High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become a familiar workout style. HIIT uses repeated high-intensity exercise bouts interspersed with brief recovery periods to improve endurance and efficiently activate fast-twitch muscle fibers. But what if you're a bodybuilder who avoids cardio because you're afraid it will burn away all those hard-earned gains? Can HIIT work for you?
In a word, yes! In a 2017 study, men 25-70 years of age who performed 12 weeks of HIIT along with strength training experienced increases in VO2 max, insulin sensitivity, mitochondrial function, fat-free mass, and muscle strength. HIIT improved the oxidative capacity, or efficiency, of mitochondria regardless of age—as long as study participants did strength training and HIIT together. Participants who did strength training alone didn't experience these benefits.
HIIT: Something for Everyone
If you're a bodybuilder, HIIT can help you with quick fat loss for a more shredded look. If you compete as a strongman or woman, you can use HIIT to train your fast-twitch muscle fibers to excel at atlas stone carries, yoke walks, and log cleans. Powerlifters can use it to beef up their initial pull for the deadlift.
You can make these improvements by using a variety of exercises while doing short HIIT workouts in the middle of or after your weightlifting program. All you need is your body weight, some space, and, if you're feeling adventurous, some simple equipment.
Squats, burpees, lunges, sit-ups, and push-ups—and the dozens of variations of each—are essential parts of a HIIT workout. You can also incorporate sandbags, kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, and resistance bands.
A Typical HIIT Workout for Strength Trainers
A typical HIIT workout has 5-8 exercises performed for 30-60 seconds each, interspersed with 20-30 second rest periods. While bodyweight exercises are all you need to get an awesome interval workout, strength athletes may want to use weights in at least half the exercises in their HIIT workout. Lifters should also have 2-3 exercises that target the upper body during HIIT, which tends to go heavy on the legs.
To make that theory real, here's a sample, two-part, timed HIIT workout for lifters. Four of the exercises target your arms, two work your abdominals, and six hit your entire body. Get the fat-burning and endurance improvements from complex movements like the burpees and swings, while still getting a good pump from the curls and dips.
For a totally-awesome, leave-no-muscle-untorched day, fit one or two parts of this workout into your daily routine. With super-short rests between exercises, it shouldn't take you much more than a half-hour to knock out all 12 exercises.
Making Your HIIT Fit
So, how exactly do you fit HIIT into your daily gym sessions? Say it's chest day and you plan on starting with a barbell bench press before moving on to incline dumbbell presses, dumbbell flyes, and neutral-grip dumbbell bench presses. After the first four exercises, including the barbell bench press, do a 10-minute timed circuit of full-body exercises. You'll improve your aerobic capacity and burn fat, all while making serious size gains.
In the above workout, do two exercises as straight sets, followed by a superset. Then, hop right into a 10-minute workout, where the goal is to do as many rounds of possible of three exercises, resting as needed during those 10 minutes. Once you finish the AMRAP, there's another superset, followed by two cable cross-over variations. It's all about getting optimal muscle growth while keeping your heart rate and calorie burning high.
1. Robinson, M. M., Dasari, S., Konopka, A. R., Johnson, M. L., Manjunatha, S., Esponda, R. R., ... & Nair, K. S. (2017). Enhanced protein translation underlies improved metabolic and physical adaptations to different exercise training modes in young and old humans. Cell Metabolism, 25(3), 581-592.