If you’ve never done a HIIT leg workout or your looking for more options, you’ve found the right article! I have good news and bad news for you.
Good news: If you hate spending hours doing cardio, then you will love this.
Bad news: That “I don’t have time to exercise” excuse you keep using is getting chucked out the window for good!
What if I told you that you could:
- Lose Weight
- Improve Metabolic Health
- Improve Muscular Endurance
- Reduce Your Risk for Diabetes
- Burn Calories After your Workout
- And Improve Cardiovascular Health
All in a 20 – 30-minute session, just a few times a week?
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. Welcome to Interval Training.
Please note, I am not a doctor. I have researched this for my use, but please consult your doctor before starting any workout program.
What is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a very simple but effective exercise.
To do a HIIT workout, you will alternate short periods of high-intensity work, followed by more extended periods of low-intensity work or rest. In a 20 – 30-minute workout routine, you may do 15 – 20 minutes of low intensity work and 10 minutes or less of high-intensity work.
HIIT is a powerful fat burning workout that you can do in less than 30 minutes, and with less than 10 minutes of actual hard work!
How Do HIIT Workouts Work?
Regardless of intensity, exercise puts stress on your body. When facing this stress, your body adapts and grows to make it easier to handle the stress in the future.
Despite being a short workout, high-intensity interval training still puts enormous pressure on your body, resulting in increased calorie burning and fat loss.
For example, a 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology stated that, 7 sessions of HIIT over 2 weeks showed an increase in fat oxidation by about 30%, meaning you burn more fat with high-intensity interval training!
A 2007 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that a 15-week exercise program showed that interval training lowers insulin levels and can increase fat oxidation, showing greater fat loss in the long term.
Furthermore, a 2015 study published in Obesity Reviews stated that HIIT programs are more effective at lowering fasting glucose levels and improving metabolic health in those with Type 2 diabetes.
The point is, HIIT is effective at burning fat, lowering insulin and glucose levels, improving metabolic health, and helping your body adjust to intense workouts.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) vs. Low or Moderate Intensity Cardio
HIIT works well, but does high-intensity interval training work better than low or moderate intensity cardio? A high-intensity workout puts more significant stress on the body, forcing it to grow and adapt more than during a low-intensity workout. As with anything in life, what you put in is what you get out.
Studies show that:
- 3 HIIT sessions per week for 8 weeks has been shown to increase VO2max (this is how well you utilize oxygen, a common measure of cardiovascular health) and increase fat loss [East Tennessee State University (2001)]
- HIIT results in higher energy expenditure over 24 hours, meaning that you will continue to burn calories after your workout [Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (1996). Why? This is a difficult workout, so your body will work harder to recover and will use more energy (calories) even after exercise.
- HIIT is superior over low or moderate intensity training for reversing the risk factors of metabolic syndrome (conditions that increase risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke) in a 16-week study of 32 adults with metabolic syndrome [Circulation (2008)]
Interval training is more effective at burning fat, burning calories after a workout, and improving metabolic health than standard low to moderate intensity cardio.
How to Get Started with High-Intensity Interval Training for Your Legs
You will have one short period of high-intensity exercise, followed by a more extended period of easy exercise or rest. Now repeat. OK, it’s not quite that simple, but almost!
Although I prefer to do HIIT leg workouts because they are the most effective for preparing for basketball, anything you enjoy that can get your heart rate up, then allow it to recover is perfect for interval training.
Running is a great choice as it is easily adaptable; you can adjust speed and incline on a treadmill or take it to the streets. If you are in good shape, try sprinting, then jogging for recovery.
Just getting in shape?
Try a light jog followed by a recovery walk. You want to adjust at your own pace and listen to your body.
Try a jump rope, stationary bike, agility ladder, ERG rowing machine or elliptical machine. HIIT leg workouts area an incredibly customizable program that can be tailored to your goals and favorite exercises.
Any form of cardio works as long as you can alternate intensity.
Additional examples include rope slams, box jumps, jump ropes, the Jacob’s Ladder Exercise, or anything that gets your heart rate pounding!
How Intense Should Your HIIT Leg Workouts Be?
Your HIIT leg workouts should be pretty intense because you are trying to get a solid workout in 30 minutes. But don’t be scared of that because it will be short then you can recover!
You want the high-intensity period to be about 80% or higher of your max heart rate, and the low-intensity period to be about 40-50% of your max heart rate.
For those of us that do not use heart rate monitors a lot, this means the high intensity should feel challenging. It should be difficult to carry a conversation, and you should feel like you really put work in.
The low-intensity period should feel comfortable. It is a recovery phase and should help bring your heart rate down. But keep moving!
How Long Should a High-Intensity Leg Workout Last?
For example, this can mean high-intensity work for 30 seconds, recovery for 1 minute 30 seconds or 2 minutes. Listen to your body and do what feels right.
You are pushing yourself but only by your standards, not anyone else.
As you advance, try a ratio of 1:1. For example, High-intensity training for 1 minute, and then recovery for 1 minute. As your body adapts, you want to continue pushing yourself by either reducing recovery time or increasing effort.
How Many Times Should I Do This?
You should do about 5 to 12 cycles (high intensity + low intensity = 1 time), but this will vary.
Repeat this to make up a 20 to 30-minute workout. You may repeat this anywhere from 5 to about 12 or 15 times depending on how long your intervals are. The idea is to reach a 20 to 30-minute workout and put a lot of effort into the high-intensity periods.
The ACSM recommends doing one HIIT routine per week while starting out, then increase to two routines per week. Make sure you give yourself time to recover between each, but you can even do this three times per week as you adapt.
Best Exercises for a HIIT Leg Workout
Although you might be confused, there is a reason I did not provide you any specific HIIT leg workout in this article. Although I could easily offer you a few high-intensity interval leg workouts, I prefer that you learn how to create your own.
If you want ideas for a few ideas you can add in your HIIT leg workouts, some of my favorite leg exercises are:
- Air Squat
- Jump Squat
- Back Squat
- Front Squat
- Glute Bridge
- Conventional Deadlift
- Trap Bar Deadlift
- Snatch Grip Deadlift
- Forward Lunge
- Reverse Lunge
- Step Ups
As I said earlier, there are many cardio machines which work well in a HIIT leg workout. For example, a few other great exercises you can mix in as well include:
- Jump Rope
- Agility Ladder
- ERG Rowing Machine
- Stationary Bicycle
- Jacob’s Ladder Machine
Regardless of which leg exercises or cardio machines you choose to use, the critical part to remember is the interval system. If you combine proper exercises and utilize the correct interval scheme, I am sure you will quickly realize how great HIIT workouts for your legs are!