HIIT Cardio – Top Three Types and How To Implement Them

HIIT Cardio - Top Three

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So, we’re all hearing these days how Steady State Cardio is the death of us, but High Intensity Interval Training (“HIIT”) Cardio is now King. Well, there’s no denying that Steady State Cardio can be boring as hell (especially if you think of it as just running on a treadmill for an hour), and HIIT can be mixed up so many ways that it is inherently more fun and effective even from just a sanity standpoint.

The problem with HIIT is that many people think that there is only one type (regarding time protocol); the overwhelming majority of Group X Instructors and recently qualified Trainers I come across seem to think that *Tabata* (20 seconds of exercise and 10 seconds of rest, repeated for rounds) is HIIT in a nutshell. Now, the Tabata protocol is very effective, and extremely easy to employ, but there are plenty of different ways that we can vary the intervals, and in this post, I’m going to elaborate on my Top Three Types and how you can use them.

First though, I would like to just briefly hammer home the message regarding the “essence” of HIGH Intensity Interval Training; see, in my time as a top level trainer, I have done plenty of group classes, as well as 1-to-1 training with clients, and what I’ve noticed in some group classes is that there are people who show up just to say that they took part.

You can see it in the way they “perform” – everything is done at such a half-assed pace, and as a trainer, it leaves me wondering ‘Why?’. They are basically just doing “Low Intensity Interval Training” (which *is* a thing, just with a totally different objective).

‘…if you join a “HIIT class”… be sure to attack them with the utmost vehemence!’

Unfortunately, a few places that I worked at over the years had clientele that are fairly… “soft skinned”, therefore, I had to adopt the approach of *encouraging* improved performance, as opposed to the “drill sergeant” method.

For the most part, those who genuinely turned up to push hard responded perfectly well to encouragement (and positive reinforcement), but those who regularly lagged behind just didn’t get the message; so when they would ask me afterwards, ‘How many calories do you think I burned?’, I’d bluntly (but politely) tell them [hoping that they “got the hint”] that they probably only burned about 150-200kcal (at best) going at such a sluggish pace, and would try to emphasize that the whole point of *high* intensity is that they should be going at it vigorously from start to finish while making the absolute most of the breaks in between.

The moral of the story being: if you join a “HIIT class” or want to deploy any of these HIIT techniques that I am about to delve into, then be sure to *attack* them with the utmost vehemence! Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions, wasting your own time, and you won’t see the results you seek as quickly as you’d like.

With that said… coming in at Number Three of my Top Types of HIIT Cardio:

Fartlek Training

Fartlek is a Swedish term, which roughly translates as “Speed Play”. This is by far the easiest method of HIIT that you can use as it is all based around your own perceived level of exertion. That is to say that – unlike “traditional” HIIT methods where the active/rest times are set/predetermined – you perform at a higher intensity until you feel like you cannot keep up the pace any longer, then you simply slow down (so, no actual *rest* per se, but you get to recover at a slower pace).

As soon as you feel able to again, you then jack up the pace as high as possible and go for as long as you can, then [again] slow down once more, and repeat until you feel you’ve achieved a good workout (or have reached a particular time goal for that workout).

‘To get the best out of your session… consider pairing this with resistance training.’

This method is normally used for running/jogging/walking, however, it can just as easily be used for rowing, cycling, and plenty of other forms of cardio. It is a fantastic place to start with High Intensity Interval Training because you don’t feel defeated every time you can’t keep up the pace to reach a particular interval time, and better yet, it forces you to listen to your body and adapt as needed.

Now, there is a certain degree of self-discipline required as it can be tempting to trick yourself into thinking that you’re more fatigued than you really are, but if you’re honest with yourself and try to improve each and every time, then you can make huge progress using Fartlek Training as a form of HIIT Cardio.

To get the best out of your training session, you may consider pairing this with a resistance training session, perhaps doing 20-30mins of Fartlek either before, in the middle of, or after a lifting routine. Just be warned that performing HIIT Cardio before lifting weights will most likely result in you lifting lighter loads than you would if you went in fresh.



Then, at Number Two, we have:

Traditional HIIT

Now, what do I/we mean by this? Fact is, there are so many interpretations, and as I mentioned at the start of this article – most people default to “Tabata”. Well, in the “traditional” sense, the *interval* is set for a specific time (as is the rest/recovery), but then this may differ between rounds.

