Exercise benefits us most if you can workout at least 3-5 times a week, but fitting this in around work and social lives can sometimes be difficult. And if you’re not a big gym person, the thought of slogging it out on the treadmill or weight bench for an hour will almost certainly fill you with dread. But there really is no need to fear. That’s where high-intensity interval training, or HITT, comes in. You only need to do short sessions to see and feel the benefits. And even better still, you can do it at home, so it’s easier to fit those regular sessions in.

Understanding high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

Let’s face it, even the word HIIT sounds cool doesn’t it? It’s quick and its work-to-rest ratios make it arguably the most time-efficient way to exercise and burn fat. What makes HIIT work is the intensity. You need to work as hard as you can, but it’s only for a short period of time. Then you rest for a length of time that will let you recover so you can go hard at it again.

Typically, a HIIT workout will range from 10 to 30 minutes, making it easier to fit into your daily routine. To improve aerobic fitness: intervals would typically involve a work to rest ratio of 1:1 or 1:2 (eg. work for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds). To train anaerobically (sport-specific training for power and explosiveness): rest intervals are often longer to allow for a more maximal effort, often at least a 1:5 ratio (eg. work for 15 seconds, rest for 75 seconds).

HIIT is great for fat loss and overall health

HIIT is not just a tool to use to lose weight and lean out. It can improve your overall health too.

  • It’s estimated that HIIT burns around 25-30% more calories than weight training, running and biking.
  • Due to the intensity of the workout, HIIT can elevate your metabolism for hours after exercise. This means you’ll keep on burning calories, even after you’ve finished exercising.
  • HIIT can improve oxygen consumption as much as traditional endurance training, and you only need to exercise for half as long.
  • HIIT can reduce blood pressure and heart rate, particularly in overweight individuals with high blood pressure. It can also help reduce blood sugar.
The bodyweight tabata circuit

Using your own bodyweight is the best way to workout at home, as you don’t need any other equipment. Of course, if you do already have a treadmill, rowing machine or any other fitness equipment at home, then it’s great to include this in your circuit following the HIIT concept. Go as hard as you can for 45 seconds, and rest for 15, for example.

We’ve put together a list of 10 high-intensity circuit exercises which you can do at home. These can be done just using your bodyweight, but feel free to add some weights to your routine for a tougher workout and to help build muscle. Do the first exercise as fast as you can for 45 seconds, and then rest for 15 seconds. Repeat with each exercise until you’ve completed a full circuit of all 10 exercises. You can increase the number of circuits you do as you get fitter and stronger.

Exercise 1 - Sit Ups

Everyone knows how to do a basic sit-up, but it’s a great exercise to build core strength. Just make sure you place your hands by your ears rather than behind your head, so you’re not pulling on your neck.

Do as many sit-ups as you can in 45 seconds. Don’t forget the all important 15 seconds rest before you move on to your next exercise.

Exercise 2 - V Ups

Lie on your back and extend your arms behind your head. Keep your feet together, toes pointed and make sure your back is in contact with the floor before you move. Keep your legs straight and lift them up as you simultaneously raise your upper body off the floor. Keep your core tight as you reach for your toes with your hands. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position and repeat.

Exercise 3 - Push Ups

Position hands palms-down on the floor, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, with your elbows pointed slightly outwards. Extend your legs out, similar to a high plank. Keeping your core tight, bend your elbows and lower your chest to the floor. Then push back up and repeat.

Exercise 4 - Butt Kicks

Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Kick your left heel up to your left glute (bum cheek). Then repeat with your right foot, alternating as quickly as you can for 45 seconds.

Exercise 5 - Split Squats

From a standing position, take a long step forwards as if performing a lunge. The heel of your back foot should be raised. Keeping your torso straight, lower slowly until your back knee almost touches the floor, then push back up. Work one leg for half your time, and then switch to the other leg.

You can add dumbbells to your workout to make it harder as you advance. Or change to a Bulgarian split squat with an elevated back foot (as shown in the video) which will increase stability, balance and single leg strength.

Exercise 6 - Burpees

Stand with your feet hip-width apart and put your palms on the floor. Jump back in to a high plank position, keeping your core tight and hips in the air. Bend your elbows and do 1 push-up. Then jump and bring your feet to your hands. As you come up, jump as high as you can, bringing your arms overhead.

Exercise 7 - Tricep Dips

Position your hands shoulder-width apart on a raised surface, with your legs extended out in front of you. Straighten your arms, keeping a little bend in your elbows to keep tension on your triceps and off your elbow joints.

Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body towards the floor until your elbows are at about a 90-degree angle. Then press down to straighten your elbows and return to the start position. Repeat.

This exercise can be done on any stable surface you have at home, like a chair or low table. Or even on the ground.

Exercise 8 - Mountain Climbers

Start in a high plank position and bring your right knee under your torso, keeping your toes off the ground. Return your right foot to starting position. Switch legs and bring your left knee under your chest. Repeat.

Exercise 9 - Plank Jacks

Start in the plank position. Keeping your core engaged, jump your feet out and in (a bit like a star jump). Repeat as many times as you can in 45 seconds.

Exercise 10 - Side Plank

The side plank is a great exercise for strengthening the oblique abdominal muscles, which don't get worked during sit-ups or crunches.

Start on your side with your feet together and one forearm directly below your shoulder. Contract your core and raise your hips until your body is in a straight line from head to feet. Hold the position without letting your hips drop for 45 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.

Remember you’ll get out what you put in to your workouts, so work as hard as you can during those 45 seconds. That 15 seconds rest will be really important! If you’re finding that 45 seconds is too long to start with, start with 30 seconds of exercise and a 30 second rest. Just do what works for you. As long as you’re pushing yourself and getting your heart rate up, you’ll soon start seeing that waistline getting smaller and those muscles more toned.