Over the past two years I‘ve lost 50lbs of bodyweight (mainly fat) through a combination of diet management, the turbo trainer and weight training.
Having recently been released from our national COVID-19 lockdown I’ve had a load of comments and questions from friends and family asking how I’ve managed to cut so much bodyfat (even though the majority of the loss was pre-lockdown – they must remember me as someone who is overweight!)
When I mention HIIT or interval training I inevitably get a whole load of follow on questions – particularly from my cycling friends who want to know what sort of beginner sessions to do on the turbo trainer. This is my attempt to answer all their common questions.
As ever with health and fitness matters, please do not treat this as professional advice and consult with your doctor before engaging in any training or diet changes that would be a step change for you.
At a glance…
- Pick an exercise that doesn’t require learning a new skill to do for your interval training
- We like cycling, air bikes and rowing the most usually
- Best beginner HIIT routine: 20s on / 1:40 off for 7 rounds
- Best HIIT session for weight loss: 90s on / 2:00 off for 6 rounds
- A single HIIT session for me burns 260 – 305 calories
- HIIT workouts should last 15 – 30 minutes
- You should do 3x interval training sessions per week to lose weight, adjusting up or down depending on your weight change
What type of exercise is best for interval training?
A great question – so what exercise exactly should I do for my HIIT?
In short, virtually anything will work and something is almost always better than nothing. Work with what you have, what you enjoy and what will keep you motivated to keep at it!
If you want to know what exercise is best for HIIT you should to consider these factors:
- Low skill – interval training is tough and going all out for periods will put pressure on your body and ultimately your exercise form. By keeping the chosen exercise simple it reduces the scope for something to go wrong in the heat of the moment. For example running in a safe & efficient manner is more skilful than using a stationary bike where you just jump on and spin away.
- Capable of being used for intervals – if you can’t do an exercise for a full interval duration it isn’t much use. For example a hill sprint could be used as an interval, but if you can’t get to a hill long enough to do a full interval it is not much use!
- Availability – if you don’t have a stationary bike, doing turbo trainer intervals will be pretty much impossible…
- Sport specificity – if you partake in other activities you may want to pick complimentary exercises for your HIIT days. For example if you are on a rowing team, it may make sense to do your interval training on a C2 rower.
- Managed fatigue – whatever you choose to do will impact how you feel before, during and aftertraining. For example kettlebell swings may elicit some muscle soreness if you are not used to them and this could hamper you day to day. This may be undesirable compared to something with a different recovery load such as running on the spot.
Lots of words – but what does it all mean? Well the ideal exercise is personal to each of us and our own abilities, equipment levels and goals.
For me the best exercise for HIIT training is using an air bike (Rogue Echo Bike in my case) or a turbo trainer. It is low skill and impact and has huge crossover to road cycling – a hobby of mine.
To help you assess what works for you I’ve pulled together a summary table to help you assess each exercise – including a few HIIT options that require no gym equipment at all:
|Exercise||Skill Level||Equipment Availability||Intervals Possible?||Best for||Fatigue Burden?|
|Air bike||Low||Niche, relatively expensive equipment||Yes||Cycling|
|Low impact, low residual fatigue|
or Stationary bike
Turbo trainers can be picked up very cheap
Stationary bikes more expensive, but still prevalent
|Yes||Cycling||Low impact, low residual fatigue|
|Rowing machine||Medium||Common – in virtually every gym; |
Home gym options available but at a high cost.
|Low to moderate|
|Prowler||Low||Niche equipment, moderate cost||Yes||Limited||Moderate to high – muscle soreness relatively common if weight training is novel to you|
|Kettlebell swings||Medium||Fairly inexpensive||Yes – May want to invest in a loadable kettlebell to incriminate the weight||Limited||High – muscle soreness relatively common if weight or kettlebell training is novel to you|
|Treadmill sprints||Medium||Common – in virtually every gym; |
Home gym options available but at a moderate cost.
