A Beginners Guide to HIIT Running Workouts

HIIT running workouts are one of the best ways to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time and keep the calories burning long after the run is over. That’s why I love doing them some much. With a life as hectic as mine, the more I can do in less time, the better.

I am a reluctant runner. There is a part of me that loves the running high, but as I age, my body does not love running. When I do run, I use the interval running technique.

Womon running through the woods.

Anyone can start an interval running program. In fact, it’s the perfect way to ease yourself into the world of running if you’re more of the couch potato-type. However, the intensity of your interval running training will be key. Taking off too fast, or too soon, can lead to injury. You need to start slow and build up your endurance.

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What is HIIT

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. In this type of training, you don’t hit a specified heart rate zone for the full time you exercise. Instead, you alternate between hitting a very high heart rate and then dropping to a much lower heart rate.

This method of training drastically improves athletic capacity as well as caloric burn while working out and extends that caloric burn for up to 24 hours after the workout is over.

There are two phases in HIIT training. The high-intensity phase involves hitting as close to the highest end of your cardio heart rate as possible for about 30 seconds to 1 minute.

The second phase is a rest phase where you work at a low-intensity level, catching your breath and allowing your heart rate to fall.

The phases are paired at a ratio of about 2:1. Usually, these workouts last for a maximum of about a half-hour, making them an excellent way to burn lots of calories and improve aerobic conditioning in a short amount of time.

Health Benefits of HIIT

In addition to being a huge time saver, HIIT is also a fantastic way to get into shape. This type of training has been shown to improve health in three profound ways.

1: Weight Loss Efficacy

A study in the Journal of Obesity found that participants who followed a HIIT program lost more body fat compared to those who did regular cardio.

Studies have shown that interval training burns more calories than steady-state workouts and continues to burn calories long after the workout is over.

2: Reducing Blood Sugar

High-Intensity Interval Training has been shown to lower blood sugar levels. Now, we usually equate monitoring blood sugar with diabetes, but reducing blood sugar levels and improving the body’s ability to sufficiently use the glucose in our body is important for overall health.

3. Heart Health

Like all cardiovascular exercises, HIIT has been shown to help with overall heart health. The big difference with interval training, however, is that it does this in a fraction of the time.

HIIT Running Workouts For Beginners

I was first introduced to interval running when I trained for the Honolulu Marathon in 2000 when I began to have both hip and knee problems during my training. Holy cow, has it actually been 20 years? WOW! From then on, interval running became my favorite way to run.

No matter your experience or running goals, interval workouts should be part of your routine. It offers runners a route to continuous improvement.

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There are many suggested methods for interval running. The overall formula is quite simple. Run fast (according to your fitness level) for a short distance, then slow down for a bit to recover. Then do it again. Interval running is just that simple.

Studies show that interval running also helps minimize injury for both training and running longer distances like half and full marathons.

Related: How to Start Running

Woman running through a park.

What to do Between Intervals

What you do between intervals depends on your fitness level as well as the goals of your workout.

Standing: This approach works well between short, fast reps for building speed and strength. It gives your muscles and joints a chance to rest and recover.

Walking: Newer runners can really benefit from walking between jogging or running intervals. This brings your heart rate down and helps keep your blood flowing to clear lactic acid and other waste products that can lead to cramping and post-run soreness.

Jogging: If you are fit enough for a strong run taking it down to a jog keeps your heart rate up and extends the length of your workout (both distance and time) with less fatigue.

When I attended a fitness conference in 2014, I ran with a group to complete a 5K. We ran a 30/30 interval. We jogged for 30 seconds and walked for 30 seconds. I could not believe how quickly we ultimately finished and how good I felt considering I had not run in ages.

I also like a 60/60 split. When I am back into running shape, I typically aim for 4/1 split which is four minutes of running and 1 minute of walking. Give different intervals a try to see what feels good for you. I highly recommend the 30/30 option as a good way to start.

In the beginning, you want to focus on form rather than speed.

Interval Running with Good Form

Running with good form is always important, but it’s even more vital when doing HIIT running workouts. Most people don’t actually know how to run. In fact, the most common way that we see people running is terrible for the body.

When most of us run, we take long strides, our heels strike the ground first, and we lean forward. That is a terrible way to run. It’s bad for your back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet.

Proper running form has shorter strides. The foot strikes the ground almost flat, and the body is in a more upright position. This allows our entire body to act as a shock absorber and puts far less stress and torque on our joints. Refer to the graphic below to see how to run properly.

So why is proper form so incredibly important during interval running? Because you’re running so hard. Faster movement usually means greater force when your feet land. It can also lead to a breakdown in form as you get tired, especially if you don’t know how to run properly in the first place.

Knowing proper running form and practicing it helps get you off on the right foot – no pun intended – and helps ensure that you don’t injure yourself over time.

