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What Is HIIT Cardio?

Why Should You Do HIIT Cardio — and What Is It? A Trainer Explains

Young sporty hispanic woman running on treadmill and doing workout at fitness health club

There's HIIT, high-intensity interval training that's a mix of maximum-effort exercise and short rest periods. There's cardio, steady and rhythmic exercise that keeps your heart rate at a high but steady rate. And then there's HIIT cardio, which . . . combines the two? We talk about HIIT and cardio as two different concepts, but HIIT cardio is something we're seeing more and more of. On the scale between cardio and HIIT, where does HIIT cardio fall, and what exactly is it?

HIIT Cardio Is HIIT — With Cardio Exercises

According to Ashley Kelly, NASM, a certified personal trainer at Bach in New York City and 2016 Olympian in track and field, HIIT cardio is cardio exercise, like biking, running, or walking, performed in the trademark HIIT pattern: a maximum-effort interval followed by a rest or less-intense interval. Unlike regular cardio, which keeps your heart rate high but steady, HIIT cardio repeatedly pumps the heart rate up fast, then drops it back down. But it doesn't include any of the bodyweight exercises we typically associate with HIIT, like burpees, jumping lunges, and tuck jumps; HIIT cardio involves just the pure cardio exercise. A HIIT cardio workout, Ashley told POPSUGAR, might look something like this:

  • Run on a treadmill for two minutes at 6.5-7 miles per hour
  • Run for one minute at 3.5 miles per hour
  • Repeat the intervals three more times, or until you hit 12 minutes.

"HIIT and Cardio" Is Different

Ashley pointed out that there's a difference between HIIT cardio, which is cardio exercises performed in HIIT intervals, and "HIIT and cardio." The latter, she said, "is when you combine cardio with any heart-increasing and heart-decreasing HIIT exercises." In practice, that can mean using cardio as the rest interval during a HIIT workout. You could jog at a slow, steady state for a one-minute rest interval, for example, then transition to jumping squats, lunges, or burpees for two minutes. "I employ this a lot with my Bach clients at their homes," Ashley said; it's a great way to get in both cardio and high-intensity exercise with nothing more than your bodyweight, although she said you could also use weights to up the intensity of the strength training.

Cardio and HIIT are different forms of exercise, but that doesn't mean you can't combine them or use them in tandem. In fact, Ashley said, "any movement can be considered HIIT training as long as you alternate between high- and low-intensity training zones." HIIT cardio could be a good way to mix up and shorten your usual cardio workouts, and you might want to try HIIT and cardio, where you use low-intensity cardio as a rest period during HIIT, to increase your HIIT calorie burn even more. If you love cardio but want the efficiency and weight-loss benefits of HIIT, one of these combined workouts might be the perfect solution.

Image Source: Getty / wundervisuals
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