We’re big fans of high intensity interval training (HIIT). It strengthens our hearts, builds endurance, and can be done just about anywhere. From running on the treadmill to gliding away on the elliptical, HIIT can be stacked with other forms of cardio for a quick and killer workout.
That said, HIIT and strength training might not initially make sense as a pair—and they shouldn’t always go hand-in-hand.
“Once you’re at a certain training level, HIIT is HIIT, and strength is strength. There are different energy systems involved,” explains Aaptiv trainer Mark Sayer.
Basically, each type of exercise focuses on different systems in the body. Strength training zeroes in on your muscles, while HIIT largely targets your heart rate (this tracker is our favorite).
This, of course, doesn’t mean that HIIT can’t target your muscles and vice versa. This also doesn’t mean that these exercise styles can’t be merged.
But to really target either part, you want to work them alone more often than together. However, if you already do this and find that you’re short on time or that your strength workouts are getting lackluster, test the HIIT and strength training waters.
Read on to see how you can take your strength session to a higher intensity.
Take shorter rests.
The goal of HIIT is to elevate your heart rate quickly. This is usually done by performing short bursts of high-intensity activity, followed by a brief resting period.
You repeat this format throughout your workout, with your heart constantly adjusting to new intensities. Typically, in between weight lifting sets, you’ll take a short rest.
According to Sayer, the easiest way to work HIIT into your strength routine is “to shorten the rests.” This will keep your heart rate from falling into full-on break mode.
Add cardio between sets.
If shortening your rests isn’t doing it for you, go a step further and turn those rests into cardio sets.
“If I’m between structured programs and I want to have a workout that gets both a good sweat in and a pump, I love taking a typical bodybuilding workout and then just adding one minute of jump rope after each set,” Sayer explains.
Then, depending on the size of the muscles being worked, he’ll take a 15- to 30-second rest (when working larger muscles, such as lower body muscles) or no rest at all (when working smaller ones, such as the biceps).
During these cardio sets, you can do anything that gets your heart racing. Try jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or burpees.
Check out Aaptiv’s cardio workouts here.
Use movement patterns.
“[Working] larger and more muscles burns more calories and require[s] more oxygen. So focus on compound movements,” Sayer says. “Push-pull is a classic pattern, for example. This way, your pressing muscles rest while the pulling muscles work and vice versa. And your heart is pumping blood the whole time,” he explains.
Working more muscles in this way will not only build your overall strength but raise your heart rate in a way similar to classic HIIT.
Alternate between simple strength training moves like bicep curls (pull) and an overhead press (push). Other examples could be going from a bench press (push) to a back row (pull).
“For your lower and upper body, try 30 seconds of kettlebell swings, 15 seconds rest, and then 30 seconds of push-ups,” Sayer says. Keep the pattern going throughout your workout to target more muscles and challenge your heart and lungs. Minimal adjustments with maximum benefits? We’ll take it.
Do weighted movements.
If you’re strength training, chances are that you’re going to use a weight (or several). Rather than perform your typical sitting or standing weighted movements, focus on ones that involve more movement.
Kettlebells are ideal, here. Kettlebell swings, in particular, are great for quickly raising your heart rate. Performing a few sets of these targets your muscles and keeps you moving—and therefore, keeps your heart and lungs really working.
Other moves, like the clean and press, will have the same high-intensity effect. When sticking to kettlebells (or any other type of weight) you can quickly and easily move between different exercises, avoiding rest for too long.
The same idea could be applied to free weights, barbells, and similar equipment. Just make sure that you’re performing moves you’ve done before or that you’ve taken the time to practice in front of a mirror.
Ready to try a HIIT workout with Aaptiv? Check out the audio-fitness experience here.