Game-Changer: Get What You Need Out of a HIIT Workout for Women

HIIT workout for women: group of athletic women

Are you ready for a full-body workout that takes less time than you think and yields killer results? That's right, ladies, we're talking about HIIT workouts. HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training, and this style of workout will wring you out and leave you sweaty, strong, confident, and ready to make things happen.

We've compiled some of our very favorite HIIT routines featuring bodyweight exercises, resistance band moves, and even some workouts you could do at the gym with machines or free weights. You can pick and choose, based on where you are or how you're feeling, to create an incredibly effective and efficient HIIT workout for women.

What's So Fab About It?

HIIT workout for women: woman exercising outdoors

One of the best parts about HIIT workouts is that they don't take nearly as long as standard cardio aerobics to yield results. That's because you're constantly varying your heart rate, pushing hard for short bursts of time, then resting, then doing it again. The net result is that this way of exercising:

  • Increases your oxygen consumption (VO₂Max)
  • Promotes the afterburn effect, in which your body continues to burn calories after you're finished at the gym
  • Improves metabolism
  • Improves heart health (even in patients with heart failure)
  • Aids in blood sugar control
  • Aids in weight loss/body composition.

So when you spend 20 minutes doing a HIIT workout, you're getting more out of it in the way of fat burning and all these other metrics than you are from a regular cardio workout. Your time is precious — spend it wisely!

5 Types of HIIT

HIIT workout for women: woman exercising at the gym

To get going, we'll first explain a few different ways to do a HIIT workout for women, and then we'll give you our favorite moves to try in whichever HIIT style you think is best for you. 

The five styles of HIIT include Tabata, EMOM, Ladders, Complexes, and AMRAP. Each of these will get your heart rate up and your muscles working.

Tabata

A Tabata-style workout is a four-minute set in which you're on for 20 seconds and off for 10 seconds. You're usually doing two exercises at a time. For example, burpees for 20, then rest for 10, then high knees for 20, then rest for 10, repeat. When you string six to eight exercises together into four-minute chunks, you have a 24- to 28-minute workout that will build muscle and burn fat more efficiently than any steady-state cardio in the same time frame (and sometimes more).

Complexes

The idea behind a complex is to exhaust yourself in one giant superset, rest for 90 seconds, then do the whole thing again. Choose four to six exercises to do back-to-back without stopping, do 10-12 sets of each move, then rest for 90 seconds. Repeat four or five times for a killer workout.

EMOM

This one's an acronym for "every minute on the minute." It's similar to Tabata, but in EMOM, you work and rest within a one-minute mark. So for example, if it takes you 20 seconds to do 15 reps of bodyweight squats, then your rest period lasts for 40 seconds, and you start again after the full minute is up. Make sense?

Choose at least four exercises to repeat in four or five sets each for a 15- to 20-minute workout. You'll want to vary your reps based on level of difficulty.

The one caveat to this one is that, since the faster you work, the longer your rest, if you're going to do HIIT this way, make sure you've mastered your form to avoid injury. You might consider doing bodyweight exercises for this style or lowering your reps for weight-bearing work until you're used to it.

Ladders

In this style of HIIT training, you can both climb up and descend the "ladder." Choose two exercises, ideally, that work opposing muscle groups (like bicep curls and tricep extensions). Do one rep of each, then rest for 40 seconds. Then do two reps of each, and rest for 40 seconds. Work your way from one to 10, resting for 40 seconds between all the way up. Then go back down to one. Choose six to eight exercises (three or four pairs), and you've done it!

AMRAP

Another acronym, this one stands for "as many rounds as possible." It's a great way to circuit train and get a bunch done at once. Similar to complexes, AMRAP has you choosing a handful of exercises that you'll do one after the other, but in AMRAP, you work for the full period of time. So for example, if you want a 15-minute workout, you choose the five exercises in your circuit, decide how many reps you'll do of each, then do the whole circuit over and over until the 15 minutes are up.

The working rests come based on how you order things. So if your first exercise works your left leg, and the second one works your right leg, you're effectively resting one leg while you work the other. You can alternate upper body and lower body moves as well to get the same effect.

Let's Get Started: The Ultimate HIIT Workout for Women

Woman exercising with dumbbells

Now that you know all your options for HIIT training at home, you can choose which style best suits you based on your fitness level, your goals, and the amount of time you have. You also have the option of going for a total body workout or focusing on upper body, core, or lower body

We recommend doing a little bit of everything, especially the full-body moves, to get some experience before dedicating an entire HIIT workout to one area of your body. Here are our favorite exercises to loop into your favorite HIIT workout for women.

Bodyweight HIIT Cardio Workout

You can do these exercises anywhere with no equipment. They're great for at-home workouts and super easy to do while traveling. To make these exercises into a true HIIT routine, you'll want to do them at full throttle for the times allotted by whichever style of HIIT you go with. 

Alternatively, you could choose a few of these and do them at moderate intensity to warm up for HIIT exercises with weights or resistance bands for strength training.

1. Burpees

Do a deep squat to jump as high as you can, land, fall into plank position, do a push-up, then get back to your feet for the next jump.

2. Mountain climbers

Start in a plank position with hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back flat and butt low, bend your right knee in toward your chest, touching the toe on the ground beneath you, then kick it back and bring your left leg forward. Alternate back and forth — right foot, left foot — as fast as you can.

