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How to turn any cardio workout into a HIIT routine

From walking to swimming, how to turn your go-to exercise into high-intensity interval training.

High-intensity interval training is a workout technique that gets you a lot of bang for your buck. This type of workout serves as cardio and strength training, burning calories, boosting your metabolism and improving heart health.

The best part? They take little time but offer big benefits. HIIT can turn any workout into a calorie and fat-torching sweat session — even if you only have 15 minutes! If this sounds appealing, but you have a type of exercise you already love, know that you don’t have to abandon it to reap the benefits of HIIT. Here’s how to turn six popular workouts into a HIIT routine.

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Used to swimming laps at the same pace? As a teenager, I would swim 75 laps a day on weekends. I loved the meditative flow and the accomplishment I felt afterward. However, when I gained 20 pounds, I started to use swimming differently. I turned it into a HIIT workout to compliment my other workouts during the week by adding intervals and upping the intensity. I’d swim at a regular pace one length of the pool, and then swim as fast as I could for the next length. I’d alternate one fast, one slow. You can pick the interval structure that works for you, maybe it's alternating every other like I did or maybe it's five regular laps and then one fast lap. If you use a smart watch you can also go by time, for example, doing a few minutes at a regular pace and then one minute fast.


Many of my clients love walking, but fear that it isn’t a good enough workout. Good news: Walking is one of my favorite exercises! But there are ways to step it up a notch. Instead of walking at a steady pace for 20 or 30 minutes, add in some interval training with speed and strength. First, try adding speed intervals. Walk for 1 block (or 0.10 miles) at a normal pace and then speed walk for 1 block. Keep alternating between a normal pace and speed-walking pace. You can also add in strength-training intervals every few minutes, few blocks or half a mile. Perform 10 squats, 10 modified pushups and 10 tricep dips every so often throughout your walk. The combination of speed intervals (high intensity) with strength training (interval training) easily turns a walk into a HIIT workout!


If you enjoy running but aren’t seeing the physical results you want, like weight loss or toning, adding in some modalities of a HIIT workout can help. Try adding speed intervals by running at a slower pace for ½ mile and then sprinting for ¼ mile, repeating for the entirety of your run. You can also add in some strength circuits. After the ¼ mile sprint, add in five minutes of strength training like backward lunges (10 on each side) and tricep dips on a park bench followed by a 60-second plank. Then ease back into the ½ mile jog and repeat the circuit.


If you’re married to the elliptical and don’t want to get off, there’s a simple way to turn the activity into a HIIT workout. Warm up for 3 minutes, then crank up the level of the resistance to a 10. Work hard for 1 minute. This will get your heart rate up and also serve as a strength-training workout for your lower body. Then lower the level of resistance and go back to your warmup speed. Every 3 minutes, crank it up for 1 minute for the duration of workout.


Spinning is a great low-impact cardio activity. Turn it into a HIIT routine by adding resistance to the spin bike every few minutes. You don't even need to follow exact numbers to do this: Start with a resistance that feels like a flat road and bike for 3 minutes, then turn the resistance knob up so that you feel like you're riding up a hill or through mud for 1 minute, then remove the resistance again. Or, keep a set of dumbbells nearby and after five minutes of spinning, do a few sets of arm exercises like overhead presses, lateral arm raises and overhead tricep extensions. Pairing cardio with strength training is a surefire way to maximize your time on the spin bike.

Strength training

Are you really into resistance training, like dumbbells, cable machines or body-weight exercises, but not a big fan of cardio? Turn your strength training routine into a HIIT workout by simply adding in 60-second bursts of cardio. After one set of strength training, do 30 jumping jacks or run in place for 60 seconds. Add in a cardio interval for just 60 seconds a few times throughout your workout. If you work in circuits, adding in one minute cardio bursts after each strength training circuit is a good rule of thumb.