Tip: Choose Your Own HIIT

A funny thing happens when dedicated gym-goers disregard what their workout plans say and choose their own intensity. Take a look.

The Power of Choice

It's time for cardio. It's your second interval training workout for the week and your motivation as you approach the treadmill is low. The workout planned seems awful. You're dreading it. What do you do?

Easy. Just choose your intensity level, no matter what the workout plan says. You may end up going even harder. Check out this study.

The Study

Fourteen active people, seven men and seven women, took part. Each performed two HIIT (high-intensity interval training) sessions on a cycle ergometer: 8 one-minute efforts with one minute rest in between.

In one of the workouts, they were forced to work at 80% of peak power output. In the other workout, they were allowed to choose the percentage of peak power output that they felt corresponded to an RPE level of 7. RPE stands for "rate of perceived exertion." One feels super easy, 10 feels extremely challenging.

Heart rate, blood lactate, VO2, RPE, power, and exercise enjoyment was recorded.

The Results

  • Peak heart rate was higher in the self-selected intensity session than the forced intensity session.
  • Blood lactate, VO2, RPE, and power were all greater in the self-selected intensity session than the forced intensity session.
  • Exercise enjoyment was lower in the self-selected intensity session than the forced intensity workout.

What this Means to You

Active people go harder when they have the freedom to choose their intensity during HIIT sessions. On the flip side, they may enjoy it less.

However, a more trained population may have slightly different responses, especially when it comes to the enjoyment factor. In this study, only one person found self-selected intensity session more enjoyable than the imposed intensity session.

Auto-Regulation For the Win

Once again, auto-regulation seems to allow for greater intensity. When given the ability to choose, active people naturally choose to go harder... even at the expense of enjoyment.

Depending on your goals, determining intensity by "feel" during your HIIT workouts may benefit you. You'll train harder and get better results.


  1. Kellogg, E, Cantacessi, C, McNamer, O, Holmes, H, von Bargen, R, Ramirez, R, Gallagher, D, Vargas, S, Santia, B, Rodriguez, K, and Astorino, TA. Comparison of psychological and physiological responses to imposed vs. self-selected high- intensity interval training. J Strength Cond Res XX(X): 000–000, 2018
Shawn Wayland studied exercise science and human performance in an academic setting. He is a nationally ranked cyclist, with hands-on experience in strength and endurance training. Shawn is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, located in Southern California. Follow Shawn Wayland on Facebook