Six Variations for HIIT Training



High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an exciting workout protocol that benefits most populations. Sometimes modifications are necessary and other times variety is warranted just to mix it up.

Each individual client has his or her own preferences and needs. This fuels my creativity as a personal trainer. Which is why I’ve explored HIIT full circle. Click on the links throughout this article to find more detailed workouts programs for each variation.

What is HIIT?

In the 1990’s Izumi Tabata introduced a protocol (Tabata) that employs a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio in an 8 cycle: 20 seconds work, 10-second recovery, 4 minute round. Unlike traditional interval training where protocols use equal periods of work to rest, HIIT interval work-to-rest ratios are unbalanced. In some cases, recovery may be: during transitions, lower intensity work, or on an as-needed basis.

These work-to-rest ratios are attributed to some powerful physiological benefits. HIIT workouts have been reported to lead to improved cardiovascular and metabolic outcomes: O2 efficiency and cardiac output (VO2) increase, and fat is used for fuel due to an increase in lactate production.

HIIT Workout Considerations

Before clients jump into a HIIT routine, make sure they do a dynamic warm-up targeting the muscles and joints in the kinetic chain that will be called upon in the workout. Finish with a bit of aerobic to anaerobic work. 

Exercise selection is just as, if not more, crucial as the work-to-rest ratio. Explosive, and compound movements really help recruit type II muscle fibers, and keep the heart rate up high enough to work close to that VO2 max.

As everything it fitness, HIIT has evolved over time. Let’s take a look at some protocols that utilize different work-rest ratios.

Six HIIT Protocols


Set up a few stations for your client to work at for about 30-45 seconds. The few seconds they take transitioning between stations will be their “active” recovery.


Pyramids are similar to circuit: clients are given a few movements to complete in rounds. In each round the number of repetitions changes. Pyramids can be done in ascending order, descending order, or both.


Set the clock for 60 seconds and give clients 2-3 compound exercises to complete 6-10 repetitions of. Let them rest until the next minute strikes indicating they start again, and you’ve got an Every Minute On the Minute (EMOM) routine.

The recovery period in this protocol depends on how long it takes  to get through the routine. The more times they complete it, the less rest time they’ll likely have between minutes.


Unlike traditional interval or even HIIT training, As Many Rounds As Possible (AMRAP) is a protocol that doesn’t have any prescribed work and/or recovery time. A timer is set, and clients are given a set number of exercises and reps to do of each exercise. Their goal is complete as many rounds of the set exercises as they can in the set time.

Rest is really only introduced when the timer buzzes.

To Do List

A similar take on the AMRAP idea, give clients a time limit and a set of compound exercises, Usually, I make the number of repetitions high, like 50, and encourage them to break work into smaller batches in any order they wish.

Active recovery comes in while transitioning between movements.


Add on routines can also be treated like AMRAP: set the time and number of movements. The number of the movement is also the number of repetitions to complete. The client always starts back at number 1. For example, the client starts with 1 rep of exercise 1. Then, 1 rep of exercise 1 and 2 reps of exercise 2. Then, 1 rep of 1, 2 reps of 2, and 3 reps of exercise 3.

As you can see there are many ways to apply HIIT to a fitness training program. Enjoy experimenting with the many options. You and your clients will never get bored.

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Theresa Perales has an MA in Spanish, and is an ESL teacher at San Diego State University (SDSU). After years of struggling with her weight, she decided to give exercise a try. A passion for health and fitness grew instantly and inspired her to become certified as a personal trainer with NFPT, and as a group fitness instructor with AFAA Group Fitness and Madd Dog Athletics® Spinning. Theresa believes that nutrition and fitness are not about aesthetics but ultimately about feeling healthy and empowered.