|Low impact on belt treadmills, low residual fatigue|
|Hill sprints||High||Common – trainers only||Possible – depends on access to a consistent hill of appropriate length||Running|
|High impact if on hard surface, residual fatigue from impact possible (shin / knee)|
|Burpees||Low||No equipment required||Yes – may need to adapt to either number of repetitions or as many reps as possible (AMRAP) in predicated interval time||Limited||Low|
|Jogging on the spot||Low||No equipment required||Yes – harder to monitor progress e.g. can’t count distance covered / steps reliably||Limited||Low|
|High knees||Low||No equipment required||Yes – harder to monitor progress e.g. can’t count number of knees up reliably||Limited||Low|
|Swimming||High||Access to a pool||Yes – may have some difficulty implementing in public pools||Swimming|
|Low impact, fatigue level will depend on general fitness. Likely low / manageable|
HIIT (including turbo trainer) workouts for weight loss
Fortunately or unfortunately I have a lot of experience of weight loss. I’ve dropped quite a significant amount of body fat moving from 198lbs to 148lbs (so a loss of 50lbs, or a quarter of my bodyweight!)
I’m not going to mislead you by suggesting this was an overnight success. I managed it through the good old classic combination of exercise and diet.
What I can do is share with you the turbo trainer workouts for weight loss I used through the second half of my 50lbs loss (the first 25lbs was largely diet driven).
|HIIT Routine A||HIIT Routine B|
|Warm up||5 minutes @ slightly challenging pace|
(could talk in short sentences)
|5 minutes @ slightly challenging pace|
(could talk in short sentences)
|Work||20 seconds on|
Maximum effort possible to hold for the duration
|90 seconds on|
Maximum effort possible to hold for the duration
Pure recovery – no work
|2:00 offPure recovery – no work|
|Number of intervals||7 rounds||6 rounds|
|Progression||Add an interval each week or as appropriate until 10 intervals||Increase interval duration from 90 seconds up to 180 seconds over time; Keep rest constant|
General weight loss or cardio training
|General weight loss|
Better cross over to team sports
Routine A is a fantastic turbo trainer routine for beginners to get stuck into. The duration of the intervals is nice and short and allows you to build up power and get used to all out efforts.
Routine B I have found a great turbo trainer workout for weight loss. Sustaining a top level output for such a long interval is genuinely tiring and really works up a sweat. Anecdotally I felt it crossed over well to football as the longer bursts of high output fitted well with the gameplay dynamic.
How many calories does interval training burn?
How long is a piece of string?
I know – not helpful! The exact calorie burn from HIIT sessions will depend on your body and how intense you exercise.
For me, in the 25 minute session laid out above (routine B) I am burning 250 – 305 calories.
There is a lot of discussion around increased metabolism following interval training with evidence to support this. I have not included any estimation of this benefit in the above at all given the difficulty in recording this.
Pretty incredible when laid out like that – an awesome burn for the amount of time invested, and any subsequent metabolic lift is icing on the top!
How long should HIIT workouts last?
Interval training sessions should take 15 – 30 minutes to complete.
If you are truly working flat out on each interval it is unlikely you will be able to exceed 30 minutes of HIIT, unless of course you are a CrossFit athlete!
My ‘go to’ routines laid out above are over and done with in less than half an hour and they are difficult to get through. I would struggle to give it my all for much longer!
How many HIIT workouts per week to lose weight?
For high intensity interval training the 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans suggests we should do 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity as a minimum, in combination with some resistance training guidelines.
(Note they do provide the option to do a higher quantity of light intensity work as a substitute for the HIIT – but since you are here we will focus on the more vigorous HIIT angle!)
Following their guidelines we should be doing 3x sessions a week to meet the minimum recommended level of physical activity (assuming each session was 25 minutes approximately).
Will 3x HIIT sessions a week be enough to lose weight? That depends on a number of factors such as how many calories you burn, how long your sessions are, what your diet looks like, etc.
The easiest way to find out – try it and see! If you are losing too quickly then decrease the number of HIIT sessions per week, and conversely if losing too slowly then add another session.
Personally I like 2x sessions of HIIT per week with some light intensity cardio work as well (I like to walk!) I find this compliments my weight training and cycling hobbies nicely by supporting my goal to reduce my bodyfat percentage over time.
In summary, I have found the best turbo trainer workout for weight loss to be 90s on / 2:00 off done twice a week (alongside some other regular exercise).
The best session for beginners has shorter interval durations – 20s on / 1:40 off. This lets you get used to the intensity of HIIT and build your base level of fitness.
In total you should expect to burn around 260-305 calories in a single HIIT session, which should last 15-30 minutes.