HIIT for Beginners – Treadmill Workouts

Can you guess the number one reason most people give up on exercise? It’s because they’re not seeing results in a favourable amount of time. If you’re feeling stuck and tempted to give up, we recommend trying one last thing to achieve a healthy body and mindset.

Consider adding in this not-so-well-kept fitness secret — HIIT cardio.

Beginner doing a HIIT workout on a treadmill

If you’re new to the concept, don’t feel intimidated in the slightest. This workout is beginner-friendly and can help you achieve some fantastic results.

To learn more about everything HIIT cardio-related, continue reading!

What is HIIT?

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. It is a form of cardio that helps you burn fat and preserve muscle to build a strong and lean physique.

You can perform HIIT in several different ways. It’s simply a style of cardio. Its flexibility is one of the main reasons this form of exercise has caught on so fast — that and the fact that it’s also so efficient. In addition to a treadmill / running machine you can perform this workout on a running track, spin bike, pool, or even a set of stairs.

Essentially, this style of cardio pairs short bursts of high intensity with low effort, relaxation phases. The intense phases are brief, lasting 30 seconds. The rest periods, on the other hand, should last one minute or more.

High-intensity interval training is the opposite of LISS cardio, which stands for low-intensity steady-state cardio.

Though not as intense, LISS has its drawbacks.

Many may have trouble sustaining the same running pace for a prolonged time. HIIT, however, supplies you with much-needed cardio breaks during your session, which works wonders for your physical stamina and mental toughness.

Why is HIIT So Good?

You can’t read a single fitness blog or scroll through a fitness page on social media without seeing the acronym plastered everywhere.

So what’s the deal? Is this simply a buzzword floating around in the fitness sector? Or can it really make a world of difference in your fitness routine?

HIIT is incredibly effective for this reason: it’s quick and therefore easy to implement! Which sounds better to you?

Spending 15 minutes or an hour on the treadmill?

You’ll be in the vast majority of you picked the former. Running on a treadmill can be mindless after a while.

If you’re bored the entire time, you’ll likely dread all of your cardio sessions and feel inclined to skip ‘just this once’. But skipping workouts is a slippery slope. Keeping your workouts concise yet effective ensures you don’t burn out, so you’ll stick to it!

Great for Burning Calories

HIIT has been hailed for its ability to put the body in a state of EPOC or excessive post-exercise oxygen consumption. This means your body will continue to burn calories, even after you’re done exercising.

The EPOC state can last hours after you’ve hopped off a treadmill. Higher intensity exercises, such as running, trigger this response within the body. HIIT is also referred to as a trifecta for pushing the body into the EPOC state, as it’s:

  • Aerobic
  • High intensity
  • And utilizes fast-twitch muscle fibres.

Steady-state cardio is less likely to promote this effect, so it may be time to make the switch in your cardio routine if you haven’t already.

Aerobic Fitness

If you were to take anything away from all this information on HIIT, let it be this: cardio is a must.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to gain muscle or lose fat. Cardio does something for the body that weight training cannot. It strengthens the body’s circulatory system.

Sure, weight training helps you build strong muscles. But remember, the heart is also a muscle that requires training. The same goes for the lungs! Aerobic exercises, such as running, are a must in your weekly routine, as they target the body from within. Aerobic exercise can also help the body prevent heart disease and obesity.

Quick Workout

HIIT workouts are quick and easy to complete after a weightlifting session. What sounds more manageable? Staying on the treadmill for 15 or 60 minutes? Obviously, the latter sounds doable!

Perform HIIT Anywhere

We highly recommend doing HIIT on a treadmill, as it’s much easier to control your bursts of high speed and rest. However, if you’re out of town or can’t make it to the gym, you can easily complete your HIIT session in your neighbourhood.

Easy to Get Started

Swimming requires you to learn perfect form. Weightlifting also has a learning curve. HIIT, however, is easy for beginners to learn and master. Therefore, you don’t have to feel intimidated about walking into the gym if you’re new.

Breaks Are Allowed!

We saved the best benefit for last! You don’t have to beat yourself up over taking brief breaks during your cardio session. That’s what HIIT is all about! Breaks are necessary to push yourself into those peaks of maximum exertion during the workout.

