High Intensity Interval Training … For Beginners?

I’ve been preaching the HIIT gospel for quite awhile. HIIT – or high intensity interval training – is an exercise strategy in which you alternate short bursts of intense exertion with short periods of recovery. In other words, you go as hard as you can for a short time, and then at an easy pace, alternating intense bursts with recovery bursts.

Unfortunately, I think the way I’ve described it in the past has intimidated a lot of people. So today I’m giving the blog lectern over to my colleague, RealCare Team Leader and certified personal trainer, Lori Grisham. She’s going to explain her take on HIIT. I think it’s worth a second look. Take it away Lori …

Have you ever googled, “What is HIIT?” and scrolled through the pictures of super athletes sprinting or doing push ups?

Can you picture yourself as a beginner, viewing, “Get ripped in as little as 6 weeks” and thinking that HIIT is only for those who are already in the Ultra Fit & Under 40 Club?

I can.

I’m over 45 and not living in a gym, so even though I love high-intensity exercise, I have to admit hearing the word HIIT can be a bit intimidating.

And in fact, I just saw a university study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise in which the researchers took a look at 2 HIIT workouts (Tabata and a less intense interval workout) compared with steady-state cardio and found that the HIIT workouts didn’t improve exercise performance any better than steady-state cardio for those just starting to exercise.

BUT, HIIT can be super effective. One 1994 study at Laval University in Quebec, Canada found HIIT was nine times more effective for losing fat than steady-state cardio.

Confused yet?

All this has forced me to take a step back and rethink HIIT for those new to exercise, especially for people who are extremely overweight, over 50, or who have physical limitations.

And I’ve realized the best approach: Add a little HIIT into fun activities.

Don’t let the name scare you. Beyond all the complicated descriptions and step-by-step plans to having ripped abs to die for, it’s actually a very SIMPLE and easy to understand process that anyone — yes, anyone – can implement no matter what their current level of fitness.

The HIIT (for lack of a better name) method is actually a very flexible plan that can be tailored to meet you wherever you are on your path to greater health and fat loss.

Here’s how (trumpet sounds):

Pick an activity that you can do in the shape you are today. If that’s walking, running, swimming, burpees, biking, whatever. The activity is completely up you!

Getting started

High intensity interval biking.

  • Warm up by walking, biking, swimming, or whatever you’re doing at a pace that’s comfortable for you for 5 minutes.
  • After warming up, increase your speed, going as fast as YOU can for 30 seconds. If you can’t make it 30 seconds that’s ok, listen to your body and stop when you need to.

The goal is to go fast enough to get your heart thump, thump, thumping, and feel your breathing increase!

  • Once you’ve reached this point, go back to your comfortable pace until your breathing slows down and you feel recovered.
  • Repeat this cycle a few times during each activity session if you can. If not, do as many cycles as you’re able to.

That’s it!

Once you get stronger, you will be able to do a little more, walk a little faster, go a bit longer, and maybe do an extra cycle or two.

Baby steps (no pun intended!)… you will learn to push yourself a little more as you go.

No matter where you are on your road to being fit and happy, have fun, good luck and happy trails!

Wow. That was really an eye-opening post. Are you going to try some HIIT now? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Shoot me an email at drsteve@realdose.com. Thanks, Lori!

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

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1. Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism. 1994;43(7):814-818. PMID: 8028502.

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  1. Love this article! I have been so intimidated by HIIT workouts…until I realized, according to your article, that I’ve actually been doing that at the gym! I go from a walk to a light jog to a full-out run on the treadmill, several times over, in the thirty minutes I’m on that machine. Thanks for taking the fear out of that acronym for me!

  2. Dear Dr Steve
    I love to read your interesting articles and especially the one about exercise
    I’ve joined many gym programmes over the years but wasted my money as I’ve become bored or the simple fact is of hating exercise!
    However I’ve found something I really love to do and am a regular attendee at Zumba classes!
    Exercising to music is so much more fun and I’ve become friends with a number of people fro the classes I attend
    Don’t know if you have Zumba in USA but in Australia I attend Zumba gold classes which are modified for the older members or ‘golden oldies’
    I encourage any of your members to join a class of Zumba to experience an exercise class like no other.
    I actually could go 6 days a week and never get bored I just love it. And it’s doing a lot of good for my fitness and HIT!!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you for posting and sharing! Yes, I do know of a few fitness clubs that have Zumba classes 2 or 3 times a day. They are great cardio and also for maintaining bone, muscle and joint health. I am actually considering joining a few classes but am afraid of the damage my two left feet will cause. I hope this testimony inspires our readers and RealDose Family to give Zumba classes a try. Thanks for sharing, Jennifer! Make it a healthy day!

