HIIT Workout: The Best Cardio For Weight Loss and Conditioning

by Jeff on December 2, 2011

HIIT Workout-The Best Cardio For Weight Loss and Conditioning

A HIIT workout (High Intensity Interval Training) is the best cardio for weight loss and for metabolic conditioning. In this post, I will talk about the most critical elements of using a HIIT workout for weight loss and increased conditioning. Your conditioning and weight loss can also work hand in hand; as your conditioning improves, you will burn more fat.

What is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

HIIT involves alternating between intervals of high intensity training and intervals of rest. An example of this would be to cycle as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds.

The Benefits of HIIT: Why Do It?

Compared to steady state cardio, HIIT achieves everything better at a fraction of the time.


When it comes to increasing metabolic conditioning, a recent study showed that HIIT increased endurance like steady steady state cardio. The interesting discovery here is that HIIT only took 10% of the time to achieve the same results.

Another factor that HIIT improves is V02max. V02max is amount of oxgyen you can use per minute. This reflects your physical fitness. People that have a higher V02max use more energy doing the same activity, this helps them burn more fat.

During the tabata protocol experiment in 1966, they discovered that HIIT improved V02max at a higher rate than steady rate cardio for a fraction of the time.

The specific protocol they used only lasted 4 minutes per session for a total of 4 sessions per week with 1 steady state cardio session lasting 60 minutes (4×4+60=76 minutes of training per week). The group using steady state cardio trained for 60 minutes at a time for 5 times a week (5×60=300 minutes).

To conclude the findings, HIIT produced greater results in 76 minutes per week while the steady state cardio took 300 minutes per week. HIIT is about 4 times more efficient.

Weight Loss

There is a myth that states steady rate cardio burns more fat than HIIT during the same time span. This is wrong. HIIT produces more immediate weigh loss results and it also produces more long term weight loss results.

In the beginning of the article, I said that as your conditioning improves, you will also burn more fat. The improvement of V02max leads to better longer term weight loss, you will burn more calories doing the same activities if you have a higher Vo2max.

In case you were interested, the myth that I mentioned earlier had a flaw. Steady state cardio burns more fat per litre of O2 (Oxygen). However, HIIT uses more O2 per minute. In the end, HIIT burns more fat once this is factored in.

When To Use HIIT and When to Avoid It

HIIT is superior to steady state cardio if you only want to lose weight and increase your conditioning. It improves your metabolic conditioning and burns calories at a much faster rate. At a fraction of the time, you lose more weight and you also get more conditioning.

Do not use HIIT if you’re trying to build muscle. It is very taxing on your central nervous system and this will slow down your recovery and gains. If building muscle is your main focus, it’s better to take your time with low intensity cardio. Spend 20 minutes after your workout to do a brisk walk. Try it on an incline while keeping your back straight to work your abs at the same time.

Low intensity cardio on an incline will not develop your abs like heavy barbell squats and deadlifts. However, I noticed that 20-40 minutes of it will make your abs look better for the rest of the day. A little harmless tweak to your low intensity cardio for the purpose of vanity.

If you’re doing low intensity cardio, you can do it daily for optimal results.

How To Do HIIT Workouts

Warm up for 3-5 minutes. The rest is just about setting your work and rest intervals. Longer work intervals provide greater results. I will include a popular HIIT routine below.

How To Progress

When you’re starting out, have longer rest intervals with shorter work intervals. As you progress, increase the duration of your work interval and shorten your rest interval.

For example. When you’re starting out, try 30 seconds of rest and 10 seconds of work:

  1. Warm up 3-5 minutes
  2. 10 seconds of going all out
  3. Rest 30 seconds
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 seven more times.
Once you can complete the intervals at full intensity, increase the intensity like we talked about at the beginning of this section. Start going all out for 20 seconds instead of 10 seconds.
The goal is to have 30 seconds of full intensity, this is what creates the highest benefit. There was an interesting study that takes a look at how your body responds to different intervals; 30 seconds produced the most benefits and results.

A Popular HIIT Workout

Tabata Protocol

This was the method that I talked about in the ‘Conditioning’ section above. It involves 20 seconds of going all out and 10 seconds of rest, repeat for 8 cycles. It’s real intense. Here is a video that demonstrates this on an elliptical. The guy lost 30 lbs in 2 months from these 4 minute workout sessions.

