HIIT workouts for women are all the rage, and for good reason: They help you build muscle while promoting fat-burning and weight loss. And what's more, anyone can do them. We know you’re curious about HIIT workouts for women, but the truth is, these workouts are for everyone who wants to improve their fitness.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT workouts, are highly customizable and can be designed to meet you wherever you are in terms of fitness and mobility. They can be done at home, with no equipment, and within an otherwise busy schedule (most are only about 10 to 20 minutes long). So, you don’t have the whole “too busy” thing as an excuse. 😉
Now that you’re sold, how can you get started? Read on to see what these workouts look like, how they compare to cardio, how to design HIIT workouts, and how a trainer can help.
What Are HIIT Workouts?
HIIT workouts alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise (usually less than a minute) – burpees, jumping jacks, push-ups, etc. – with short periods of recovery. Yes, 45 seconds is an eternity when doing jump squats. These are either rest or low-intensity exercises.
These workouts can all be done with no equipment, but you can use dumbbells, resistance bands, or other light equipment if you need an extra challenge. A yoga mat is not required, but it can be a nice buffer against the ground.
The overall intensity of the exercises will depend on your current fitness levels and how much time you have.
HIIT Workouts vs. Continuous Cardio
There are many benefits of HIIT workouts. For one, they generally burn more fat than continuous cardio workouts. A study from Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome found HIIT workouts raised irisin levels (a hormone involved in burning calories stored as fat) while lower intensity cardio (65% of maximal heart rate) did not.
Part of the reason they burn more fat is that your body is still working after you finish the exercise routine. It takes the body longer to recover from higher intensity workouts, so you'll still burn calories up to several hours after HIIT workout is finished. It’s like getting extra credit points on your workout!
HIIT workouts may improve cardiovascular health even more than moderate-intensity continuous training, but they can also help with muscular strength and muscular endurance. They can be a total body workout if you include the right exercises. However, your body needs time to recover from HIIT, so keep these workouts to 2-3 times a week.
Can Anyone Do HIIT Workouts for Women?
Yes! The beauty of a HIIT workout is that it is highly customizable. Not only do you get to choose which exercises to do, but you can also customize individual exercises to your needs.
While people of all genders can benefit from HIIT workouts, they can especially help women, who have a slightly higher risk of osteoporosis as they age. High intensity resistance training can increase bone density and has been found to improve bone mineral density in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. What’s more, you’ll get the same benefits from keeping it low impact, which will also help protect against fractures. We’ll look at some low impact options later.
So, HIIT workouts for women may be particularly beneficial as they age, but HIIT workouts are a good idea for anyone who wants to keep their bones strong.
Sample HIIT Workouts for Women
Now that you’re ready to get moving, here are some sample HIIT workout plans to get you started. First, a few tips:
A good beginner HIIT workout will include exercises you already know and feel good about. If you’ve never tried a burpee before, you might want to save that for a later session.
You can play with the ratios of exercise to rest periods. How long can you actually do push-ups without losing your breath or sacrificing your form? How long do you need afterwards to feel confident continuing?
There’s no point doing 45 seconds of lunges if you start falling on your mat after 20 seconds. Try different exercise to rest ratios with different muscle groups, and you’ll get an idea how long you can sustain high-intensity exercise and what sort of home workout plan might work for you.
As you can see, finding the right HIIT workout for you takes a bit of practice. Consider working with a personal trainer to help you plan the right HIIT workout to meet your goals.
5-Minute HIIT Workout
If you only have 5 minutes for your workout, congrats for finding the time to read this article – but we’d better get straight to it.
These three exercises target strength training, cardio, and agility. Experiment with the order, and feel free to swap exercise that isn’t working for one that feels right for you.
To make the workout five minutes, each interval will need to be a total of about 1 minute and 40 seconds. See how long you can do the exercise (and at what intensity) during that interval, and switch to active rest – light walking, stretching, etc. – when you can’t continue.
