HIIT workouts for runners: The complete guide

  • Post last modified:December 22, 2020
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HIIT is by far one of my favourite types of workouts. There are many HIIT workouts for runners out there which are fun, versatile and challenging! Even better, they can be done anywhere!

It can take as little as 15 minutes to complete a HIIT workout so it’s great if you lead a busy lifestyle.

In this blog, I’d like to explain what HIIT and how it can be beneficial for runners. I’ll also share some HIIT workouts should you want some inspiration for your own training routine.

hiit workouts for runners

HIIT workouts for runners: The complete guide

What is HIIT?

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. 

It is essentially high intensity workouts or exercises performed within rapid succession of one another with little or no rest in between each exercise until you’re too exhausted to continue. 

Despite its high intensity, HIIT is still considered cardiovascular exercise, although you are tapping into different energy systems (aerobic and anaerobic).

If you’ve read my blog for a while now, you probably know that I’m a big believer in including different forms of workouts in your training plan in order to become a stronger and faster runner.

Simply put, running doesn’t stop and start with running. 

I’m a big fan of including short and high-intensity workouts in my training routine. 

Related: Strength training for runners: A complete guide

Benefits of HIIT for runners

The fact is HIIT can improve your running. A study carried out by Hong Kong Baptist University in 2014 found that high intensity workouts improve running performance. 

In their study, runners were asked to perform high intensity workouts 3 to 4 times a week for six weeks. 

The exercises in each workout were picked to build core muscles as well as the muscles related to breathing. 

After the six weeks, runners were put through a 1-hour treadmill performance test. 

They found that the runners that performed the high-intensity training tested with a higher core strength, increased endurance and improved running performance. 

The key takeaway? If you want to run faster and achieve your next PB, adding HIIT into your training routine could be the answer to getting you where you want to be.

HIIT has also been proven to improve athletic capacity and conditioning, as well as metabolism. 

It is also a great way to lose weight as it targets the whole body through full body and compound movements. 

Related: Strength training workouts for runners: 6 of the best routines

hiit workouts for runners

Tips on including HIIT in your training schedule

So, just how do you include HIIT in your training schedule? First, let’s take a look at how you actually do HIIT. 

Whilst there is no specific formula to do HIIT, it normally involves several repetitions of high intensity exercise at near maximal intensity. 

The number of repetitions and length will depend on the exercise and your own athletic ability. 

A common formula involves a 2:1 ratio of work to recovery periods (e.g. 30-40 seconds of high intensity exercise such as sprinting on the spot alternated with 15-20 seconds of low intensity exercise such as jogging.

With this all in mind, a good way of incorporating HIIT into your training schedule is to do at least one HIIT training session per week. 

Along with your other runs, schedule some time during the week and focus on completing a HIIT workout. 

Depending on the types of exercises you include in your workout, you can either do this from the comfort of your own home, at the gym or even outdoors. 

Related: 5 best home gym equipment for runners

Tips on performing HIIT

Before I go into some good exercises for runners, below is a sample progression plan when it comes to work to rest ratio:

Week 1 through 4: 1:3 ratios

  • Week 1: 15 seconds work: 45 seconds recovery
  • Week 2: 20 seconds work: 60 seconds recovery
  • Week 3: 30 seconds work: 90 seconds recovery
  • Week 4: 30 seconds work: 90 seconds recovery

Week 5 through 8: 1:2 ratios

  • Week 5: 15 seconds work: 30 seconds recovery
  • Week 6: 20 seconds work: 40 seconds recovery
  • Week 7: 30 seconds work: 60 seconds recovery
  • Week 8: 30 seconds work: 60 seconds recovery

Weeks 9 through 12: 1:1 ratios

  • Week 9: 15 seconds work: 15 seconds recovery
  • Week 10: 20 seconds work: 20 seconds recovery
  • Week 11: 30 seconds work: 30 seconds recovery
  • Week 12: 45 seconds work: 45 seconds recovery

Weeks 13 through 16: 2:1 ratios

  • Week 13: 30 seconds work: 15 seconds recovery
  • Week 14: 40 seconds work: 20 seconds recovery
  • Week 15: 60 seconds work: 30 seconds recovery
  • Week 16: 90 seconds work: 45 seconds recovery

Weeks 17 through 20: 3:1 ratios

  • Week 17: 30 seconds work: 10 seconds recovery
  • Week 18: 45 seconds work: 15 seconds recovery
  • Week 19: 60 seconds work: 20 seconds recovery
  • Week 20: 90 seconds work: 30 seconds recovery

If you’re a complete beginner to HIIT, I suggest you extend the rest periods between the intervals and choose exercises that are simple and low impact. 

For example, instead of doing a jump squat, perform a normal squat without the jump until you build up the strength to power yourself into a jump squat.

Related: 7 of the best glute strengthening exercises for runners

hiit workouts for runners

HIIT exercises for runners

Here are some good HIIT workouts for runners. Use the work to rest ratios as described above to safely incorporate them into your training routine.

Workout 1

  • Mountain climber
  • Bodyweight squat
  • Forward lunge
  • Sit up

Workout 2

  • Single leg glute bridge
  • Plank
  • Jump squat
  • Jump lunge

Workout 3

  • Jumping jack
  • Squat thrust
  • Inchworms
  • Single leg plank

Workout 4

  • Reverse lunge to toe touch
  • Burpee with push up
  • Superman pull
  • Bicycle crunches

As you progress through your workouts each week, be sure to eat enough protein to help your body burn calories and build muscle with each workout. 

Following a HIIT-friendly diet will help you to see results faster. And remember that consistency is the most important component of every weight loss program. 

If you stick with it, you’ll see your fitness levels improve and your body change for the better.

Related: The best protein food for runners

hiit workouts for runners

Tips for performing HIIT workouts safely

  • Seek guidance. Before doing any sort of exercise programme that involves high-intensity activity, you need to be sure that you are healthy enough for vigorous activity. You’ll be working very hard, so check with your GP to be sure that you are in good health.
  • Find time for recovery. You should we well rested before going into a workout, that includes taking recovery days when you need to. Never do back-to-back HIIT workouts to get fit or lose weight. This could increase your risk of injury or could make your weight loss plan less effective.
  • Start with the basics and progress each workout effectively. If you’re new to HIIT, don’t choose exercises that require a lot of power. HIIT can be performed with low impact exercises too – you don’t have to go all out from the very first workout. For example, instead of doing jump lunges, swap these for normal lunges and perhaps stabilise yourself by holding onto something to keep your balance. Almost every exercise can be adapted for beginners.
  • Adjust the work to rest ratio. As discussed above, tailor the rest periods in between each interval to suit your fitness levels. You can gradually increase the work interval and decrease the rest interval as you get fitter and stronger.
  • Use time effectively. You’ll need to be equipped with a stopwatch to track your workouts and some method to determine how hard you’re working. For example, on a scale of 1 to 10, how hard does the workout feel? Know when to stop if it feels too hard.


Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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