I always get nervous when people tell me they want to incorporate any type of extra activity on top of their resistance training program. Before I continue this article I can’t state enough how important it is that, before anything else (cardio, HIIT, etc) if your goal is to gain strength, or look bigger, then resistance training 2-3 days a week MUST be the priority. What I mean by that is when considering adding anything on TOP of this you must pay attention to your recovery. If adding other activities hinders your performance on any of these days, or causes your strength to go down, or life outside the gym (sleep, energy) to decline then it is not worth adding on. You are no longer optimizing your body.
Just because your body CAN handle extra work, doesn’t mean you are getting more out of it.
What Adding HIIT to Your Workouts Means
If you add HIIT training to your workout keep in mind you risk your body's ability to repair. The issue is IN the name. It is high intensity. So for starters, we don’t want to be doing any type of HIIT program for more than 4-6 weeks at a time without taking a break to let your body catch up on recovery.
It should also replace a resistance training day if you decide you want to go this route. I find I only usually use it for myself or for my clients if they are tight on time but still want to get an effective muscle building stimulus in a short amount of time. By incorporating it this way, you are still growing muscle, and not just working on your endurance. It is meant for fat loss, and muscle retention. You can do it as a standalone at 2-3 days a week, but then this would mean putting regular resistance training to the side for that time period. Consider it its own phase.
HIIT with Weights vs Cardio
When designing a HIIT workout, forget about what you see influencers promoting and inexperienced trainers at the gym. Everyone likes to do a hundred box jumps, jumping jacks, and kipping up pull-ups. If that’s the route you want to go then you are basically stating you prefer working on your aerobic capacity over maintaining your strength. That is totally fine and a goal you most certainly can have, but just realize, if aerobic capacity is your goal, there are way better workouts than throwing a bunch of high impact movements that’ll destroy your body.
Using weights won’t send as strong a signal to allow the muscle to grow, but it’ll send a stronger one than just doing bodyweight. This should be most people’s goal anyways whether it’s fat loss or just staying in shape. We may not want to be Mr. Olympia, but we should all want to build or at least maintain the current muscle we have on our bodies.
The other beauty of utilizing resistance training movements is it allows you to much more easily modify the workout. Form takes priority over everything else. All you would need to do is lower the weight if the exercise starts sacrificing your form, or you find yourself gassing too early on.
A Sample HIIT Workout
This is just a general guideline. Pick 3-5 exercises, and a timer set to 15-25 minutes depending on your capacity. Opt for the lower end if you are new to this. Choose a weight that allows you to complete 20-25 reps because as you go through a round of circuits, you will get tired very quickly, and the weights will eventually drop down to a rep range that you may be more used to. Rest 20 seconds between each exercise, and go through as many rounds as you can fit within the allotted time. Make sure you have CONTROL over the movement. It should take you 1 second to move the weight up, 2 seconds to hold it in a contracted position, and 2 seconds to lower it. Do as many reps until your form starts to suffer and you can no longer keep that pace.
A sample can look as follows (all done with a barbell or dumbbells):
Bent Over Row
Give that a try, and see how well you do. If you’d like more details on how to properly construct an effective HIIT workout check out our MAPS HIIT Program.