women doing a squat to shoulder press

A Guide to HIIT Workouts for Women

by Evelyn Valdez

As we know by now, cardio no longer just means running or jogging for an endless amount of time. There are so many other creative ways to get a decent cardio workout for women, including, but not limited to - stair climbing, swimming, hiking, rowing, and even dancing! But by far one of the most popular has to be high-intensity interval training or most commonly referred to as HIIT. These interval workouts are a great way to work up a sweat while using any type of exercise, from using cardio machines to weight to only your bodyweight! You can tailor them any way you want, and for however long you want!

The idea behind high-intensity interval training is to work hard for a short amount of time to get your heart rate up, and then take a (very) short rest period, then repeat for however many rounds. The short bursts of high-intensity make them so you can't perform them for long, so unlike traditional cardio, moderate-intensity at a steady pace for long periods, HIIT can be done in 20 minutes or less! But don't let the short time fool you, HIIT workouts can be just as effective as other types of training, and it has the upside of being quite fun and challenging. With that being said, we want to give you all the info on HIIT workouts, including their benefits for women, the different types, how to incorporate them into your current workout routine, plus, we'll tell you how to build your own HIIT routine to build muscle and for fat loss. It's a lot, so let's get started!

Benefits of HIIT workouts for Women

Aside from being ideal for busy moms or anyone who is just tired of running and needs a quick home workout, there are several other benefits HIIT has to offer, like...

  • It helps the body burn calories after the workout: Just like with resistance training, HIIT increases post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This is a two-hour period after an exercise bout where the body begins to restore itself to pre-exercise levels, using even more energy to do so. And because HIIT is so intense, the EPOC tends to be greater thus adding up to 15% more calories to the overall workout energy expenditure. So, you'll burn a massive amount of calories during a short HIIT workout and continue burning when you're recovering, which is ideal for those with weight loss goals.
  • It's less time consuming: HIIT sessions are convenient for busy people who don't have an hour to spare at the gym. What makes them even better is they can be tailored to require no equipment, so you can do a 20-minute effective workout at home! Some like to include equipment like a jump rope, resistance bands, or free weights, but it's not needed. HIIT can involve just a combination of bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere and by all fitness levels!
  • Maximizes fat burning: Not only does EPOC help your body burn more calories after intense workouts, but it also helps your body tap into its fat stores. This means that your body is able to burn fat because it taps into its fat stores for the energy required to restore it to its normal resting state. [1]
  • Can help you maintain your gains: Aside from elevating your heart rate and giving you a good cardio workout, HIIT also has the muscles working hard. This helps those strength training maintain muscle mass, and even promote muscle growth! Most HIIT exercises work your lower body, but they can also be tailored to hit the upper body to help build better overall strength.

How to incorporate it into your strength training routine

The common misconception about HIIT is that it trumps steady-state cardio at all times, but this isn't necessarily true. Yes, HIIT provides exceptional benefits, but it's stressful to the body, specifically the joints and muscles, and requires recovery time. So, it's not recommended to do it every day. In fact, it's recommended to keep HIIT sessions to a minimum, only two or three per week. Lifting weights is already intense, and adding in HIIT every day will do you more harm than good! To ensure that you're working your body, but also giving it enough time to recover, do your HIIT sessions on the same day you lift or on the days in between. If you do it on the same day you lift then opt to do it after your lifting session, or even consider doing it several hours apart. Take into consideration what muscles you're working when doing HIIT that way you avoid overuse injuries. For example, avoid doing a HIIT workout with a lot of jumping and lower body movement the day after your leg day (do it after as a burn out sesh). So, remember to plan your HIIT workouts accordingly. 

Also, as many advantages HIIT has over traditional cardio, it is still important to do it! It's great for recovery, helps you burn extra calories, and keeps your heart healthy. Try to do any moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least once a week. This could be walking on an inclined treadmill, jogging outdoors, bike riding, etc.

Beginner HIIT workout for women

This routine is the perfect place to start for those who are new to HIIT or working out in general. These exercises involve only your bodyweight and are low impact, meaning if you have aches and pains in any particular muscle group then these exercises shouldn't aggravate them. Before you get started, spend 5-10 minutes to warm-up properly!

Directions: There are a total of five exercises, you must perform as many reps as you can in 45 seconds, resting 15 seconds between sets. After one round is completed, rest for a minute (up to two, if needed), and then repeat for 4-5 rounds.

Mountain climbers

Get into a plank position, making sure your wrists are stacked beneath your shoulders and body in a straight line. Step your right foot to the inside of your right palm. Jump your right foot back to plank position. Do the same on the left side, and continue alternating in quick (but careful) succession.

Shuffle punch

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing slightly outwards. Have your arms near your chest and in a position that is ready to throw straight punches (so fists facing up). This is the starting position. Shuffle your feet to your left and drop into a deep squat position, then punch your right arm straight out. Then shuffle to the right and punch your left arm straight out. Keep alternating sides.

