Whether you’re an entrepreneur, employee, student, or starting a side hustle, being productive is key to accomplishing your daily and long term goals. It’s also not something we’re not very good at since the average person is only productive for about 3 of an 8 hour work day.
I know it’s something I struggle with at times. So much so that I decided to research and learn how to become more productive safely, simply, and in as little time as possible.
What did I learn? That a specific type of workout called HIIT is the way to go.
That’s what I’m going to show you in this article. How doing brief (3-20 minute), intense workouts often referred to as HIIT can help you get more done. Often in less time.
The 30 second summary – HIIT and productivity
Don’t have time to read the entire article? Here it is, condensed into a few sentences. Make sure to come back and read the rest when you have time to learn in detail how to use HIIT to be more productive.
Research published in the Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine And Science In Sports finds 8 minutes of HIIT done 2-3 times a week improves productivity work. It does this by activating the part of your brain that affects productivity and motivation. HIIT workouts are intense, alternating very brief – 15 seconds to 4 minutes of all out effort – with equally short rest periods. Improvements are noticeable after 1 workout.
Table of contents
- HIIT explained
- How HIIT boosts productivity
- Get your HIIT workout together
- HIIT you can do at work
- How these workouts benefit me
- What others have to say
- Downsides to HIIT training
Let’s talk about just what a HIIT workout is before we go any further. If you’re familiar, you can skip ahead to the next section.
In a nutshell, HIIT workouts are very brief and super intense. We’re talking feeling your legs and lungs are on fire hard.
They’re a type of interval workout. This means you alternate between very brief (10 seconds – 4 minutes) periods of exercise and rest until your workout is complete.
HIIT workouts are typically no longer than 30 minutes given how hard they are to complete. They’re so effective at building endurance, strength, and mental toughness that even a 3-5 minute session is beneficial.
You can do a HIIT workout with cardio equipment such as a bike or rowing machine, or with weights like kettlebells, dumbbells, and barbells. Machine and body weight exercises like push ups work too.
What matters most is that you go as hard as you can for a short amount of time, rest, and repeat.
Here’s a super simple HIIT workout to show you what I mean.
- Exercise. Do as many lunges as possible in 15 seconds.
- Rest. Walk in place for 45 seconds.
- Repeat for 5-10 minutes and you’re done.
Now that you know what they are, let’s talk about how HIIT workouts can help you accomplish your goals.
How HIIT makes you more productive
After reviewing several research papers (link), it seems that the way HIIT works is by stimulating a specific part of our brain. It’s called the prefrontal cortex.
Giving this part of our brain a kickstart makes it easier for us to do things like focus, plan, remember what you need to do, and juggle multiple tasks. They’re part of what makes up something called executive function.
The better your brain helps you do things, the more you’ll get done.
Here’s what the research finds.
- HIIT workouts where you do 20 seconds of intense exercises followed by 10 seconds of rest then repeat for 10 minutes help you become better at solving problems and stay on track toward accomplishing your goals (cite).
- Motivation to work improves when you do just 2 HIIT workouts a week. As does your mood.
- Another benefit is that HIIT improves your sleep. Being well rested is also a key to being able to get stuff done.
- Entrepreneurs are choosing HIIT over golf and other activities. A study conducted by researchers at Arizona and Ball State University finds more entrepreneurs skipping popular activities like golfing for HIIT workouts to relieve work related stress.
Getting your HIIT together
Now you know why they’re so helpful, it’s time to learn how to add HIIT to your workout plan.
- 2 HIIT workouts a week is plenty. That’s all it takes to see improvement.
- They don’t have to take up a lot of time. You only need about 10 minutes a workout. This includes a 2 minute warm up.
- You can make most anything HIIT. Just use at most a 1 to 3 work:rest ratio. The fitter you get, the less rest you should give yourself. Aim to train 2x longer than you rest, i.e 2 minutes exercise to 1 minute, or less rest.
- If you like to lift weights or do other types of cardio, do your HIIT after these workouts. This will ensure you get the most benefit from each workout.
- Work your way up in intensity. If you’re just getting in shape and are new to HIIT you don’t have to go all out at first. Start at an intensity that is moderately hard (can’t easily talk when you exercise) and increase as you become more fit.
- Rest as long as you need to at first. I’m not saying to go 10 minutes between sets but if you need a few minutes, that’s okay. Slowly chip away at it as you can decrease the time you rest between sets.
3 HIIT workouts to get you started
Each of these workouts are super effective for all fitness and ability levels. They require little or no fitness equipment and can be done pretty much anywhere.
I like to do these workouts to get me going first thing in the morning or whenever I’m low on motivation.
