boost.” — Premier Health

3. Improved cognitive performance

Morning exercise has been found to increase cognitive abilities as effectively as a cup of coffee and has also been shown to improve decision-making later in the day. Therefore, doing HIIT in the morning may lead to a more productive day, with higher levels of focus and thinking abilities, without the need for a cup of coffee.

4. Nothing will get in your way

Exercising in the morning ensures it gets done before anything gets in your way or distracts you. We all have the intention of going to the gym after work or after the chores are done, but how often do you find yourself getting caught up in tasks which leave no time to go to the gym? We also tend to be so exhausted by the end of the day that the last thing we feel like doing is exercising.

It can therefore get really hard to motivate yourself to go to the gym after a long day. Exercise tends to be the one thing that gets continually rescheduled in our busy lives. If you prioritize exercising first thing in the morning, nothing can get in the way of it. And according to Ben Greenfield, exercise in the morning actually makes it more likely that you’ll exercise later in the day:

“Psychologically, you may be more likely to exercise in the morning, versus after a hard day of work, when your mind and body may be tired or you may have too many other duties to fulfill. It doesn’t matter if you’re able to exercise with higher intensity in the afternoon if you never actually get around to doing it!”

Important points for morning HIIT

  • Eat before you train, if possible. HIIT is too intense to do in a fasted state

  • Allow about 30 minutes from when you wake up before you start, to actually wake up. You want an alert brain for the intensity HIIT brings

  • Hydrate prior to starting

  • Have protein after, to support your muscles

HIIT is a valuable training tool for increasing fitness and promoting fat loss. It is efficient and straightforward. Doing this type of exercise in the morning has various benefits, including:

  • Increased metabolism

  • Increased energy levels

  • Improved cognition

  • Uninterrupted time, ensuring your workout gets done