Awesome Low-Impact, High-Intensity Interval Workout

A couple of days after my last post on HIIT workouts, the New York Times Health section published an article on the very same thing. This cemented my belief that HIIT training is the current “hot” workout trend. Fortunately, this fad has some rock-solid science to back it up, so for once I am uncharacteristically in sync with the rest of the workout world: I think HIIT workouts rule!

In an effort to bring this type of workout to exercisers in all categories, I spent some time yesterday playing around with workout formats for the elliptical trainer. I came up with a GREAT workout that is not only super challenging, but really and truly fun! The best part is it’s low-impact, which opens the HIIT format up to lots more people. I did my workout on an elliptical trainer, but this type of workout could easily be done on a stationary bike or treadmill as well.

A quick recap on what HIIT is: High-Intensity Interval Training, short bursts of super hard exercise followed by equally short bursts of rest or low-intensity recovery exercise. When sprinting or doing plyometric or calisthenic-type exercises, bouts generally tend to be about 30-60 seconds long. However, when using a machine, you really need to do at least 60-second bouts to account for the lag times built into the machines. Here’s what I did:

Warm-Up Phase: 4 minutes at minimum resistance (Level 1) at a pace of 50 revolutions per minute (RPM)

Work/Recovery Interval Phase: 16 minutes alternating between the highest resistance level I could maintaing 60 RPM (for me, Level 12 and 10) and Resistance Level 2. So, for the whole 16 minutes, I kept my pace at 60 RPM, and I alternated 60-second intervals between Level 12 (or 10 after I got really tired) and Level 2. (Note: I picked Level 2 instead of Level 1 because I have “quick pick” buttons on my machine that go in increments of 2, which made it a lot easier to change the resistance than arrowing up or down every time.)

Cool Down Phase: 4 minutes at Level 1, 50 RPM

I really liked this format – varying resistance but keeping pace the same, because I made myself a playlist with songs at 100 or 120 beats per minute (which corresponds to 50 or 60 RPM) and that was really fun and motivational. You could do the same on a bike or treadmill by keeping RPM or MPH the same and varrying resistance (bike) or incline (treadmill).

You could also do the same type of workout by keeping resistance level or incline constant and varrying pace every 60 seconds. This just wouldn’t lend itself to keeping time with music. This would be a better option, however, for those who have issues with walking on a steep incline.

The key to getting the maximum benefits from any HIIT workout is to make your work intervals extremely hard – 90% of maximal effort (which you can approximate by hitting 90% max heart rate). I was literally leaning into the machine and pushing with everything I had, grunting and groaning with every work interval.

Give it a try – play around with different equipment and formats until you find the best version of this workout for you.

In case you’re curious, here’s the playlist I used:

Warm-Up: Tubthumping by Chumbawumba
Intervals: Rumor Has It by Adele; Bad Romance by Lady Gaga, Raise Your Glass by Pink, Telephone by Lady Gaga
Cool-Down: Rolling in the Deep by Adele

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Rashelle Brown

Hello - I am the owner of Full Potential Personal Training, located in Saint Paul, MN. I'm an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach, offering fitness and weight loss coaching in the Twin Cities area and nation-wide! Find out more about me and my services at

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