Squat and twist

Stand with feet between hip and shoulder-width apart and place your hands on your neck or head with your elbows out. Begin to lower your body into a squat by pushing your knees apart and sitting back as if into a chair. Go as low as you can while keeping your heels down and head, spine, and pelvis in a long line. Drive back up to standing, and as you do, begin to tuck one knee up as you rotate your opposite elbow toward your knee. You want to tuck your knee up as high as you can as you rotate toward that leg, and aim for a slight crunch (don't round over). Put the foot back down and repeat the squat before tucking and twisting to the other side.

Reverse lunges

Standing upright, begin to initiate the movement by stepping back with one foot about two feet behind you. Keep your hips facing forward as the toe of your back foot makes contact first. Then allow both knees to bend and descend just short of allowing your trailing knee to touch the floor. Your body should continue to be upright. Don't lean forward or allow you back to round. Press back up by pushing through your back foot, maintaining balance as you return to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side, and keep alternating legs.

Table top reach and lift

Begin by sitting on the floor with feet planted in front of you and hands on the floor slightly behind your torso and underneath your shoulders. Brace your core as you push through your heels to raise your hips off the floor into a full table top position. Raise your left leg straight out in front of you and reach for it with your right arm. Lower your hips to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Advanced HIIT workout for women

If you're more advanced (or once you're ready) take your HIIT to the next level with this routine. Unlike the beginner routine, it involves plyometric (jumping) moves that are meant to train explosive power and challenge your muscles... Plus they get your body working up a sweat! 

Directions: You'll need a small box or step, and a set of dumbells (or long resistance band) for this one. There are a total of five exercises, you must perform as many reps as you can for 45 seconds, resting 15 seconds between sets. After one round is completed, rest for about a minute (up to two if needed) and then repeat for 4-5 rounds.

Chest to floor burpees

Start by standing tall with your feet together. Then begin to lower your body into a squat and place your hands on the ground and directly in front of your feet. Keep your core tight as you jump back. Jump back far enough so that you are fully extended and in a push-up position, then lower down so your chest is touching the floor. Now, jump your feet back up to your hands and jump up off the ground.

Single-leg switch

Sit on a box or step and extend your right leg straight out in front of you. Feel free to reach your arms forward to help with balance. Now, stand up from the box using only your left leg and then quickly hop onto the right foot and sit back down. Now stand up using only the right leg and hop onto your left foot to continue repeating the exercise. It should look as if you're doing a pistol squat.

Plank push-ups

Start in a low plank position with your elbows shoulder-width apart. Press yourself up from the floor one arm at a time into a push-up, maintaining your body in a straight line. Slowly return to the starting plank position the same way, one arm at a time. Repeat the movement, alternating sides.

Skater jumps

Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Begin to shift your weight to your right foot, bend your right knee, and then push through your foot to jump to your left. When you land on your left foot, cross your right foot behind you as you lower your until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment and then repeat the movement to your left, pushing off with your left foot and landing on your right foot.

Split lunges w/ shoulder press

Get into a staggered stance with your right foot two to three feet in front of your left foot. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms bent 90 degrees and palms facing in. Lower your body into a lunge position and push back up to a standing position as you simultaneously press the dumbbells overhead. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Switch legs and repeat.

Note: You can use a long resistance band instead, simply place the band beneath your back foot and follow the exercise as it is above.

Building your own HIIT workout

Now you have two HIIT workouts you can try at home or at the gym, but to keep your training challenging and fun you can start creating your own! To build your own full-body HIIT workout, you must take into consideration your fitness level, amount of time, and goals. Aside from that, here are some guidelines for you to remember...

  1. The intensity of the workout must reach 60% of your maximum heart rate. Essentially, you want to push yourself to the max every time! 
  2. It should be anywhere between 15-30 minutes of hard work with intermittent rest periods. It could be 30-60 seconds of hard work, with a 10-15 second rest period in between exercises, and repeating for 3-5 rounds.
  3. Choose exercises you can do in one place. Unlike with circuit training, you don't have much time to run from station to station during your short rest periods, so keep that in mind when choosing exercises. If you're going to include different weights like kettlebells and dumbbells then keep them nearby and easy to reach.
  4. Alternate really hard exercises with easier ones. You want to work hard, but not so hard that you can't finish the workout with intensity. And one way to avoid burning out is by alternating your hard exercises with easier ones. Meaning you don't want to do a plank or burpees after doing shoulder presses or some other weighted exercise. So, keep in mind the exercise order.
  5. If you squat with weights in one interval, you probably shouldn’t do burpees in the next one. The point of HIIT is to work hard, but not so hard that you burn yourself out early and can’t finish the workout with intensity. Another tip: play with your work-to-rest ratios. You may want to use shorter work intervals and longer rests when you’re just getting started, and add work and subtract rest as you get fitter.

Those are a few guidelines for an effective HIIT routine, everything else is customizable! This means you can do a total body workout with equipment or without! You can even do an aerobic HIIT workout with cardio equipment like a treadmill or a stationary bike. The key is to give it all your effort and have short intermittent rest periods.

In summary, HIIT is a great way to get a quick full-body workout, it can benefit your cardiovascular health, help with weight loss and fat loss, and ideal for those strength training because it helps maintain/build muscle. And best of all, you can create them however you want! You can even add UPPPER Resistance Bands to up the intensity 😉

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