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HIIT Running Workouts: Improve Your Speed With These Intense Sessions

Short on time? A quick yet intense HIIT session could be just what you are looking for.

HIIT running workouts (HIIT = high-intensity interval training) are perfect for runners of all levels who want to step up their fitness level, focus on weight loss or fat loss, or become faster and stronger runners. 

HIIT workouts are intense exercise sessions involving all-out bursts of physical activity with recovery periods.

You can do HIIT full-body strength training workouts, HIIT cardio workouts, or, in our case, HIIT running workouts.

In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the background and benefits of adopting HIIT into your workout routine and give you 5 HIIT running workouts to get you started right away.

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 at a low intensity is good for your heart and will gradually increase your capacity for longer distances. However, your progress with lower intensity, steady-state cardio will be gradual.

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

What is a HIIT Running Workout?

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. As the name suggests, HIIT training is a form of exercise in which you do hard, short bursts of activity with rest intervals in between.

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

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

As you practice HIIT workouts and your fitness level increases, the time spent at an intense effort increases, while the recovery time shortens. 

During that recovery time, your body gets a chance to rest and renew its strength so that it can ramp up again to just about maximum effort for the next interval.

HIIT Running Workouts: Improve Your Speed With These Intense Sessions 1

What Are The Benefits Of Incorporating HIIT Running Workouts Into A Training Regimen?

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

Running Economy

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

Improving your running economy1Barnes, K. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2015). Running economy: measurement, norms, and Determining Factors. Sports Medicine – Open1(1). means you can run at a fast pace for a longer period of time.

Aerobic Fitness

Simply put, aerobic fitness2Weil, R. (2008). Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise: Examples and Benefits. MedicineNet. https://www.medicinenet.com/aerobic_exercise/article.htm is the rate at which 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 on your wrist or neck.
  • Set a timer for 15 seconds. 
  • Count the number of heartbeats you feel 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 between 50% and 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 85-90% at the most intense points. 

Many runners find that tracking their heart rate helps them stay accountable in their workouts. If you’re not reaching 85% (or close to it), you’re perhaps not pushing hard enough during the “on” intervals.

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

If you’re out of breath and working as hard as you can, you know you’re hitting your target.

Those who track their exertion level are more likely to improve 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

Here is a general set of guidelines for putting together your running HIIT workouts.

#1: Choose the length of your hard interval

Whether it’s 20 seconds, 30 seconds, 40 seconds, or one minute, choose a doable “on” interval time where you will push at your near-maximum capacity.

#2: Adjust the recovery interval as you increase your fitness

As a beginner, you will need longer rest periods. For example, if you run for one minute, you may need a one-minute recovery to start.

Then adjust your recovery time to 50 seconds, then 40 for the next session. Aim to make that recovery period shorter as you get stronger. 

#3: Incorporate your surroundings into your workout

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

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 three typical 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 with a fast jog. Each time you work out, increase that intensity a notch more. 

By your third interval, you should aim for 80 – 90% of maximum effort.

Mistake #2: Not Using Proper Form

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

Mistake #3: No Rest for the Runners

If you commit to two 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.

What Are The Best HIIT Running Workouts For Beginners?

#1: HIIT Running Workout For Beginners

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

  1. Warm up with a brisk walk or dynamic stretches like low-intensity high knees, bodyweight squats, and lunges. 
  2. Run or power walk for 60 seconds. (Work)
  3. Walk for 60 seconds. (Recover)
  4. Repeat six times. 
  5. Cool down with a recovery walk and some stretching. 

#2: Short Interval Running HIIT Workout

If you’ve been running for a while but want to uplevel your workout plan, the short interval workout is for you. 

  1. Warm up with a light jog for 5 minutes. 
  2. Sprint for 30 seconds. 
  3. Jog for 60 seconds. 
  4. Repeat six times. 
  5. Jog for 5 minutes to cool down. 

You can also do short Tabata intervals which are 20 seconds of sprinting, 10 seconds of walking, or complete rest for eight rounds. They are short and sweet but tough if done properly.

HIIT Running Workout Outdoors

#3: Sprinting Intervals

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

  1. Warm up with a light jog for 5 minutes. 
  2. Sprint for 30 seconds. 
  3. Walk for 45 seconds. 
  4. Repeat eight times. 
  5. Jog for 5 minutes to cool down. 

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. Building up your core and leg muscles will help your overall cadence in your regular runs. 

  1. Find a hill. 
  2. Jog for 5 minutes. 
  3. Sprint uphill for 20-40 seconds. 
  4. Turn around and gently jog or walk back down to your starting point. 
  5. Repeat four times. 
  6. Jog for 5 minutes to cool down. 
High Intensity Interval Training Running Workout Outdoors

#5: HIIT With Burpees

This one is #5 for a reason!

Adding strength training exercises into your HIIT workout can really spice things up. Dumbbell thrusters, jump squats, kettlebell swings, squat jacks, clapping push-ups, mountain climbers and burpees are some great intense exercises to intertwine with your running intervals.

Burpees are hard enough on their own, but when they are combined with sprinting, they create a very high, intense level of exercise. 

If you need a quick 10-minute workout but still want to feel those muscles burning, do this HIIT session. 

  1. Jog for 2 minutes. 
  2. Do five burpees. 
  3. Walk for 30 seconds. 
  4. Do five burpees. 
  5. Rest for 1 minute (walking or complete rest)
  6. Do 5 burpees. 
  7. Walk for 30 seconds. 
  8. Run fast (but not quite sprinting; 60-70% exertion) for 2 minutes. 
  9. Jog for 2 minutes. 

HIIT Workout Variations

The five workouts in this article will give your running the jump start it needs. Remember that none of these workouts 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 can’t run up the hill four times, do it three times. Set the number four as your goal for the next session.

With consistency and a positive “I can do it” attitude, you’ll see great results.

If you want to try other interval variations, consider running with Fartleks to build up speed or trying 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 have a goal in mind. Download our free half-marathon boot camp to get a vision of your finish line and additional tips to help you reach it. 

References

  • 1
    Barnes, K. R., & Kilding, A. E. (2015). Running economy: measurement, norms, and Determining Factors. Sports Medicine – Open1(1).
  • 2
    Weil, R. (2008). Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise: Examples and Benefits. MedicineNet. https://www.medicinenet.com/aerobic_exercise/article.htm
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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