Take a water break or simply mentally prep yourself to complete another round of challenging cardio!

How do you do HIIT on a Treadmill?

Run. Stop. Run. Stop. Cool down. It’s that easy! Many people like to overcomplicate HIIT. We want to remind you, HIIT is not:

  • A crazy cardio workout with a ton of different speeds and inclines
  • A long sprint
  • Meant to last more than 20 minutes

Many newbies to fitness confuse circuit training with HIIT. While circuit training is also practical, these are not the same workouts. Additionally, circuit training may not put your body in a state of excessive post-oxygen consumption.

So, now that you have the basics down, how do you perform HIIT cardio correctly?

Know Your Max

Throw everything you have into your bursts of high intensity. On a scale of one to ten, eight must be your MINIMUM.

We know what you’re thinking! Didn’t we just say that HIIT is excellent for starters? How is pushing your body to this level considered ‘beginner-friendly?’

Here’s the great catch — you only have to maintain your speed for 30 seconds! Now, it sounds more doable. You can reduce your speed or stop entirely to catch your breath during your minute long break.

Everyone’s max exertion will look different as everyone is starting at a different baseline of health. Your 8/10 may look other than a pro athlete’s 8/10.

How Will I Know I’ve Hit My Max on HIIT?

There are a couple of ways you can tell whether you’ve hit your max or not. First, try the talk test. During your periods of high energy, you should not be able to talk or hold a normal conversation.

You can also measure your heart rate with a smartwatch or fitness tracker. Many treadmills also have readers built-in. Aim to hit your maximum heart rate. To obtain this number, use this formula:

  • 220 – your age = your maximum heart rate

You can also measure it on a scale of 1-10. As previously stated, those 30 seconds of HIIT should feel like a 8/10.

Should I Warm-up and Cool-down With HIIT?

While the HIIT workout itself should last 15 minutes, add 5 or 10 for a brief warm-up and cool-down.

Any rigorous workout should include both.

The warm-up can prepare your body for HIIT by increasing blood flow. The cool-down period, on the other hand, returns your muscle fibres back to their resting lengths. It also lowers your heart back down to its resting rate.

Form Tips for HIIT Cardio on the Treadmill

While starting HIIT cardio is easy, we never said to throw proper form out the window! To ensure your safety, keep these running tips in mind.

Hands off the Rails!

It’s tempting to grab and cling onto the sides of the treadmill for dear life when your legs fail you. Don’t do this! Relying on the sides of the treadmill is risky. You can also cause long-term postural issues when you do this frequently.

Know Where the Emergency Brake is BEFORE Starting

Before hopping onto the treadmill, ensure you know how to activate the emergency brake before beginning your workout.

Avoid Hopping Onto the Sides of the Treadmill

Many fitness influencers will film themselves performing HIIT workouts for social media. Instead of pulling the brake or pushing the pause button on the machine, they will jump onto the sides of the treadmill, allowing the belt to run underneath them. Sure, this is more time-efficient — but even if you’re more experienced in the gym, we cannot stress the dangers of doing this.

Come to a natural and complete stop by using the settings on the machine. Hopping onto the sides can cause severe harm and injury, not limited to cuts, bruises, and concussions.

Keep Your Chest Up

You wouldn’t slouch while walking. It’s awful for your posture. The same goes for running during cardio. Avoid letting your shoulders curve inwards! Keep your chest up and your shoulders back.

Breathe Properly to Avoid Side Stitches

Ever feel a sharp pain in your side while running on a treadmill? This is called a side stitch, and it can feel quite painful if you get one while performing HIIT. To avoid this pain, which can hinder your workout, ensure you’re breathing properly while running. Remember to inhale and exhale through the mouth and nose simultaneously.

Other Considerations Before Starting HIIT

We want to ensure you’re ready for your intense bout of work. Therefore, ensure you have proper running shoes. Tie the laces up tight. Also, have a timer prepared before starting.

Your phone can track your seconds accurately. Many treadmills will start back at zero when put on pause, which can cause you to lose the entirety of your workout.

Also, have a water bottle nearby and ensure you’re hydrating on your breaks.

HIIT Treadmill Workouts to Try

HIIT Treadmill Workout 1 – For Beginners

Try this workout if you’re new to HIIT. You may need to make some modifications if you find this too easy or too difficult. On average, it’s a great starting point for most individuals!

