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Cardio-Focused HIIT Workouts

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Looking for the heart-healthy benefits of cardio exercise but not interested in spending hours on the treadmill? Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer Debi Wilkins, MS, expounds on the unique advantages of cardio-focused HIIT to help mix up your workouts and meet your aerobic and strength goals.

Benefits of cardio exercise
HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a specific training technique alternating short bursts of intense physical activity with intervals of lower-intensity exercise or short rest periods. Cardio-focused HIIT is performing cardio exercises followed by short rest periods in between. You can easily perform these workouts at home, in the gym, outside or even in a hotel room while traveling!

Cardio-focused HIIT:

  • Increases endurance metabolism
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity and cholesterol levels
  • Aids in weight loss while maintaining muscle mass

HIIT workouts can be modified or made more challenging by increasing the intensity of the work segment or altering the duration of the rest periods.

Tracking your progress by tracking your heart rate
While performing cardio-focused HIIT workouts it is important to track your heart rate. It can be easy to feel like you are exerting more effort than you actually are. But the numbers don’t lie.

To determine your target heart rate ranges for your cardio and rest periods, first you must know your heart rate maximum. We want to make sure your heart rate reaches a certain range for maximum benefit. To determine your maximum heart rate, adjusted for resting heart rate, follow this formula:

(220 – age – resting heart rate) x percent of maximum heart rate + resting heart rate

For example, say someone is 24 years old, has a resting heart rate of 65 bpm and wants to work out between 80 and 95 percent of maximum heart rate.

(220 – 24 – 65) x (.80) + 65 = 170

(220 – 24 – 65) x (.95) + 65 = 190

According to the formula, this individual should maintain a target heart rate between approximately 170 and 190 bpm to reach 80-95% of maximum heart rate while exercising.

In cardio HIIT, aim for an intensity that allows you to reach about 80-95% of your heart rate maximum during your work periods then choose a rest period time that only allows your heart rate to drop to about 60-65% of your maximum.

Designing your own cardio-focused HIIT workout
Putting together your own HIIT workout can seem a bit overwhelming so if you’re unsure on where to start, follow these simple guidelines:

  • Always start with a two to three minute warm-up.
  • Select your total workout time based on how many minutes you can commit to for the complete workout. The optimal time to perform these workouts is 25-30 minutes.
  • Choose the intensity of your work segments. These work segments should last long enough for you to reach and maintain 80-95% of your heart rate maximum.
  • Choose your favorite cardio exercises to perform during your work segments. These can be equipment-free, such as jump squats or mountain climbers, or include cardio equipment, such as a rowing machine or jump rope. Other examples include push-ups, sprinting in place, box jumps, burpees, jumping jacks or high knees.
  • Determine your rest period time. Begin with 30-45 second rest periods and work your way down to 10-12 second rest increments.

Remember, HIIT workouts are more exhaustive than regular endurance workouts so proper recovery time is crucial to reap the full benefits. I suggest starting out with HIIT workouts one to two times per week coupled with your other workouts throughout the week consisting of steady state cardio and strength training exercises.

It is always important to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise routine. Remember to start out slow as you build confidence and feel more comfortable with each movement in order to prevent injury and maximize your cardio-focused HIIT workouts.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.

Article provided by Debi Wilkins, MS, Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainer.