Is High Intensity Interval Training Good for Football Players?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves short bursts of rigorous cardio, followed by intermittent rest periods. It’s beneficial for any type of athlete, but especially for football players or those participating in multi-sprint sports. A multi-sprint sport is defined as “a sport… which involves a mixture of brief periods of exercise at maximum intensity followed by recovery periods of rest or light activity.”

Likewise, the American College of Sports Medicine defines HIIT as a “type of training [that] involves repeated bouts of high-intensity effort followed by varied recovery times.” HIIT workouts follow a very similar format, and as a result, can benefit multi-sprint sports athletes.

HIIT Increases Anaerobic and Aerobic Capacity

Unlike other types of workouts, HIIT increases both your anaerobic and aerobic capacity. Consistently performing HIIT workouts can result in an increase in your VO2 max, and research has shown that. Your VO2 max is the maximum rate of oxygen your body can use during exercise — therefore, the greater your VO2 max, the more oxygen your body can consume. HIIT is an anaerobic workout (versus an aerobic workout like sustained running), meaning that it depletes all of your oxygen stores at once, requiring your body to quickly consume more oxygen. 

Although HIIT is an anaerobic workout, it can help improve your aerobic capacity, as well. Studies have shown that incorporation of HIIT techniques into workout routines leads to improvement of one’s oxygen (O2) pulse, or “the ratio of oxygen consumption to heart rate and expresses the volume of oxygen ejected from the ventricles with each cardiac contraction.” As with the VO2 max, the greater the O2 pulse, the greater one’s aerobic capacity. 

Research shows that long, slow, distance training (i.e. running for a long distance) may actually be detrimental to players’ anaerobic capacity, which in turn harms their overall performance during a game. For multi-sprint sports, like football, “interval training may be more appropriate than continuous running because it can increase aerobic power and improve cardiorespiratory endurance without the associated detrimental effects on anaerobic power” (via Sports Fitness Advisor). 

Because of HIIT’s many benefits to athletes, including football players, even the NFL has incorporated it into their training programs. Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Matt Cheng developed the following 30-minute HIIT workout based on real drills that potential new players perform during the NFL Scouting Combine:

30-Minute HIIT Workout

Warm-up with a light, five-minute jog. Do each exercise for two minutes at high intensity, followed by a one-minute rest period.

Inchworm to Push-up

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Fold forward and place your hands on the ground, then walk your hands out until you’re in a high plank position, and do one push-up. Walk your hands back to your toes and return to the starting position. Repeat.

Stationary Alternating Lateral Lunge

Begin by standing with your feet spread wide. Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee until it’s at a 90-degree angle, in a side lunge. Reach down to your right ankle with your left arm, then press into your right heel and return to the starting position. Repeat this on the other side, then alternate from left to right.

Alternating Lunge and Twist

Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Step your right foot back behind you until you’re in a plank position, bending your left knee to a 90-degree angle. With your hands above your head, bend your right knee slightly and twist your torso toward your left leg. Return to standing, keeping most of your weight on your left leg, and bring your arms to your sides. Repeat this on the other side, then alternate from left to right.

Alternating Inverted Hamstring to Ball Pass

Begin by standing with a medicine ball in your hands. With a flat back and arms straight, lean forward and raise your right leg behind you, until your torso and right leg are parallel to the ground. Bounce the ball off the ground and catch it, then return to standing, keeping your body straight. Repeat this on the other side, then alternate from left to right.

Lateral Hops

Place a ball or cone on the ground, or stand next to a line on the floor with your feet close together, arms at your sides. Swing your arms behind you and then back up in front of your chest, jumping over the object or line (using the momentum from your arms). Swinging your arms again, jump back to the other side. Alternative from side to side quickly.


Using a chin-up bar, grab the bar with your arms shoulder-width apart, palms facing you. Lift yourself off the ground until you’re eye-level with the bar, then lower down. Repeat this as many times as you can, for the two-minute period.

Barbell Bench Press

Start by lying on a bench with a barbell sitting on a rack above you at eye level. Lift the barbell off the rack with your arms slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and hold it above your chest with your arms fully extended. Inhale and lower the bar down to your chest, then exhale and press the bar straight back up. Repeat for two minutes.

Box Jumps

Stand about one foot away from a 12-inch box. Swing your arms behind you and launch yourself onto the box, knees bent. Step down off the box, and repeat.

High-intensity interval training can be extremely beneficial to football players, as it improves your anaerobic and aerobic capacity.

For any athletes of multi-sprint sports, incorporating HIIT techniques into their workouts can improve their overall performance. As HIIT becomes more popular and more benefits are discovered, it may become more common in sports training routines generally. If you’re more interested in core exercises, you can check out our post on the different types of core exercises.



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