Push-ups are great for warming up the biceps, triceps, and chest muscles and for targeting all-around upper body strength.
Start in a plank position with your hands flat on the ground.
Lower your upper body slowly until your nose is about to touch the ground.
Push yourself back up.
Modifications: If you have trouble with push-ups, start with knee push-ups by keeping your knees on the ground. For a greater challenge, make your hands into fists and push up from your knuckles, or try one-armed push-ups.
Ah, the infamous burpees... Burpees are essentially four exercises combined into one explosive movement: a squat, a squat thrust, a push-up, and a jump.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent, and do a vertical jump.
Land in a squat position. Put your hands on the floor, inside your knees.
Kick your feet behind you while supporting yourself with your arms, getting into a plank position.
Lower your upper body until your nose is just above the floor, and then push it back up.
Frog kick your legs back to where they were, so they’re just outside your arms.
As you come back up, do another vertical jump.
Give yourself a pat on the back!
Modifications: For a low-impact version, take out the jumps or the push-ups. Or, switch to knee push-ups.
3. Side Shuttles
Great for targeting agility, side shuttles have you move laterally from side to side along a short line.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
Run sideways to the right along an imaginary line, and touch your hand to the ground at the edge of the line.
Repeat in the opposite direction back to where you started, and touch your hand down again.
A shorter line really works your agility, whereas a longer line is more about cardio.
Modifications: For a low impact option, just do one step to each side. Add dumbbells for more intensity, or try touching your opposite hand to the ground for a twist.
10-Minute HIIT Workout
Even though this is a short workout, it helps with cardio, strength training, and flexibility. These are five exercises that could be done in 1-minute intervals. Repeat each exercise once for a 10-minute workout.
Again, find the ratios of exercise and rest that work for you, whether that’s an exercise interval of 40 seconds followed by 20 seconds of active rest, or two sets of a 20-second exercise interval followed by 10 seconds of active rest. During active rest, try to keep moving your body. Walk around, stretch, keep your muscles loose.
1. Jumping Jacks
Jumping jacks will get your heart rate up very quickly by working all the major muscles in your body. They are also known as star jumps.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, shoulders back, and arms at your sides.
In one motion, jump both legs out to each side and bring your arms above your head with elbows bent. Optional: Clap at the top of the jumping jack.
Jump back to the starting position.
Modification: For a lower impact option, eliminate the jump. As you bring your arms above your head, step to the side with your right foot, then bring your right foot back to the starting position as you bring your arms back down. Alternate with your left foot.
The inchworm is a great dynamic exercise that targets every muscle in your body.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bend your upper body like you’re about to touch your toes. Place your hands on the floor while bending your knees just a little.
Crawl your hands forward as far as you can, a little past plank position if possible, and hold.
Walk your hands backwards until you are back in the forward bend.
Slowly lift yourself back up and straighten your upper body. (You can skip this step to make the exercise easier.)
Modifications: Bend your knees more on the way down to make it easier, or add a push-up when you’re in the plank position to make it harder.
3. Walking Lunges
Lunges are often used to warm up the lower body. They activate the hamstrings, quads, and glutes.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
Step forward with your left leg, putting the weight on your heel. Slowly lower your knee until it’s bent in a right angle behind you. Return to the starting position.
Make the same motion with your right leg, stepping forward until your left leg is behind you.
Repeat as necessary, and turn around when you need to (depending on your space).
Modification: For more intensity, add a twist to the side as you lunge, or add dumbbells.
Curl-ups are a great low-impact core-strengthening exercise, and there are endless variations.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Keep your arms crossed in front of you.
Lift your upper body all the way up until your chest is almost at your knees.
Lower yourself back down to the starting position.
Modification: For more difficulty, alternate twisting to one side and then the other as you come up. For even more intensity, lift the opposite knee to meet your elbows as you lift yourself to one side.
Low-Impact HIIT Workout
Sometimes, we need to go easy on our joints. This workout is low impact – no jumps, no explosive movements – but it’ll still challenge your body. Low impact does not mean low intensity!
