HIIT Running Workouts: Benefits, How To + 5 HIIT Running Exercises

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The HIIT running workout (HIIT = high intensity interval training) is perfect for all levels of runners inspired to step up their fitness, lose weight, or become faster and stronger. 

If you have a regular running habit but never do high intensity training, you’re missing out.

Some people choose strength training in the gym, others choose speed and strength workouts like agility drills, while others do HIIT running (high intensity interval training workout running). 

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the background and benefits of adopting HIIT, how to get started, and give you 5 HIIT running workouts to get you started!

HIIT Running Workouts Guide

Take Your Running Workout to the Next Level

High-Intensity Interval Training workouts are an efficient way to see results fast. Depending on the workout you choose (hills, speed, or mixing running with other exercises), you will quickly see a difference in two areas: stamina and speed. 

Running or jogging steadily for 30 minutes is good for your heart and will gradually increase your capacity for longer distances – but your progress will be gradual.

HIIT can act as a stick of dynamite, propelling your base speed and overall endurance forward.

But What Is HIIT Exactly?

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training – as the name suggests, it’s a form of exercise where you do short, hard bursts of activity, with rest intervals in-between.

HIIT exercises exist in many disciplines – CrossFit, spin sessions, bodyweight exercises, and of course, running.

When performing a HIIT running workout, you want to be sprinting at 80 – 90% of your maximum effort during the hard intervals, then dialling it way back to 30-40% of output as you recover.

HIIT is just an awesome tool to include in your running armoury, for a variety of reasons. It benefits both your running game and your overall health.

The body needs variety in training sessions. When it has to adapt to different levels of movement and strength it comes to a position of adaptability, which makes the strength and endurance building process move along faster. 

As you practice HIIT workouts, that amount of intense effort gets longer, while the recovery time shortens. 

During that recovery time, your body gets a chance to rest and renew its strength so that it’s able to begin again at full energy level.

If you only ever run at a steady pace the body never gets the chance to recover, causing you to tire and slow down much more quickly. 

HIIT Running Workouts: Benefits, How To + 5 HIIT Running Exercises 1

Additional Benefits of HIIT Running Workouts

Let’s touch on some technical aspects of your running that HIIT workouts improve: 

Improved Running Economy

This is the relationship between your oxygen rate and the speed of your running.

You can think of it as the miles per gallon you get from your body as you run.

Do you get extremely winded on long runs? Or even short runs? 

When you finish a run with a bright red face, and a chest about to explode, that means your running economy does not have an equal relationship. 

Improving your running economy means you can run at a fast pace for a longer period and finish the run feeling great. 

Related: Sprinting Vs Running: Differences + Benefits Of 2 Distinct Workouts

Aerobic Fitness

Simply put, aerobic fitness is the rate that your heart pumps blood during exercise.

The best way to monitor your heart rate is with a GPS watch that includes a heart-rate monitor, otherwise you can estimate it yourself:

  • Place your fingers over the artery on your wrist.
  • Set a timer for 15 seconds. 
  • Count the number of beats in your pulse until the timer stops. 
  • Multiply that number by 4 to get your heart rate per minute! 

When you’re working out, the target heart rate should be 50%-85%. 50% applies to moderate exercises like cycling on flat ground or even a light jog. HIIT workout heart rates should be much higher, reaching all the way up to 85% at the most intense points. 

Many runners find that tracking their heart rate helps them keep accountable in their workouts. If you’re not reaching 85% (or close to it) you’re perhaps not getting intense enough during your maxim workout periods. 

Others prefer to get less technical and just go by the feeling – rate of perceived exertion is probably the best metric available to runners, once you’ve got a good grasp of it.

If they’re out of breath and working as hard as they can, they know they’re doing it. 

Those who track their exertion level are more likely to improve more with each workout. And you don’t even need to track your aerobic fitness manually. Most fitness watches – and even treadmills – will keep track of your heart rate for you. 

How to Create Your Own HIIT Running Workout Outside

Even when the winter weather sets in and the daylight time gets shorter, many people still want to run outside. You don’t have to follow a pre-made HIIT workout to see results in your speed and stamina. 

But if you follow a general set of guidelines, you’ll be sure to see more success than randomly running and walking. 

Set a timer before you run

As long as you’re pushing yourself during the intense periods, the timer you set doesn’t matter. Just make sure you stick to it. Choose 30 seconds, 40 seconds, or one minute, whatever you’re able to do. 

