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HIIT workouts for runners: The complete guide

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HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is a popular yet challenging form of exercise for runners at takes cardio exercise to another level.

There are many HIIT workouts for runners out there which are fun, versatile and challenging! Even better, they can be done anywhere!

You can use HIIT with any type of cardio workout, and 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 guide we’ll explore:

  • What is HIIT?
  • Benefits of HIIT for runners
  • Tips on including HIIT in your training plan
  • Tips on completing HIIT: The work to rest ratio
  • HIIT workouts for runners: 7 of the best workouts for runners
  • Tips for performing HIIT workouts safely

Ready?

Let’s go!

hiit workouts for runners

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).

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.

Here are some other benefits of HIIT:

  • Improves athletic capacity and conditioning
  • Helps to build muscle
  • Improves metabolism
  • Great for weight loss
  • Targets the whole body
  • Saves time

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

hiit workouts for runners

Tips on performing HIIT: The work to rest ratio

One of the crucial things to understand when it comes to HIIT is the work to rest ratio.

The work to rest ratio is essentially the comparison between how much time you’re working to the amount of time spent resting.

For example, if you’re doing jump squats for 30 seconds and resting for 60 seconds, your work to rest ratio is 1:2. Likewise, if you sprint for 30 seconds and rest for 1 minute, your work to rest ratio is also 1:2.

A common formula involves a 2:1 ratio of work to rest 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.

If you’re a complete beginner to HIIT, I suggest you start with longer rest periods and shorter work periods and choose exercises that are simple and low impact. 

Here is a list of work to rest ratios based on difficulty – 1:3 being the easiest and 3:1 being the most difficult.

1:3 work to rest ratio

  • 15 seconds work : 45 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds work : 60 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds work : 90 seconds rest

1:1 work to rest ratio

  • 15 seconds work : 15 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds work : 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds work : 30 seconds rest

1:2 work to rest ratio

  • 15 seconds work : 30 seconds rest
  • 20 seconds work : 40 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds work : 60 seconds rest

2:1 work to rest ratio

  • 30 seconds work : 15 seconds rest
  • 40 seconds work : 20 seconds rest
  • 60 seconds work : 30 seconds rest

3:1 work to rest ratio

  • 30 seconds work : 10 seconds rest
  • 45 seconds work : 15 seconds rest
  • 60 seconds work : 20 seconds rest
  • 90 seconds work : 30 seconds rest
hiit workouts for runners

Tips on including HIIT workouts for runners in your training plan

Now you know the basics of how HIIT and how it works using the work to rest ratio, let’s look at just how you include HIIT in your training schedule.

A good way of incorporating HIIT into your training schedule is to do at least one HIIT training session per week. 

This could be in the form of interval training or Fartlek training – both are considered forms of high intensity interval training.

This could also be in the form of:

  • Bodyweight workout
  • Plyometric workout
  • Core workout
  • Treadmill 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. 

At the end of this guide, you will find examples of 7 high intensity interval training workouts for runners.

Related: 5 best home gym equipment for runners

Tips for performing HIIT workouts for runners safely

Be consistent

Remember that with any type of training, consistency is the one of the most important things. If you stick with it, you’ll see your fitness levels improve and your body change for the better.

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.

Follow a HIIT-friendly diet

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. 

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.

Remember to warm up before the HIIT workout

HIIT workouts are intense so it’s more important than ever to warm up properly before your workout to prepare your body for the workout and reduce the risk of injury.

Related: How to warm up before a run

hiit workouts for runners

HIIT workouts for runners: 7 of the best workouts for runners

Here are some of the best HIIT workouts running (excuse the pun). There are 7 variations to help you get into shape.

The exercises in these workouts are good for runners because they target the major muscle groups in the body that are used for running.

If you’re looking for the best HIIT running workout for fat loss, then the good news is that all of these workouts are great for losing weight.

Use the work to rest ratios as described above to safely incorporate them into your training routine.

HIIT workouts for runners: The bodyweight workout

Bodyweight exercises such as the ones below are the simplest to incorporate into a HIIT workout. As such, they’re great for beginners and easy to adapt.

  • Bodyweight squats
  • Forward lunges
  • Reverse lunges
  • Plank
  • Push ups

HIIT workouts for runners: The core workout

The core is extremely important when it comes to running. It helps to stabilise your body when you run.

  • Russian twists
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Inchworms
  • Single leg plank
  • Mountain climbers

HIIT workouts for runners: The plyometric workout

Plyometrics (also known as ‘jump training’) are a type of exercise that uses speed and power to build muscle power.

These types of exercises exert the maximum amount of power in short intervals. That’s why it’s best to do these exercises using a work to rest ratio of 1:1, 1:2 or 1:3.

  • Burpees
  • Jump lunges
  • 180 degree squat jumps
  • Jumping jacks
  • Box jumps

HIIT workouts for runners: The sprinting workout

Combining running and HIIT is a great way to perform a workout. Here it’s best to use the 1:2 work to rest ratio as sprinting

  • Warm up with a 15 minute jog
  • Sprint for 30 seconds at 80% max effort, recover for 1 minute, then repeat 6 to 8 times
  • Cool down for 5 minutes

HIIT workouts for runners: The hill workout

Hill running is not for the faint hearted!

  • Find a hill that is roughly 30 to 90 metres long
  • Start on a flat surface. Warm up with a 15 minute jog
  • Sprint up the hill, then jog back down for your recovery, then repeat 4 to 5 times
  • Cool down for 5 minutes

HIIT workouts for runners: The Tabata workout

Tabata is another form of HIIT that involves 20 seconds of full effort work followed by 10 seconds of rest.

  • Warm up with a 15 minute jog
  • Sprint for 20 seconds at your fastest pace, recover for 10 seconds, then repeat 8 to 10 times
  • Cool down for 5 minutes

Tabata can also be done with bodyweight exercises. Here’s a sample workout:

  • High knees for 20 seconds
  • Rest for 10 seconds
  • Jumping jacks for 20 seconds
  • Rest for 10 seconds
  • Burpees for 20 seconds
  • Rest for 10 seconds
  • Squat jumps for 20 seconds
  • Rest for 10 seconds

HIIT workout for runners: The treadmill workout

The treadmill is still a great way to do HIIT.

  • Warm up with a brisk walk on a zero incline
  • Run for 1 minute at an easy pace at an incline of between 1 to 3
  • Walk for 1 minute at an easy pace
  • Repeat 8-10 times
  • Cool down for 5 minutes

More training tips for runners:

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