Workout 1 – Body weight HIIT workout
- 10 push ups followed by 10 squats
- Rest 1 minute
- Repeat 3-10 times
Workout 2 – Kettlebell swing HIIT
- Kettlebell swings for 30 seconds
- Rest for 30-60 seconds
- Repeat 5-10 times
Workout 3 – Sprinting in place HIIT
- Run in place as hard as you can for 15 seconds
- Rest 45 seconds
- Repeat 5 or more times
How To Scale Your HIIT Workouts
- If you’re just getting started don’t worry about going all out at first. Increase your effort with each workout.
- Another tip when starting out is to rest longer between bursts of intense exercise. If you have to go for a few minutes, don’t worry about it. You’ll build up your recovery ability quickly.
- If you’re already pretty fit, play around with resting less than the time you exercise. Aim to be able to go out for 30-60 seconds with just 15 seconds rest between sets.
- Another way to make the workouts more challenging is to add resistance using bands, and heavier weights.
Bonus: Do a HIIT workout at work to increase your productivity
One of the research papers I came across discovered something really cool. Doing a brief, I’m talking 3 minute, HIIT workout improves productivity.
The workers in this study did 3 minutes of HIIT boxing during a break in their work day. After the workout, they performed better.
Give it a try the next time you feel yourself having trouble being productive and low on energy.
How HIIT Makes Me More Productive
Doing intense HIIT style workouts seem to always help improve my mood, energy, and ability to get stuff done.
Even if I only do 5 minutes of body weight squats in a 15 seconds on 30 seconds off interval I notice a benefit.
I regularly do a very brief HIIT session during my work breaks. This in addition to the other workouts I do most days of the week. They’re better for an energy boost than going for a sugar rich candy bar or caffeine loaded drink that’ll keep me up at night.
Don’t just take it from me. Here’s what other people have to say.
What others have to say about HIIT and productivity.
“With meetings and presentations aplenty, I rarely have a large chunk of time to devote to working out. Thankfully, there are several shorter types of exercises that have similar benefits to those of a long workout. I find value in high-intensity interval training (HiiT), which can often be as short as 10-20 minutes of aggressive exercise.” Cooper Harris, founder of Kwickly writes in an article published on Forbes.com.
Here’s what Chase Garbarino, CEO of HqO says to Inc. magazine about HIIT. “My wife and I are both entrepreneurs, so our schedules are often unpredictable and hectic. We do Barry’s Bootcamp together at the same time every morning in order to have a routine and spend time together. The workouts are an hour long and include high-intensity interval training and strength training focusing on different muscle groups each day.
You need both endurance to build something that will last and the ability to push yourself to the brink. It’s the hardest workout we’ve ever done, but that sense of accomplishment first thing in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the workday.”
A Downside to HIIT
We wouldn’t be giving the entire story without also discussing possible downsides and limitations to this productivity tip.
One drawback is HIIT workouts are pretty tough and bring on the burn on your lungs, and legs. If you aren’t used to working out intensely. This is sometimes too much, especially if you’re new to working out.
Does this mean skip them altogether? No. Of course not. Just have realistic expectations and work yourself up to going all out, or as close you can get over a period of weeks or months.
You now know how doing a couple of HIIT workouts a week can help improve productivity at work. Whether you do them by taking workout classes before or after work or doing 5 minutes of HIIT push-ups and air squats on your lunch break you’ll see significant results, right away.
Eather N, Babic M, Riley N, Harris N, Jung M, Jeffs M, Barclay B, Lubans DR. Integrating high-intensity interval training into the workplace: The Work-HIIT pilot RCT. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2020 Dec;30(12):2445-2455. doi: 10.1111/sms.13811. Epub 2020 Sep 11. PMID: 32854153.
Mekari S, Earle M, Martins R, Drisdelle S, Killen M, Bouffard-Levasseur V, Dupuy O. Effect of High Intensity Interval Training Compared to Continuous Training on Cognitive Performance in Young Healthy Adults: A Pilot Study. Brain Sci. 2020 Feb 4;10(2):81. doi: 10.3390/brainsci10020081. PMID: 32033006; PMCID: PMC7071608.
Min L, Wang D, You Y, Fu Y, Ma X. Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training on Sleep: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Oct 19;18(20):10973. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182010973. PMID: 34682718; PMCID: PMC8535574.
Slusher AL, Patterson VT, Schwartz CS, Acevedo EO. Impact of high intensity interval exercise on executive function and brain derived neurotrophic factor in healthy college aged males. Physiol Behav. 2018 Jul 1;191:116-122. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.04.018. Epub 2018 Apr 17. PMID: 29673858.
Wollseiffen P, Ghadiri A, Scholz A, Strüder HK, Herpers R, Peters T, Schneider S. Short Bouts of Intensive Exercise During the Workday Have a Positive Effect on Neuro-cognitive Performance. Stress Health. 2016 Dec;32(5):514-523. doi: 10.1002/smi.2654. Epub 2015 Oct 9. PMID: 26449710.