Your recovery time should be shorter than your intense time 

If you run for one minute, make your recovery time 40 seconds. Aim to make that rest period smaller as you get stronger. 

Incorporate your surroundings 

If you have hills nearby, use them in your HIIT running workout outside.

If you have a track, use it to set a distance goal. Be creative and use whatever you have available to you. 

HIIT Running Workout Outside

HIIT Running Mistakes to Avoid

If you want to be sure to avoid injuries or slowing down your improvements, don’t make these 3 common runner’s mistakes. 

Mistake #1: Getting Too Intense Too Fast

HIIT running is sometimes like a great first date. You’re tempted to repeat it every day until you get sick of it. 

So give your workout (and yourself) some time to breathe. Don’t run at level 10 during your first sprinting session. Start out with a fast jog. Each time you workout, increase that intensity a notch more. 

By your 3rd interval, you should be aiming for 80 – 90% of maximum effort.

Mistake #2: Not Using Proper Form

It’s easy to get carried away with the high level of exertion in a HIIT running workout. But just like any strength-building exercise, good form is crucial to make sure you’re optimizing your results and minimizing injuries. 

Mistake #3: No Rest for the Runners

If you commit to 2 HIIT sessions per week, don’t do them back to back. Do one at the beginning of the week and one in the middle or towards the end.

Always space out your interval sessions to give your body ample time to recover and build muscle. 

5 HIIT Workouts For Varying Levels of Runners

1. HIIT Running Workout For Beginners

This session is perfect for you if you are just getting started or recovering from an injury. If you’re training for a 5K, this serves as the perfect cross-training session to boost your training plan. 

Warm up with a brisk walk or some stretches. 

Run or power walk for 60 seconds. 

Walk regularly for 60 seconds. 

Repeat 6 times. 

Cool down. 

2. Short Interval

If you’ve been running for a while but are looking to uplevel your workout plan, the Short Interval is for you. 

Warm up jog for 5 minutes. 

Sprint for 30 seconds. 

Jog for 60 seconds. 

Repeat 6 times. 

Jog for 5 minutes to cool down. 

HIIT Running Workout Outdoors

3. Sprinting Interval

Once you’ve eased yourself into an effective HIIT workout plan, it’s time to turn the intensity level on high. 

Warm up jog for 5 minutes. 

Sprint for 30 seconds. 

Walk for 45 seconds. 

Repeat 8 times. 

Related: The Incredible Benefits of Sprinting

4. Hill HIIT Workout

Nobody loves hills from day one, but the more you do them, the more powerful you become. 

Watching yourself build strength is one of the most fulfilling and gratifying experiences in life. 

Plus…building up your core and leg muscles will help your overall cadence in your regular runs. 

Find a hill. 

Jog for 5 minutes. 

Sprint uphill for 20-40 seconds. 

Turn around and gently jog down to your starting point.. 

Repeat 4 times. 

High Intensity Interval Training Running Workout Outdoors

5. HIIT With Burpees

This one is #5 for a reason!

Burpees are hard enough on their own, but mixed with sprinting makes a very high, intense level of exercise. 

If your workout time is limited but you still want to feel those muscles burning, do this HIIT session. 

Jog for 2 minutes. 

Do 5 x burpees. 

Walk for 30 seconds. 

Do 5 x burpees. 

Rest for 1 minute (walking or standing and breathing). 

Do 5 x burpees. 

Walk for 30 seconds. 

Run fast (but not quite sprinting; 60-70% exertion) for 2 minutes. 

Jog for 2 minutes. 

HIIT Workout Variations

The 5 workouts in this article will definitely give your running the jump start it needs. Just remember that none of them are set in stone – feel free to experiment with the times I’ve set.

If it feels too easy, decrease your recovery time, and increase the intensity level of the running period. 

Feel free to experiment with the number of reps as well. If you just can’t run up the hill 4 times, then do it 3 times. Set number 4 as your goal for the next session.

Always maintain an attitude of improvement and pushing during the HIIT running workouts. 

If you want to try other interval variations, consider running with Fartleks for building up speed or try some hill sprinting workout variations. 

Do you already have a training plan in place?

The best way to stick with your weekly HIIT running is to keep a goal in mind. Download our free half marathon boot camp to get a vision for your finish line and additional tips to help you reach it. 

Photo of author
Mia Kercher is a hiker, cyclist, and runner. After finishing her first marathon in 2013, she continued the sport but found a new passion in trail running. She now explores the glorious mountains in Portland, Oregon.

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