Why HIIT is great for PCOS

Far too many women (myself included) have left a doctor’s appointment with two pieces of very vague information:

  • I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.
  • I should start working out.

If you are ready and willing to start exercising, but don’t know what types of exercise are best for PCOS, this article will point you in the right direction.

Today I’d like to teach you exactly how to add High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into your workout program.

HIIT is a type of cardio workout that alternates between bouts of extremely challenging, fast-paced exercise and bouts of low-intensity exercise. For example, you might alternate between sprinting up a steep hill and walking on a flat surface. I talked in detail about the benefits of HIIT in my article on Cardio Exercise and PCOS.


A recent study from the University of California San Francisco found that intense workouts are better for managing PCOS than moderate exercise. The researchers concluded that doing just 60 minutes of vigorous exercise per week decreased a woman’s likelihood of getting metabolic syndrome by 22%.

This particular study and several more like it are a powerful testament to the benefits of high-intensity exercise for PCOS women. Research indicates that HIIT workouts can improve your insulin sensitivity, reduce your waist circumference, stimulate muscle growth and burn fat.

Ready to try HIIT so that you can enjoy all of these wonderful benefits?

Below are three simple HIIT workouts you can try today.

The 10-20-30 Workout

This HIIT program is a great method for beginners and intermediate trainees! Researchers at the University of Copenhagen created this workout in 2012. They only applied the 10-20-30 HIIT formula to running. If you don’t like to run, this method will work well on a stationary or regular bicycle.

  • Warm up with dynamic stretches or light jogging.
  • Sprint at full speed for 10 seconds, really push yourself!
  • Don’t pause, but decrease your speed to a medium pace for the next 20 seconds.
  • Decrease your speed again to a slow paced jog, brisk walk or slow pedal for 30 seconds.
  • Immediately return to your 10 second sprint.
  • Repeat this cycle for five minutes and then rest for two minutes.
  • Following the rest period, start another five minute block of running or cycling.
  • Continue this pattern for 20-30 minutes.

You can do this workout after a strength training session or by itself 2-3 times a week.

The Little Method

The Little Method was first studied at McMasters University and is a great intermediate level HIIT workout. This program would work well on a stationary bike, rowing machine, elliptical machine, a treadmill with an incline, or a stair climber.

  • Warm up with dynamic stretches followed by slow-paced cardio for 3 minutes.
  • Set your machine at a high resistance or incline and move at a fast pace for 60 seconds.
  • Keep moving, but reduce your resistance and pace to a moderate level for 75-seconds.
  • Repeat this cycle 12 times for a total of 27 minutes.

You can do this workout up to three times a week.

The Tabata Method

The Tabata Method is a challenging HIIT workout for advanced exercisers. I recommend that you start with one of the other two methods before moving on to Tabata style workouts.

You can apply this method to sprinting, kettlebell exercises like the kettlebell swing and plyometric exercises like box jumps and jumping rope.

  • Warm up with dynamic stretches followed by slow-paced cardio for 3 minutes.
  • Perform your exercise of choice at full speed for 20 seconds, push yourself hard!
  • Recover for 10 seconds, I recommend walking or lightly marching in place.
  • Repeat this cycle 8 times for a total of 4 minutes.

This workout only lasts 4 minutes. You can add it on to the end of your strength workout. Or if you feel up to it, you can repeat the 4-minute cycle several times.

In addition to being great for PCOS, these three workouts are very time efficient and flexible.  That’s why I have been using HIIT for over four years! I’ve seen great results and the flexibility allows me to mix things up and keep my workouts interesting.

What do you do to keep your workouts fun and fresh? Have you tried incorporating HIIT?


Erika is a certified personal trainer, Nutrition Coach, and fitness writer. She holds certifications from the American Council on Exercise (ACE), TRX Suspension Training Systems and Precision Nutrition.

