HILIT Workouts Are Trending, but Are They as Effective as HIIT?

hilit workouts rowing

If you’ve hit the gym at any point in the past few years, you’re probably familiar with—and/or afraid of—the term HIIT. For the uninitiated, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is any workout that encourages you to give all-out, 100 percent effort for quick, intense periods of time, followed by short, sometimes active recovery. The idea is that not only can you get this kind of workout over with faster than a lower-intensity one, but HIIT can temporarily spike your metabolism and can often be done with little to no equipment.

But because HIIT workouts often utilize plyometric movements (exercises in which muscles exert maximum force in a rapid or explosive manner), they’re often not an option for people with joint issues, like back or knee problems. Enter HILIT, a similar but different type of workout that’s poised to be one of the biggest fitness trends of 2020 and beyond.

HILIT stands for high-intensity, low-impact training. Like HIIT workouts, HILIT workouts focus on intensity—short bursts of going all out followed by short recovery periods. Unlike HIIT, HILIT emphasizes lower-impact movements that are easier on your joints. Translation: In HILIT workouts, you never have both feet off the ground (that means no jumping or—praise be—burpees).

Because of the high-intensity part, HILIT workouts are just as effective as HIIT workouts (assuming you’re actually exercising at your highest intensity). In a study at McMaster University in Ontario, researchers found that quick spurts of intense exercise are just as beneficial as longer endurance-training sessions. So basically, if you’re looking to cut back on the time you spend working out without sacrificing any of the results, just make sure you work a little harder for that shortened period of time.

OK, so what does HILIT look like in practice? The buzziest example is P.volve. Created by Victoria’s Secret Angels trainer Stephen Pasterino, P.volve is a strengthening and lengthening workout that you can do at home or in a studio. Using equipment that can be purchased through P.volve or on Amazon (like the famous thigh- and glute-toning P.ball, plus gliders, armbands and ankle weights), it uses Pasterino’s knowledge and training in applied functional science to ensure safe, effective movements. (HILIT is all about safety.)

Another mega-popular HILIT workout is indoor rowing, which has been popular for a few years as a low-impact option for folks who want a killer workout without placing too much stress on their joints. We’ve long heralded rowing as one of the most efficient and enjoyable forms of exercise, and that’s doubly true for fitness enthusiasts who have knee or back problems or are over a certain age. Rowing is low impact and, contrary to popular belief, is predominantly a leg workout, similar to squats (on the rowing machine, or erg, you’re supposed to use 60 percent butt and leg muscles). And you won’t just get a physical benefit, either: According to a study by King’s College in London, people with more powerful legs have sharper minds. You can try it at studios like Rowgatta in New York, LIT Method in Los Angeles and Row House in hundreds of locations around the U.S. and Canada.

Another HILIT option? Megaformer Pilates. Infamously described as “Pilates on crack,” megaformer classes—a favorite of Meghan Markle—employ a torture device known as a megaformer, which was designed by trainer and CEO of Lagree Fitness, Sebastien Legree, with the goal of merging Pilates with cardio in a low-impact way. If you dare, you can try it at studios around the country, like SLT in New York, Studio Metamorphosis in L.A. and Body R+D in Chicago.

HILIT classes aren’t any easier than HIIT classes, and they’re just as effective without making you do dozens of burpees. A win-win, if you ask us. 

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...