  • Begin with a 5 minute warm-up with a slight incline of 4.0 to 5.0.
  • Move into a faster pace — complete 30 seconds of running at 8 kph.
  • Press the pause button after thirty seconds. Rest for one minute or until you feel fully rested.
  • Perform another high peak of exertion for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat these cycles for 12 sessions.
  • Finish with a five-minute cool-down session.

HIIT Treadmill Workout 2 – Incline Variation

This variation will work wonders for your calves, glutes, and thighs. Don’t doubt the power of the lower speeds on the treadmill. Crank up the incline, and this variation can also leave you sore and out of breath.

  • Start with a moderate warm-up, increasing the incline every minute until you’re at a level 6 incline or higher.
  • Increase your speed to 7.5 kph and keep up with the treadmill for 30 seconds.
  • Come back down to a gentle incline walk, or stop the treadmill. Take a one-minute break.
  • Repeat this for ten sessions.
  • Finish with a cool-down for five minutes before hopping off the treadmill. Stretch your hamstrings and calves afterwards to reduce muscle soreness.

HIIT Treadmill Workout 3 – The Side Shuffle

This variation will work out your glutes and inner thighs.

Instead of running head-on, perform a side shuffle during your peaks of high energy. There’s no need to crank up the speed. Set the treadmill to a higher incline and a moderate pace. Copy the workout below to switch things up if traditional HIIT is feeling stale.

  • Start with a warm-up on the treadmill. Walk at a moderate pace for five minutes.
  • Start your workout. Crank the speed up to around 8 kph and shuffle for 20 seconds. Switch sides and shuffle for another 20 seconds.
  • Press pause on your workout. Rest for one minute or until you’re fully recovered.
  • Begin again. Start your side shuffle, increasing the speed if the first burst was too easy—attempt 11 kph for 30 seconds.
  • Stop the machine and rest for one minute.
  • Repeat this for ten more rounds.
  • Cool down with a gentle walk facing forward for five minutes.

HIIT Treadmill Workout 4 – Upper Body Variation

For this workout, slow down the speed but pump up the resistance. Grab a pair of light dumbbells and keep them by your sides.

  • Warm-up on a flat road setting.
  • Increase the incline up to a level 5 or 6. You can add levels of resistance until you hit your max. Keep this pace for 30 seconds.
  • Bring your incline back down to a flat setting. Keep this pace and rest.
  • Begin again and hit your max for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for ten more cycles.
  • Cool down for five minutes.

How Often Should Beginners do a HIIT Treadmill Workout?

Beginners, as a rule of thumb, implement this type of cardio three times a week. Space your cardio sessions out and perform them on: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

If building strength is your main objective, dial it down and perform this form of cardio training twice a week — save it for Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Should I Avoid This if I Want to Gain Muscle?

Many bodybuilders and gym-goers swear off cardio, stating that it can shrink their gains from weight lifting. However, this is completely false! Cardio is essential, and we’re here to dispel the myths surrounding running and gaining muscle mass.

Yes, skip the long cardio sessions. Running for miles every single day is something you should NOT do when building strength and size in the gym. Also, never perform long cardio sessions BEFORE a weightlifting workout. The bulk of your energy should go towards lifting heavy during your session. If you make these mistakes, then yes, you can lose muscle mass.

But don’t avoid cardio altogether.

Instead, try this if you’re worried about losing strength.

Perform HIIT on separate days from your weightlifting sessions.

Or perform cardio after your lifting sessions.

One of the best things about high-intensity interval training is that it won’t burn off your gains like other forms of cardio. 


HIIT doesn’t have to be an intimidating new fitness phrase fad suitable for the super strong and fit. Beginners NEED to implement HIIT if they are serious about scoring that strong body they’ve always dreamed of. It’s quick, effective, and it can aid in muscle growth. This form of cardio is also incredibly easy to implement, as it’s catered to the individual.

If you haven’t tried it already, complete one of our sample workouts and see what an incredible change HIIT can make for your body and routine! 

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Team MT

Team MT is the editorial team of MuscleTalk. With over 20 years experience we write quality, evidence based, articles. In addition to creating original content, we also edit and fact-check any articles we feature by external writers.

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