  3. Dear Dr Sisskind,

    I signed up at the gym but I don’t feel that committed as all I have been doing during the past 4 sessions are repetitive moves on gym equipment..I do understand that to build up lean muscle mass is important but I am daunted with doing that at the gym and it’s very expensive..some of the strength training exericises I do wrong and then although I have a professional trainer for 4 sessions I just about managed to do them well in the end but not great… I would love to do as much cardio as I want and concentrate on strengthening my leg muscles and my abdomen muscles as well as some back muscles as I think that is necessary and I felt terrified when at the fitness studio I found that I although I am only slightly overweight at 5ft 4 with 146 lbs I am obese according to my Body fat ..which read 35 % which is something I definitely want to lose.. Are there some ways I can integrate some more simple ways to build up lean muscle mass instead of the strength training at the gym where I don’t seem to make much headway ..as I am just more motivated to cardio and I have to many problems and I want to lose weight but I also know I need to build lean muscle however I hope there are some easier moves to keep me going with strength training ..I would like to do some strength training on my own at home. I use the treadmill I just wonder what is the best exercise for me..to lose body fat and keep it off. I know that I want to make this a lifestyle change for good and therefore I have to pick some exercise I feel I can stick out for the rest of my life but the kind of strength training I have been shown at the gym is not something I feel I will keep up. What can I achieve with cardio? I did change my eating habits and only eat healthy foods now I have to work out portion control. Could you advise me what I can do about gaining muscle strength and I did manage to lose 50 lbs on the treadmill before but I want to be able to keep my weight and not get back to gaining again. thank you very much!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Vera,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concern with us! I completely understand your concerns and do know how you feel. Been there and done that too. Training at the gym can be a good thing as it gets you motivated to keep at it. If you feel that you are lacking inspiration to go, I suggest that you talk to your personal trainer and let him know your thoughts. He can change your regimen accordingly or even add in a few new tricks for variety. There are certainly several exercises you can do at home and only using the equipment you have handy. For this, I suggest you read up online as they look pretty fun to do. Here’s a couple of links to get you started:



      The key to maintaining your progress is to be open to change. Be sure to change your regimen every two or 3 months to challenge your body and keep you burning more calories. Hope this helps, Vera! Make it a healthy day!

  4. I am a stroke victim with severe chronic fatigue, chronic muscular tiredness in the calves of my legs, and knee pain that nobody can find the solution for. How am I going to attempt HIIT? In the years before the stroke I was a square dancer with line dancing in between brackets. I would suggest that some of the line dances (Hully Gully) would have counted as HIIT, as I was usually panting at the end, and wanted to sit and rest…until the next bracket of square dancing started, when I would be up and dancing again. Now, I struggle to get through just one bracket of square dancing, let alone 2 and a line dance in a row.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Maree,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! I completely understand your concerns and shall be praying for your speedy recovery. I do suggest that you start our with an exercise you are comfortable of doing, for now. It may be a bit of light cardio, stretching or even yoga, just be sure it is low impact and something you can do repetitively. The point of exercising at this time is to ensure you maintain your muscle strength and range of motions. Also, have you tried talking to your doctor about exercises you can do? I recommend working with a therapist to ensure that you not only get the movements right but also avoid causing further injury to your body. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  5. I’m so happy to read Lori’s description of HIIT!!! Succinct and a manageable way of approaching it. I have staircase (not to far from where I live) with 90 steps, and have (in the past, unbeknown to be) been doing the HIIT method! The trick is to make it a daily activity, at the very least, a regular activity! Thanks again for your blog.

  6. Loraine MacGinness

    I struggle to eat enough !
    I now have to eat when I am not hungry as my problem – I have been told, many times – is I put my body in the survival mode. Problem here is, if I go over the satisfied it flicks a switch and I find it difficult to control any further snacking.
    At present I have lost just shy of 2 stones, now I struggle because my head tells me to carry on limiting but I hear the people saying “you are not eating enough to lose weight”. If I up my food I still do not lose weight !!
    Exercise-wise at present I am doing daily Hiit x 20 mins and plank increasing the seconds, introducing weights now, but only lost 1 lb. last week and 1/2 lb. week before.
    In a quandary,

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Loraine,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! Congratulations on the weight loss! A severely low calorie diet — below 1200 calories for sedentary women and 1400 calories for sedentary men — can slow your metabolism 12 – 20 percent. If this is continued over a long period of time, it may take months or even years, for your metabolism to re-adjust. Severe calorie restriction puts your body under stress. Cortisol has been found to cause extra weight around your midsection. The best way to overcome this is to eat a healthy balanced diet to maintain your weight loss progress. Also, I suggest you try a different exercise routine to keep your metabolism up. If you have been eating the same diet and doing the same exercise routine, your body is no longer challenged. Mix things up and see what happens! Make it a healthy day!

      • Thank-you Dr. Sisskind,

        Hopefully I am managing to up my calories I have found it possible by discovering two lovely protein drinks using my Real Dose protein powders and Real Reds, but as I have also started attending the gym for one hour a day x 5 doing a routine devised by my PT who I see x 1 weekly I may have to up it again! Fortunately I am down a further 10 lbs. which is encouraging !!


      • Dr. Steve Sisskind

        Hello Loraine,

        Thank you for keeping us posted and congratulations on your continued success! Congratulations on the 10 pound weight loss! Yes, working closely with your PT helps you do the right kinds of exercises for your body. And paired with your already healthy diet, reaching your goal weight is surely within arms reach. We love hearing more of your progress and do hope to hear more from you! Make it a healthy day!

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