Pain-Free HIIT Circuits That Burn Fat, Build Muscle, and Save Your Joints


We’ve gotten the message. High-intensity interval training is efficient—workouts are under half an hour, and often just a few minutes. And they’re effective. Research finds that HIIT improves athletic endurance, strengthens the heart, cuts body fat, and makes you a happier person. But not everyone’s a fan. For some, all those tuck jumps, burpees, box jumps, and rounds of speed roping leaves them limping the next day. Pounding movements can lead to joint tenderness, or exacerbate existing muscular or joint issues. And avid runners who pound the pavement may want to avoid impact for cross-training workouts.

Fortunately, high intensity doesn’t have to mean high impact. “Lower-impact exercises are great for people with knee or ankle injuries, or anyone heading back into the gym after a hiatus,” says Josh Woodall, a strength and conditioning coach in Temple, Texas. He put together the 12-exercise routine on the following pages, which cuts out moves with air time, and adds in a squishy BOSU ball (the kind you use for balance drills) to soften the blow to joints. To keep up the intensity, we peppered in weights. If you’re using a heart-rate monitor, aim to hit 80 percent of max capacity to get the biggest metabolic bump.

No monitor? Try to go from zero to breathless as quickly as possible in each set, maintain it, and work a little harder each round. Forget the low-impact part—we got that covered. You focus on bringing the high intensity.

The Workout

Choose any four of the six groups on the following slides. Do the first move of the pair for 40 seconds and the second for 20 seconds. Complete four sets back-to-back, without rest, which totals four minutes. Exercises that isolate one side of the body should be alternated every set. Rest one to two minutes, then go on to the next group. Including rest periods, the whole thing will take under 30 minutes. Do this workout once or twice a week, and vary the groups each time.

Expert Tip

As you progress, keep the 40/20 time intervals and fit in more reps.



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