The Best HIIT Workout

The best HIIT workout is one that suits your fitness level. Remember that this is High Intensity Interval Training, there needs to be high intensity regardless of what fitness level you are. During high intensity exercise, your body produces HGH (Human Growth Hormone) and this will help you burn fat even after you stop exercising.

Remember that high intensity is key, don’t get comfortable. I personally like to use 30 seconds of going all out and then resting for 90 seconds

Ideally, you want to monitor your heart rate. For maximum results, you should reach your max heart rate by the last work interval. How you calculate this is 220-your age. If you’re 25 years old, then you should try to reach 195 bpm (beats per minute) by the last interval.

The machines you are using should have a heart rate monitor, but it can be inaccurate compared to a heart monitor you can wear around your wrist.

The Tipping Point:

The first 5 intervals aren’t bad. It gets real intense on the last 3 intervals.  You can’t slack off, keep giving it your all during these most crucial moments. The intervals of highest intensity is where ‘change happens’ as it was described in the video above.

A ‘Hack’ To Accelerate Your Results

For improved conditioning AND weight loss, incorporate intermittent fasting. Training in a fasted state may seem unconventional, but there is a new body of research that shows the effectiveness of it. Personally, I train in a fasted state for both weight lifting and HIIT. There are many benefits to this.

For example, one recent study showed a significant improvement of glycogen concentration remaining in the muscles after fasted training (60% improvement). This would lead to more endurance. Another study suggested something similar, except that men benefited more from fasted aerobic training.

As for weight loss, intermittent fasting helps you burn more fat and it also speeds up your metabolism. It has many of the same effects of exercise on your body. To learn more about it, check out my post on Intermittent Fasting To Lose Weight Fast.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Lays April 8, 2012 at 3:46 pm

Hey Jeff,

Thanks a lot for this great website! I really appreciate you sharing all this very helpful info with everyone. I just had two quick questions that I wanted to ask you:

1) Considering that I’m fairly skinny (not too skinny tho) and that I do need to gain muscles BUT my main goal is to get ripped by the summer, do you suggest that I do HIIT 3 times a week and low intensity cardio 3 times a week as well? For HIIT, do you suggest longer that 4 min workouts or not?

2) Should I lift fairly heavy weights (not my maximal ability tho) and do 3 sets of 12 reps? (a strategy somewhere along buliding muscles and getting ripped)

Thanks again,



Jeff April 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Hi Lays,

As I mentioned in the section “When To Use HIIT and When to Avoid It“: Don’t use HIIT if your main priority is to build muscle, it will slow down or stagnate your recovery and gains.

As for sets and reps, it completely depends on the program you are following, the rest and diet has to work together with it. Without all the elements working together, you’ll stall out long before your goals are reached.

If you’re a beginner, Starting Strength will help you grow faster than anything else. Once you build a basic strength foundation and learned the right lifting form, move onto a program like Visual Impact or The Hollywood Physique.


Lays April 10, 2012 at 11:18 am


Thanks very much for your quick reply. I just needed to have one more clarification. I’m not a beginner, I’ve been attending the gym on and off in the past 6-7 years. I’ve been back now since the beginning of March and I am following a a good diet (High protein-low carb) since then.

My question is: if my main goal is to GET CUT but I simple do not want to loose the muscles that I now have (and maybe build just A BIT more muscles) can I do HIIT 3 times a week and steady state cardio 3 times a week as well (6 times in total)?

For HIIT, do you suggest longer that 4 min workouts or not?

Thank you very much!


Jeff April 15, 2012 at 6:19 pm

It depends on how serious you’re going to take it. If you’re optimizing the cut or recomp, it’s a very precise process and you shouldn’t use HIIT. It will just burn you out.

If you’re taking a casual approach, you can do HIIT and low intensity cardio (brisk walking or light jogging).

As for the duration of the HIIT sessions, it’s up to you. To optimize HIIT, you want to reach your max heart rate on the last interval. I find that I can consistently reach this goal with a 30/90 interval, taking around 20 mins in total with a warm up.

Tabatas are still very effective. It’s more intense and takes less time.


priya April 19, 2012 at 6:48 pm

hey. thank you soo much for this work out.
i am 20 and i have heard doing hiit on elliptical with high resistance bulks legs, and my friends have noticed it. i cant run coz of my knees and back issues. i really like the elliptical. can i lower the resistance and do high repetitions so that my legs do not bulk and at the same time i get my workout. like for instance keep resistance max at 5 and go as fast as possible. thank you.


Jeff April 20, 2012 at 2:49 am

Without the intensity, it wouldn’t be high intensity interval training and you wouldn’t get its benefits.