For example, you could set up a circuit that gets progressively harder over the course of three rounds: Round 1 – 20s ON / 10s OFF, Round 2 – 30s ON / 15s OFF, Round 3 – 40s ON / 20s OFF… So, each round the exercise time increases by ten seconds, but then there is also a relative increase in recovery.

With Tabata, it is always 20:10 every round, which is beautifully simple, and brutally efficient. Most people don’t know the origins of the Tabata protocol (which I will cover in more depth in another post), but there are others… Oh yes, we have: Gibala (60s ON / 75s OFF repeated for 8-12 cycles); we have Zuniga (30:30), and Timmons (3x20s Sprints on/off over 10mins)… and there are others.

‘Spice it up! Don’t just use the same time protocol every time…’

See these regimens/protocols are named after their creators (more often than not, it’ll be a University Professor doing pioneering research in a sport-driven [academic] facility), and as you can see, they vary greatly in terms of the active time to rest time ratio. With the example I gave before you can see that a 2:1 ratio is maintained throughout (i.e. the active workload is always double the rest time); you’ll notice with Zuniga’s method he uses are slightly more sparing 1:1 ratio where the recovery time is equal to the active time.

As aforementioned, I will delve into the nitty-gritty details of these protocols another time, but for now, just know that 20:10 is not the only HIIT timing you can/need to use.

Personally, I prefer to mix it up and try different times for each round [of a circuit]. So, I may do a round at 25s ON / 8s OFF, the next at 30s ON / 10s OFF, then a brutally quick finishing round at 20s ON / 5s OFF – yes, just FIVE seconds before you have to hustle onto the next exercise!

The take-home message for “traditional HIIT” is this: Spice it up! Don’t just use the same time protocol every time, otherwise your body will veryyy quickly get used to it, and it just won’t be a challenge for long.


Battle Rope


So, finally… my Numero Uno Type of HIIT Cardio:

Cardio Acceleration a.k.a. “Fillers”

This is my absolute favourite form of HIIT Cardio! It has existed for quite some time (usually under the term “Fillers”), but was popularized by Jim Stoppani [on Bodybuilding.com] in his massively acclaimed workout program: Shortcut to Shred, and it would seem as though he may have coined the term ‘Cardio Acceleration’.

It seamlessly sews together your HIIT Cardio with your weight lifting in a way that cuts out the B.S. excuses, cuts down your workout time, and cuts up the rule book when it comes to *how* most people think they should train.

The basic premise of Cardio Acceleration is that you do bursts of high intensity cardio in between your lifting sets. So, let’s say you are performing a typical hypertrophy routine and doing 3 sets of 10 reps of each lift on your program… in between each SET, rather than sitting on your a$$ for 60-90 seconds, you are going to do step ups (on the bench) or jumping jacks, or sprinting on the spot or something similar for that time instead.

‘… HIIT Cardio will actually help preserve muscle mass…’

Therefore, the only real *rest* that you get is when walking from one exercise over to the next (say you’re on the Leg Press, then you head over to the Lat Pulldown, for example). Simple fact of the matter is this: it’s hardcore, and it’s not for the faint hearted!! If you add it up at the end of a whole workout, each minute of sprints (or jumps, or whatever) per set (so, three minutes if you’ve done three sets) cumulatively over the whole workout will add up to about half an hour of HIGH Intensity Cardio interspersed throughout your weight training.

Know this: you will sweat, you may cry, but by god it will get the damn job done! Keep in mind, Fillers/Cardio Acceleration is great for conditioning, revving up your metabolism, and dropping body fat; however, it may not be wise to use if you are trying to put ON size or muscle mass.

But don’t fear – it won’t “chew up” your hard-earned muscle either, it’s particularly good for blitzing fat, just not necessarily *accruing* muscle; some studies even suggest that HIIT Cardio will actually help preserve muscle mass – just look at someone like [pro-boxer] Anthony Joshua, the guy is stacked and yet you don’t see him losing muscle when he’s doing HIIT or conditioning work.

So, there you have it – HIIT Cardio can come in many different forms, and some are more forgiving than others. You can do HIIT before lifting, in the middle (to break up a weights session into two parts), at the end, or even sprinkled throughout (with Fillers).

You can switch up the active and rest times. You can do as many rounds as you like/can muster. High Intensity Interval Training is a great way of improving your overall cardio-based fitness, burning more calories than Steady State can (beyond the actual session itself), and challenging you to truly PUSH your performance to new heights.

I hope you found this article useful, and as always, wish you the best in your fitness endeavours.


Yours in Training,

Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO


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