Erika was diagnosed with PCOS in 2005. She believes that lifestyle modifications are the best treatment for PCOS. If you want to learn more about how exercise can alleviate PCOS symptoms, please visit her website at The PCOS Personal Trainer.

Erika lives with her husband in a small beach town somewhere in Costa Rica. Her hobbies include cooking, hiking, learning Spanish and traveling. At The PCOS Personal Trainer you’ll find at-home workout plans, healthy cooking tips, and stories about her life in Costa Rica

Join the PCOS Weight Loss Program:


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Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton

Tarryn Poulton is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and PCOS expert who has been a leader in the online PCOS space for over 8 years. Tarryn has the support of leading clinicians from around the world who support her scientific approach to understanding and talking about PCOS this includes all medical journals and ongoing research. You can read more about Tarryn and the team here.

19 Responses

19 Responses

  1. What do you mean by move at a fast pace? Too general. Is this jogging? Is this a brisk walk? Is this running? Is this a full on sprint?

  2. Hi, I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 17, (I’m 30) and for a long time did nothing about it and suddenly found myself quite overweight. For the past 4 years however I have been a lot more proactive and lost 27kgs (60lb) through diet and excersise. For the past 2 years my excersise regime has increased significantly and I really love It, but I’ve been stuck on 36% BF now for the nearly the entire 2 years. I have approximately 10-13 kgs (about 22lb) to lose!

    I have tried every change in nutrition I can find, Paleo, Zone, and low carb, high carb and currently using macronutrient control. I’m also using poloquin supplements (including inositol) but still no luck. I have a family history of diabetes so I’m trying to avoid that and I know I’m a high risk!

    I am at my absolute breaking point about this and I seem to be going backwards and my cycles have gotten further apart again and my husband and I would like to start a family in the near future.

    Any help or suggestion would be most appreciated!

    – A

  3. Hi,I have been struggling to lose about 6- 8 klios for a long time. I used to be 62 kilos, that is when i got into aoebrics, and in 3 months I was around 57/58. Although i looked very fit , for I was also regularly doing my weight training too. I love doing both, and also love doing yoga. But none of my efforts could melt the fat around my stomach, though i could almost do all the ab exercises without any problems, and I knew so many of them.I also kept reading that the only way to lose fat , was to include more aoebrics, and I started doing more of it, like 30- 40 mins of skipping along with some aoebrics routines too, and I never gave up my weight training routine. I had switched to eating everything brown, along with vegetables and proteins, and I am a pure vegetarian. But still I found no results, although I always got comments that I look at least 10 years younger than my actual age.Then i hit the age called the beginning of the 50s, with weight gradually increasing, and finally stopping with great difficulty in 67.5 klios, that too with my regular exercise, and healthy diet routine. I know that i am at an age where things are not in my control, although i am perfectly healthy, I now look fat.I have joined a gym, and had asked them to give me circuit training , in which on certain days both cardio and weight training is there and on other days only cardio and abs are there. They never give me more than 40 mins of cardio a day, which i find a little less because of my preconceived idea of believing that only with more cardio i can lose weight soon. So in a day i try to do atleast 50-55 mins. of different cardios like cycling, treadmill and the cross trainer, and on weight training days I do double the repetitons of what they have given me, and also try to do minimum of different cardio for 45- 50 mins.One month is going to be over, and I see only some inches lost in my back, chest and arms, but no great shakes, and no weight loss.In the treadmill i do running for 1 min and 1 min of rest, and i do this atleat 7 times in a 20 mins worktime, and this i do only twice a week and on other days I increase the incline/ decline and walk fast and recover kind of workout and also some times i just walk regular with no incline at all.As a principle, I seem to be doing a lot of different things, adding little changes in my gm time.However there is no big change in my body, i am feeling as fit and healthy as ever without of course the weight loss , which seems to be eluding me for ever.In one or two days they would be changing my workout schedule to a different routine, I am wondering whether I should ask them to put me on no cardio, and only weights kind of routine, what do you have to say?I would really appreciate your advise in this matter.Sorry for the long post .Rama.