3. Jumping Jacks

An easy way to use your whole body and get your heart rate up, start standing, then jump to open your legs into an upside-down V-shape and lift your arms up above your head. Then lower your arms as you jump to shut your legs. 

4. Bodyweight squats

Stand with feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out. Then, sit back into a squat position, not allowing your knees to come in front of your toes.

5. Lunges and reverse lunges

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then step forward with your right leg and bend your knee to a 90-degree angle. Then straighten and come to a standing position. That's a standard lunge. To do a reverse lunge, step back instead of forward, still bending the front leg at 90 degrees.

6. Dips

For this one, you'll need a sturdy chair, couch, or bench. Facing away from the bench, you'll rest your palms on the front of the bench with your fingers hanging over the edge. Lower your body and walk your legs out until they are close to parallel to the ground, but still bearing some weight. Then slowly bend your arms at the elbow, keeping them from flaring out to the sides, and extend up.

7. Bicycle crunches

Lay on your back and lift your feet up with your knees bent to 90 degrees. Place your hands behind your head and lift your head off the ground. Imagine there's a ball between your chin and your chest to avoid crunching your neck. Then engage your core and begin moving your legs like you're riding a bike.

8. High-knees

Start with feet hip-width apart. Kick one knee up toward your chest, then the other, almost like you're jogging in place with more exaggerated high knees. For a low-impact modification, don't jump (always have one foot on the ground).

9. Kickbacks

Similar to high-knees, but instead of bringing your knees up to your chest, you're kicking backward, almost like you're kicking your own butt.

10. Plank shoulder taps

Get into plank position, and alternate touching your right hand to your left shoulder, left hand to right shoulder. Your goal is to keep your body as stable as possible, engaging all your core strength. When your right arm is holding up your body, your left shoulder should pop up as little as possible.

These exercises offer a full-body HIIT workout for women who can't make it to the gym or are traveling and don't have a ton of space for a workout routine. This list is also a perfect beginner HIIT workout for those looking to ease into this type of movement.

Strength Training HIIT Workouts for Women

Using a HIIT workout for strength training isn't all that different from standard strength training. The element of time is the biggest difference, which may or may not influence the amount of weight you want to lift. That being said, if your goal is to get strong with low reps and heavy weights, HIIT is still possible. Just make sure you always have a spotter, and never put yourself in a dangerous position underneath heavy weights.

You can do any of these exercises in the HIIT styles we listed above, but start with lower weights to assess how it feels to concern yourself with timers while handling dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. As you gain confidence, start racking up the weight.

1. Kettlebell swings

Start with a kettlebell on the ground between your feet at hip-width apart. With soft knees and a strong, straight back, lift the kettlebell so that it dangles between your knees, and swing it up, just until your arms are parallel, then lower back down.

2. Dumbbell thrusters

With a dumbbell in each hand, arms bent so that the bells are at your ears, do a squat. As you stand from your squat, lift the dumbbells straight up in the air above your head, then lower straight back down and repeat.

3. Weighted squats

You can squat with dumbbells by your ears as in the exercise above, or use a rack and a full barbell and plates. Make sure you use a spotter.

4. Weighted lunges/reverse lunges

Perform either of these styles of lunges as you would without weights, but hold a dumbbell in each hand with arms hanging down at your sides. For additional core work, extend your arms above your head as you would during dumbbell thrusters, and keep your core engaged the entire time. 

5. Bent over rows

For maximum use of your time, perform this exercise using both arms at the same time with either dumbbells or a short barbell. Place the weight in front of you, bend at the waist with a soft knee. Pick up the weight with palms facing down and, keeping your elbows close to your body, bend your arms and bring the weight in toward your chest. 

6. Reverse bend-over rows

Do the same movement as above, but pick up the weights with palms facing up, as if you're going to do bicep curls instead.

7. Pullovers

Position your body perpendicular to a bench with your upper back rested on the bench. Your bottom half should be off the bench, your glutes, quads, and core holding it parallel to the ground with your legs bent. With straight arms, bring a dumbbell from behind your head up straight until your arms are perpendicular to the ground. Then lower back so that your arms are parallel to your body and the dumbbell is in line with your head. 

8. Push-up to renegade row

This is a perfect complex move for HIIT training. Rest your hands on the dumbbell handles in push-up position, do a push-up, then shift your body over to your left arm and do a row with your right arm. Then shift to the right and lift your left. Then another push-up. Repeat.

You can get a lot done doing these exercises in short, intense bursts. You'll get stronger faster, burn calories after you're done and have hit the showers, and may even notice fat loss more quickly than doing regular cardio or standard weight training. HIIT workouts are kind of a win-win in that way, don't you think?

HIIT Workout for Women with Goals

Two women doing different exercises at the gym

Whether your goal is to get stronger to compete, show off your hot back in a bangin' strappy dress for a night on the town, or shed a few pounds after this pandemic saga, HIIT training for women is the most efficient way to spend your time and use your energy. 

Once you master full-body routines like the ones we've outlined here, drill down into workouts for your back, legs, upper body, and core. If you're looking to take your efforts to the next level, take our quiz to find out which supplements will help!

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