There are two possibilities for bigger legs:

1. Your legs get a pump after the workout, this makes your legs bigger temporarily.
2. You’re building muscle, but not losing fat.

If you’re burning 400 calories from cardio, the work will be cancelled if you eat 400 calories extra that day. People often reward themselves with guilty foods after a workout and this can lead to poor results.

There is another phenomenon that ties in with building muscle, but not losing fat. This one mostly applies for women. Women tend to have more A2 receptors in their thighs. This makes them gain fat in their thighs first and it is also the last place to lose fat. So the muscle is growing, but the fat has not been lost on the legs. However, the thighs will get smaller if you keep up with the workouts and good diet.

You know this is happening if your thighs are getting a bit bigger, but your face/arms/waistline are slimming down…it is only a matter of time before your thighs slim down as well. So keep at it if you’re experiencing this, you know you’re on the right track.

Men tend to have more A2 receptors around the stomach area. This is just a generalization and it doesn’t apply for everyone.


priya April 24, 2012 at 10:36 pm

thanks alot 🙂


Greg Russell May 29, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Hi i have been trying to loose weight now for about a year. I weigh at 220. well I am 46 years young .But i am still ripped a little from high school football .I run at lest two times a week 80 -90 push ups. i eat very lite. Maybe you can tell me what i can do to fire up my metabolism ?. So i can loose the stomach. Some times i run with a 10-15 pound weight vest i run half the track do push up squats the other half i walk . When i played ball i was cut very hard . i just want to get some of that back.


Jeff May 30, 2012 at 2:44 am

Hey there,

Have you tried what I suggested in this article?

HIIT + Intermittent Fasting


Kevin July 2, 2012 at 1:52 am

I m 54 yrs old n want to lose about 15 lbs
Mainly in the stomach area
Also like to tighten things up
Started weights n helping
I also walk 4 or 5 times a week for about n hour
Weights helping to start build some muscle
See some diff in my arms mainly
Chest needs some help

What parts of Ur program would u suggest
I get started with
Thank you


Jeff July 5, 2012 at 11:23 pm

If your main goal is to lose weight, do HIIT combined with intermittent fasting.


Cristina August 25, 2012 at 6:47 am

Hi, I’m a 50 yr old medical staff working 8 hours of light activity in the hospital. I am 54 kg and stands 165cm. I admit I am not fat but I want an exercise program to keep my body fit and increase my endurance. I do some low-impact aerobics 30 mins 3 x a week, 1 lb weight lifting for my arms for 15 mins and 15 min ab workout routine. I feel no benefit with my routine. Will HIIT work for me?


Jeff August 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Hi Cristina,

I think you’ll have much better results from doing HIIT instead of the low impact aerobics 3x a week.


Drake September 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm

On HIIT: It has always fascinated me that lions can sleep 18 hours a day and, when duty calls, run down and take down a wildebeast, zebra, (whatever). HIIT! Those blasts of activity are enough to keep them in shape to do what they have to do. Now I know how nature designed animals, humans included, to really work. Thanks for the information.


Leanna May 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Hello Jeff,

I am 24, 5 foot 4 inches and weight 140 lbs. I have recently been doing 5-6 days of weight trainning exercises for my abs and butt mostly. Although I’ve seen some results not much. I eat very healthy and work out a lot but I still have fat around my midsection that I can’t get rid of. My ultimate goal is to have a toned and muscular body but do you think I should first do HIIT for awhile as you described and then after I lose the extra fat I should start building muscle? I don’t want to lose muscle tone in the process as I do have some of that. What do you suggest for me?



Jeff June 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm

Hi Leanna,

You won’t lose muscle while doing HIIT. You can alternate the intensities of your workout and HIIT. For example, you use HIIT for the first month while taking it easier and then work on building muscle the next month without HIIT.

I recommend checking out Visual Impact for Women. In my opinion, it’s the best program to create the look you’re talking about.


Leah May 23, 2013 at 12:36 am

How many times per week should you do HIIT? I lift 4 days per week.


Jeff June 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Hey Leah, it’s a good idea to stay away from HIIT if you’re trying to progress in your lifts. You could take 3-4 weeks to do 2-3 HIIT sessions/week while working to maintain strength.


david July 30, 2013 at 4:19 am

Hey, i was wondering if you could tell me something else to use HIIT on, any other machines or ways to do it?


Jeff August 4, 2013 at 3:46 pm

You can use an exercise bike or treadmill as well.


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