Because of its ability to boost blood flow and oxygenation, even as little as four minutes of high-intensity interval training can offer an immediate pick-me-up to your system. A few circuits of high-intensity exercises is all it takes to bring your body back online and shake off the brain fog: Research shows that HIIT workouts can improve your cognitive performance, and exercising in the morning in particular can improve your working memory and executive function.
Over time, regular high intensity exercise can also help improve the health of your mitochondria (think of them as the battery packs for your cells), according to research published in the American Journal of Physiology. To reap the greatest long-term gains, you should look to do HIIT workouts four times per week, the study found. Even if you only have a few minutes, research shows that that’s enough to not only boost your energy, but also your overall fitness, according to research published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal.
The only catch? To squeeze all the benefits into a quick circuit, you need to be performing each exercise with all-out effort, meaning a nine or 10 out of 10. One way to do this is by alternating between intervals of cardio and strength exercises so you can keep your heart rate elevated throughout the whole workout, says certified trainer Kara Liotta, co-founder of KKSWEAT.
For a four-minute HIIT workout, this could look like two rounds of squats (with or without weights), high knees, push-ups, and mountain climbers performed in that order, aiming for as many reps as possible in 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest before heading to your next exercise.
“If you consider yourself advanced, sub in light active recovery moves—jumping jacks, squat pulses, a plank hold—instead of rest intervals,” Liotta suggests. “Obviously listen to your body, and you may do this on and off.” If you have more time, you can increase the number of rounds to turn it into a longer workout, with 30 minutes being the max time for HIIT.
These 10-minute, quick HIIT workouts for instant energy are a great place to start
This short, high-intensity workout from certified trainer Simone de la Rue is an ideal mix of cardio and strength exercises. It consists of six moves, each done for 10 reps, and de la Rue previously told Well+Good that she recommends beginners do one round, and people who are more advanced do two to three rounds.
Opt to perform this quick HIIT workout al fresco like trainer Ashley Joi, who programmed this interval training session. It involves everything from bear planks to burpees and is sure to get your blood pumping.
Start with some dynamic stretching
Something else that can help get the blood flowing is stretching, which can improve circulation, according to research published in Sports Medicine. It won’t afford you quite the same energy boost as a few rounds of jumping jacks or burpees, but taking time to stretch first thing in the morning, especially before a workout, is necessary, says Liotta. “Even in a very quick workout, try starting with a short dynamic bodyweight warm-up,” she says. “This mobilizes your joints and can help you move better and more efficiently.”
Bonus points: Take it outside
If you experience chronic sleep issues like insomnia, it’s worth taking your morning sweat session outdoors, or at least starting it off with a warm-up walk in the sunshine. Exposure to natural light when you wake up, ideally within the first hour when your circadian clock is most sensitive, can help regulate your production of melatonin—the hormone responsible for telling your body when it’s time for bed, and when it's time to be awake.
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