  4. Hi, I’m in my 40’s and have just been diagnosed with PCOS. However, I’m sure I’ve had it all my life but I never saw my doctor about it. I wanted to mention that I take my fasting blood sugar every morning. I have been doing about 2 hours of Brazilian Jujitsu about 3 days a week for the past year. I also lift weights on occasions. I’ve noticed that when I exercise my fasting blood sugar is more elevated than normal. Around 115 instead of 105. I’m curious about the reason why insulin goes up with exercise. I should mention that I follow a strict diet that is low GI, yet my insulin levels remain just above normal. Thus, I’ll actually gain weight at times. I’m at my whits end trying to lower my insulin and loss this weight. I’m also on compounded hormone therapy. I will try and incorporate HIIT in my week along with BJJ, but I’m worried about the rise in insulin due to the exercise along with the increased appetite exercise causes, thus increasing my calorie intake. Any thoughts??

    1. I find this really interesting. I might be one of those people as well. High-intensity exercise always elevates my insulin. I never measured it, but I know it happens, because I know how it feels. My appetite skyrockets and I start gaining weight. That’s why I only do moderate exercise and that’s how I lose weight really well. Otherwise I just put too much stress on my body.

  5. I’m 25 yrs old and recently diagnosed with pcos. I’m 156cm height and 122lbs weight. I can’t afford to lose any weight, so afraid to take up with intense excercises. So, I’m now doing moderate paced walking and cycling for 30 min 5 times a week… I’m afraid this lower excercise will affect my pcos… can u please tell me if excercise so crucial if I’m not overweight…

    1. Ani,

      If your body fat percentage is at a healthy level I would suggest you focus on strength training. You will put on some healthy lean weight and improve your insulin sensitivity.

  6. I totally agree with that. I have been doing HIIT for the past 2 years and have seen tremendous differences at my body just with two sessions per week. It combines many different exercises, so the program is never boring. Also, due to its intensity it’s very efficient in relieving the every day stress.

  7. I have not tried HIIT however I don’t believe this is for me as I have knee issues therefore should only do low impact exercise. I do basic exercise at tge gym which is slowly helping me loose weight

    1. Dea,

      I have used HIIT with clients who have knee issues. We just had to find exercises that did not aggravate their injuries. For example, you could do medicine ball tosses or swim. Above all if it hurts don’t do it! No single workout is worth making an injury worse.

      1. I second that! HIIT can be done in the pool as well. I take an aqua fit class which uses the same principles. 🙂

  8. First, I’d like to say that I am 23 years old, (just got married 6 months ago!), and while my husband and I aren’t trying for a baby quite yet, we are both trying to be as proactive as possible in managing my PCOS. This blog has been an incredibly informative resource and has inspired me to make the lifestyle changes necessary to work towards natural pregnancy. It’s always been a dream of mine to become a mother and I now have the hope that it can come true.

    As for HIIT, I am also a newbie to the world of fitness and these techniques make it easy to motivate myself to get out there and get working. I’ve found that anyone can stand anything for 10 seconds. Learning to pace myself and push myself using these interval techniques has helped me get into a workout routine so that exercise doesn’t have to be so intimidating. I highly recommend these for anyone struggling to get on the work out train!

    1. Niana! I agree! I’ve already lost a considerable amount of weight and still feel that even just short 20-30min workouts in my livingroom continue to help. You don’t have to be a gym rat to get results for our PCOS.

  9. Just discovered this website, fantastic resource!

    I would definitely agree with the above article. Since starting Les Mills Body Combat two years ago (which is intense cardio with interval training), my PCOS symptoms have significantly improved and I have dropped a dress size! I’ve recently incorporated Body Pump into my gym regime and this has also helped alongside improving my diet. Going to cut out dairy now after reading the blog on here. Anyway, my point is exercise and diet are great weapons in the battle against PCOS!

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