Decide how long you want your workout to be, and plan your intervals accordingly. Doing each of these for 60 seconds followed by 15 seconds of rest will give you one five-minute interval, and you can repeat once for a 10-minute workout, twice for a 15-minute workout, etc. That said, 60 seconds may be too much, so start with 30 or 45 seconds if you need to.
1. High Knees
This is an exercise with endless variations, and it works as a great warm-up.
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
Raise your left knee.
You can touch your knee with (in order of difficulty): your left hand, your left elbow, your right hand, or your right elbow. Alternatively, you can hug your knee with your arms and bring it into your chest and hold for an extended stretch.
Bring your knee back down into the starting position.
Repeat on the other side.
Going quickly makes this more of a cardio exercise, but going slowly and deliberately requires more balance and strength.
Modification: Add a twist – bringing your knee to the side before straightening it back and bringing it down – for more intensity.
2. Low-Impact Jacks
See the above modification on jumping jacks, or star jumps. (Alternatively, you can call these low impact stars.) Go quickly to get your heart rate up.
Squats are a great low-impact exercise targeting core and leg muscles. They can also help to prevent injury.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in front of you for balance, and toes pointed slightly outwards.
Squat as though about to sit on a chair.
Raise yourself back to the starting position.
Modification: For more intensity, hold dumbbells. You can also try one-legged squats for even more intensity.
3. Mountain Climbers
Considered one of the most intense exercises, these engage nearly every muscle group in the body.
Start in plank position.
Slowly bring your right knee towards your chest, and hold for a second.
Straighten your right leg out into plank position again.
Repeat on the other side.
People sometimes make the mistake with mountain climbers of “running” their legs as fast as they can, but this runs the risk of causing you to bend your back and stick your butt out to make it easier. This is not good form. Slowly work the legs — you’re climbing the mountain, not sprinting to the top.
4. Glute Bridges
Glute bridges are a great way to activate your leg muscles while being gentle on your knees. This is a low-impact dynamic stretch that (as you already guessed) activates the glutes. It also targets the hamstrings and abs as well as the lower back. Glute bridges can also build core strength and stability.
Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Bring your hands to your sides so your fingertips just barely touch your heels.
Slowly lift your upper body until it makes a straight line with your thighs, and aim to keep your knees right above your ankles. Hold this position for a few seconds.
Come back down, hovering above the floor to keep your core engaged. Then repeat.
Modifications: For more of a challenge, use a resistance band around your knees. Separate the knees at the top of the position. Or, lift and straighten your left leg above you while keeping your right leg in place. Then, switch.
And Finally, Don’t Discount the Exercise You Already Do!
Yes, you can get a workout from doing chores. What’s more, you’ll get even more from your workout simply by realizing you’re working out.
Ever carry a big load of laundry up or down stairs? Sweep or vacuum a large room? Make a bed with fresh sheets? These types of household chores tend to be physically demanding, but we often don’t see them that way.
A study from the journal Psychological Science found that female hotel housekeepers who were told that their jobs provided good and sufficient exercise experienced weight loss as well as a drop in blood pressure and body fat after four weeks (compared to a control group) – even though their actual behavior didn’t change at all.
So, instead of thinking of those weekly chores as taking away from your free time, think of them as a bonus workout.
How a Trainer Can Help Personalize Your HIIT Workout
HIIT workouts for women can help you burn calories after you’ve finished exercising, and they can help with bone density (which is especially important for women). As you get started, see what works best for you. Mix and match your favorite HIIT exercises, play with intervals and modifications.
If you’re serious about getting started with a new HIIT workout plan, consider working with a personal trainer. A personal trainer can help you set and achieve goals that make sense for you.
For only $95 per month, Kickoff will match you with an online trainer who’ll send you nudges to keep going with your personalized plan, chat with you about how your fitness journey is going, and help look at your diet, sleep, nutrition.