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High Intensity Interval Training Timer: To HIIT or Not to HIIT?

HIIT Sprinter

HIIT, or “High Intensity Interval Training” is a fancy acronym for what we refugees call:  “Go really f*cking hard for short bursts, then rest for a minute, and do it again.”  It’s easy to program, difficult to master, and only requires simple equipment like a decent high intensity interval training timer.

It’s picking up in popularity along with other functional fitness programs like CrossFit and the Marine Corps’ flavor: “High Intensity Tactical Training,” and it’s becoming a favorite amongst functional fitness afficionados.

Whether you decide HIIT is for you or not depends a lot on your goals for the workout and your overall fitness goals.  As a builder of brute strength, it’s hard to beat simple, heavy lifting.  This isn’t necessarily what HIIT caters to.  If you can rep 400 pound deadlifts at a fast pace for intervals, then maybe you should be teaching us a thing or two.

But if your goal is increased metabolic conditioning, better recovery, agility and varied power output across differing mediums, then HIIT is maybe the prescription for you.

A Not So Good Alternative

True-to-form, there is a predominant myth out there — rampant at globo-gyms, where they can charge you an arm and a leg to do what Mark Sisson might call chronic cardio — that lower intensity cardio work is best for fat loss.  As a side note, for more from Mark Sisson, and to check out some of his awesome primal supplements, head over to Mark’s Daily Apple the Primal Blueprint.  It’s a tremendous resource for information and nutrition!

While all exercise and work burns calories, the proportion of calories that come from fat is unique between low speed work, and high intensity work.  The demand put on your cardiovascular and muscular system by high intensity intervals creates a persistent demand for calories that extends beyond the completion of the workout.  This is something you won’t get from long slow distance.LSD Runner

Bottom Line

HIIT burns more calories in a shorter amount of time, and for a longer period of time, than long slow distance exercise.

The RefuGym doesn’t shun long slow distance.  We just believe it should not be a focal point of a refugee’s exercise program.  Think about it as a benchmark of where you’re at.  You may find, after a routine of HIIT, that your long, slow distance performance improves directly as a result as well.  On the contrary, persistent training in long, slow distance, rarely yields proportional results for HIIT.

The beauty of HIIT is its ease of variance… in other words, how easy it is for you to change it up and make it into something that works for you.

HIIT principles can be applied to just about any motion or exercise that can be carried out at high intensity.  This can be sprints, rows, push-ups, pull-ups, power cleans, jump rope, you name it!

If you’ve followed our guide and built your own RefuGym, you should have plenty of equipment to create a dynamic and effective HIIT program right at home.  If you haven’t, you can still work wonders with just your body weight.

Try these workouts out for yourself and watch the fat melt off, and your metabolic conditioning improve exponentially!  If you like them, feel free to vary them up, personalize and customize, and let us know what worked best for you!

The Tabata

Named after the pioneer behind them, Izumi Tabata, Tabatas are some of our favorite variants of HIIT.  They consist of just about any exercise, carried out at high intensity in the following pattern:

20 seconds work
10 seconds rest
Repeat x 8

We recommend you mix things up.  Try kipping pull-ups.  Think you’re good at push-ups?  Try them out and watch how quickly your arms get shredded!  Tabatas are the great equalizer, and they belong in every refugees repertoire.  You’ll discover your weaknesses very fast, and they are a truly effective way to overcome plateaus.


One of the best ways we’ve discovered to improve our overall running performance has been with the incorporation of HIIT.  This means we tossed the long, slow, 5k’s and 10k’s out with the bathwater, and tried sprinting shorter distances.

Try it out:

400m (1 lap around a standard track, approx 1/4 mile) – time yourself
Rest – rest the same amount of time it took you to run your lap
Repeat x 4

Make Your Own

Tabatas too complicated?  There’s nothing wrong with coming up with your own system that works for you.  You can vary the amount of rest you have in between intervals, and the number of intervals.  We typically recommend equal time work:rest as a general rule.  But this rule is hardly set in stone.

Programming With a High Intensity Interval Training Timer

Need help?  A good high intensity interval training timer like the GymBoss Interval Timer can help set you up.  A stop watch can work well if you aren’t too busy to track, or log your times as you go.  If you really want to get fancy (and we don’t necessarily recommend this as a part of a bare bones, authentic RefuGym), you can take this Programmable LED Interval Timer for a spin, but you might feel too “big boxy” if you do… you’ve been warned!  It’s a good product though because most programmable big LED timers are marked up a lot… some into the hundreds… and just because they look cool and official.

If you’re truly a refugee, you’ll recognize the value in simplicity and should be able to manage with a more simple high intensity interval training timer.

To HIIT or Not to HIIT?

So the answer to the ultimate question of “To HIIT or not to HIIT?”  It depends!  If your goal is overall improvement in your metabolic conditioning, fitness, and not specifically strength, you cannot beat HIIT.  It’s important, like everything else, to practice and incorporate it in moderation, as a part of a constantly varied training program.

The globo-gym masters truly do not want refugees to get used to HIIT.  Why pay for a gym membership when your body can be its own gym, after all?  The workout is effective and the only requirement is a good high intensity interval training timer.  Why wouldn’t you?

HIIT gets the RefuGym seal of approval.

What are your favorite HIIT workouts?


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