7 Running Tips for Beginners. I am trying add running back into my fitness routine. Here are some great tips for new runners to get started.

Interval Treadmill Walking

If you are a true beginner, especially to using a treadmill, I recommend starting with interval walking. You can still get in a good workout. It’s great for folks who can’t run due to injury or other restrictions.

With this approach, you use the treadmill’s incline function to vary the intensity of your workout. Start with a warm-up at the pace of a slow stroll. Then increase your speed to a slightly fast walk with an incline of 1. Increase the incline for short intervals up to 2.0 for one minute, then back to 0 to recover.

  • Walk for 3:00 at 0 elevation
  • Walk for 3:00 at 1 elevation
  • Walk for 2:00 at 1.5 elevation
  • Repeat intervals for 3 sets
  • Walk for 3:00 at 0 elevation

As your fitness level improves, increase your elevation. For example, I now start at an elevation of 1.5 and bump up to a high of 6.0.

Whether you’re new to interval training or running in general,  you can change up your speed and time variables to create a wide variety of interval running workouts to continually advance your training. Getting started with treadmill running? Here is another great beginner workout idea.

Set your treadmill incline to 0 and leave it there. This workout just uses speed changes to produce the HIIT effect.

  • Warm up at a brisk walk for 3 minutes
  • Increase the speed by 50% for 3 minutes
  • Lower the speed back to a brisk walk for 3 minutes
  • Repeat for 15 to 30 minutes.

As your fitness level improves, you can begin at a faster speed and up your speed even more. After improving further, you can use both speed and your treadmill’s incline to produce an even more challenging workout.

Easy HIIT Running Workouts

After you try the 30/30 or 60/60 interval for a while, or just want to try something new, here is a great interval running for beginners workout:

Interval Running for Beginners

Autoregulating HIIT Running Workouts

One of the easiest things about HIIT running workouts – or any interval training, for that matter – is that you can autoregulate it. HIIT might seem confusing, but it’s actually so intuitive. You don’t need fancy books or a Ph.D. to do them.

Autoregulation simply means that you allow your body to regulate itself. Here’s an example of how autoregulation in HIIT running workouts works.

Start off at a slow jog. Do that for a few minutes to warm up. After that, run as hard as you can until you’re huffing and puffing like crazy. Then, slow down to a slow jog or walk until you catch your breath. After that, do it all over again. Repeat for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on your fitness level. Guess what? You just did an autoregulated interval run.

Important Things to Remember

Interval training of any kind is harder than traditional cardio so proceed with caution. Always consult your doctor before trying any HIIT workout routine to ensure that you’re physically able to do it.

If you get the green light from your doctor, remember to start slow. HIIT is a relative thing. If you’re just starting out, you won’t be able to push as hard as the Crossfitters you see on TV. Start slowly and always remember that high intensity is relative to YOUR fitness level, not someone else’s.

HIIT Running Workouts Do More with Less

HIIT running workouts give you all the benefits and then some of regular cardio but in far less time. They’re great for those who are pressed for time or just don’t love to work out.

If you think this kind of training might be right for you, talk with your doctor to get the go-ahead and give it a try. Remember to start slowly and build as you become fitter and fitter. And above all, have fun.

Jenn

Jenn Mitchell is a proud mom, wife and adventure seeker. She’s traveled either solo or with family to 20 countries and 36 U.S. states so far. A former personal trainer, Jenn looks for ways to keep her family fit and active both at home and on the road. Her goal is to inspire other moms and families to live happy and healthy lives.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Kris B

    Using intervals makes running fun for me. There’s a benefit for running faster when preparing for a race too, but I’ve never been one to just like to run for a long time. So this breaks up the monotony. You can also use intervals in the gym, which I did this morning on the stationary bike. There might be a science behind setting up the intervals, but I just make my own up each time.

  2. Stephanie Kayle

    Interval training is an absolute must for beginners in my opinion. Trying to just “run as far as you can” is too difficult and demoralizing when you’re new, and it’s hard to push yourself when you don’t have some kind of goal in mind. “As far as you can” is arbitrary so you can give up pretty much whenever you want, but “run for 60 seconds” is a defined goal that you’re supposed to meet, so even if you feel like giving up at 45 seconds, you can push yourself to actually meet your goal.

    1. Jesse

      Ha, running as far as I could is how I always used to do it, and needless to say I ever stick with it very long. Having a regimented interval training program makes it so much easier!

  3. Leighton

    Love this guide for beginner runners! This method can also translate into other areas of life. If you are struggling with having a good diet, you can start out by eating veggies twice a week then 3 times a week then 4 times, etc. Just an example but I really like the idea of getting into a new routine.

  4. Danu

    Wow! Great post really amazing! Amazing advice. It is worth reading your article. Thanks a lot for such a useful share.

  5. Sky Lee

    How do I calculate the distance if I don’t know it

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