The Ultimate HIIT Workout for Maximum Strength Gains

High intensity interval training (HIIT) isn’t just for weight loss, buddy. This form of training, when properly utilized, can increase strength capacity and endurance.

In short, HIIT alternates bursts of intense anaerobic exercise (think sprinting, jumping and heavy weight lifting) with less-intense recovery periods. Those anaerobic bursts call for movement output to be near a 90% intensity, while the recovery period hovers around a 50% intensity. A HIIT workout can run anywhere from 4 to 30 minutes.

While those heavy lifting bursts rely on adenosine triphosphate (ATP) stores in the muscle, that recovery period is going to call for some serious cardio capability, as oxygen uptake is needed to replenish ATP for the next burst. So let’s look at the cardio component of HIIT first.

If you’re the type of guy who thinks cardio endurance has no place in strength training; well, you may want to get yourself into burpee position, take a deep breath, and think again. Research has shown that movements which increase maximal oxygen consumption, like those burpees you should be sprawling through, in turn increase strength capacity and endurance.

Two men running on treadmill doing HIIT workout

Two men running on treadmill doing HIIT workout | iStock.com

Here’s how it works: When you’re hitting it hard with the reps and sets, not to mention load, your muscles are burning through ATP and ultimately oxygen, crucial energy sources. Researchers at Eastern Kentucky University found that up to 80% of the oxygen held by hemoglobin surging through the blood vessels is released to replenish muscle fibers during exercise. Now once that reserve of oxygen in the hemoglobin starts to run low, you know what’s going to happen, those muscles you’ve been pumping are going to fatigue, halting intended strength gains.

So essentially, if you were able to draw more oxygen into the cardiovascular system, the more oxygen you’d be able to channel through the capillary blood vessels and to the muscle. Simple enough. But how exactly can you increase the oxygen uptake? Ah, now this is where HIIT comes in for you strength trainers.

Keep in mind, those blood vessels you’re relying on to transport all of this oxygen need to be in good form — strong and free of any plaque buildup, which fortunately can be achieved with heart pumping cardio work. But being that a straight up cardio routine has the potential to sacrifice strength and muscle, a HIIT routine that incorporates heavy lifting that has you working near your max-rep range (that’s the most weight you can lift for one rep) for strength capacity followed by steady body weight reps or cardio for endurance is perfect.

A common formula involves a 2:1 ratio of work to recovery periods. So you’d be looking at 30 to 40 seconds of heavy overhead presses (maybe just 10 reps) alternated with 15 to 20 seconds of overhead medicine ball throws. When placed in a circuit aimed at full body, you might follow those throws up with an anaerobic movement such as by 30 to 40 seconds of loaded back squats alternated with 15 to 20 seconds of bodyweight squats.

The ultimate HIIT workout for strength gains

If you’ve got some strength goals you’ve been sleeping on, we’d suggest kicking off your next workout with our Ultimate HIIT Workout for Strength Gains. All you need is 12 minutes, a few weights, a medicine ball and some real commitment.

Time: 10 minutes

Equipment: Timer, Loaded Barbells, Dumbbells, Medicine Ball, Exercise Mat, Open Space

This will be a full body workout, enabling you to simultaneously strengthen the upper and lower body, while increasing cardio endurance.

group of three people doing jumping jacks in the park on a beautiful day

Group of three people doing jumping jacks in the park on a beautiful day | iStock.com

1-Minute Warm-Up

2 Rounds at a moderate pace, just enough to slightly elevate heart rate:

  • 50 jumping jacks
  • 25 side to side twists
  • 25 straight leg kicks
  • 25 side to side twists
  • 50 jumping jacks
  • 25 oblique side stretches
  • 25 squats
  • 25 oblique side stretches
  • 30 multi directional lunges (10 forward, 10 side, 10 reverse)

8-Minute HIIT Circuit

Dumbbell chest press

Dumbbell chest press | iStock.com

2 Rounds:

  • 30 – 40 Barbell Chest Press
  • 15 – 20 Bodyweight Push Ups
  • 15 – 20 High Knees
  • 30 – 40 Seconds Kettlebell Swings
  • 15 – 20 Seconds Bodyweight Reverse Lunge
  • 15 – 20 Russian Twists
  • 30 – 40 Barbell Overhead Press
  • 15 – 20 Medicine Ball Overhead Throws
  • 15 – 20 High Knees
  • 30 – 40 Goblet Squats
  • 15 – 20 Bodyweight Squats
  • 15 – 20 Russian Twists

1-Minute Cool Down

1 round of warm-up at a slow, almost stretching, pace

Ellen Thompson is a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness in New York City, where she serves as head trainer at the Penn Plaza location. Ellen’s approach to training is that “anything is possible.” Endurance, strength, and stability/agility training are at the core of her fitness programming. She holds a master’s degree in New Media Publishing and Magazine Editing from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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