Look, you can run on the treadmill until your legs fall off if you want. But us? We’re declaring an end to the tyranny of steady-state cardio and are planting our flag squarely in the camp of high-intensity interval training. Numerous scientific studies and years of anecdotal reports show that HIIT trumps steady-state cardio (i.e., jogging for 30 minutes straight — or longer) for dropping fat. And not only is HIIT great for fat loss, but it also can help you build muscle mass and power. That is, when you do a novel form of HIIT called Power HIIT. Trust us: You will never think of cardio the same.
High-intensity interval training involves doing short intervals of intense exercise (usually anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds) interspersed with short intervals of rest or light exercise. For example, a typical running HIIT workout might involve sprinting at a very fast pace for 30 seconds, followed by walking for 15 seconds and repeating these intervals until 15 to 30 minutes have elapsed. Or another example might be jumping rope for one-minute intervals and resting for 30-second intervals and again repeating these intervals for 15 to 30 minutes.
HIIT is enormously versatile. Workouts can be done running on a track, path or treadmill or riding a bike or stationary cycle. They also can be done on an elliptical machine, on a flight of stairs, on a stair stepper, in a pool, with a jump-rope or with calisthenics. The possibilities are endless, making HIIT essentially excuse-proof. It lets you get in a quick and effective cardio workout anywhere and at any time.
But the biggest benefit to HIIT isn’t that it allows you to get out of the gym quicker. It’s that research shows that fat loss from HIIT programs is far greater than from steady-state cardio programs, even when the HIIT workouts were half as long in duration. The key appears to be the fact that the high-intensity exercise not only burns more calories during the workout but also keeps the body burning more calories and more fat long after the workout is over.
Feel the Power
But no matter how versatile HIIT is, most people still do it as a distinct workout, generally after they weight-train. Perhaps because HIIT remains a new concept, we’re still compelled to view cardio as a discrete type of exercise, one that is done in a rhythmic fashion, primarily with the legs, such as running, bicycling, using the stair stepper or elliptical machine, hiking, or rollerblading.
HIIT changes all that. Consider what it is — exercise involving short intervals of high-intensity exercise interspersed with short intervals of rest. Does that sound like any other type of exercise you do? Like, perhaps, weight training? In weight training, you do an interval of high-intensity exercise, such as the bench press, to muscle failure and follow it with a short interval of rest before doing the interval of high-intensity exercise (the lift) again. Because weight training is so similar to HIIT, we figured why not combine the two? And so we present Power HIIT.
Power HIIT involves doing short intervals of explosive exercises interspersed with short intervals of rest. The exercises include power cleans, snatches, jump squats and kettlebell swings, among others, all of which are typically executed in order to develop explosive power, strength and speed for sports performance. In Power HIIT, you will do a 1:1 ratio of exercise to rest, performing 20 seconds of the exercise (which typically allows for three to five reps), followed by 20 seconds of rest, and repeat. This ratio yields increases in muscle size, power, and strength and fat burning for a number of reasons.
As the term implies, explosive exercises are executed in a very fast and explosive manner. Consider the dumbbell power clean, in which you literally throw a pair of dumbbells from the floor to your shoulders. This type of movement forces the body to primarily recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, the ones that grow the biggest, strongest and fastest. So right there it’s easy to understand how using these exercises can help you build muscle and power. Fast-twitch muscle fibers also burn the most calories, which can help melt off more body fat. Plus, most Power HIIT exercises use a multitude of different muscle groups, which also ends up burning more calories.
Although regular HIIT usually calls for a 2:1 ratio of exercise to rest in order to maximize fat loss, using a 1:1 ratio of 20 seconds of exercise to 20 seconds of rest is important for maximizing muscle strength, power and size — and it will still maximize fat loss because the rest interval remains quite short. The 20-second exercise interval is important because it allows you to complete three to five reps, depending on the exercise. This rep range has been shown in research studies to be the optimal range for maximizing muscle power. Twenty-second rest periods are important because while you do want to allow your muscles as much time as possible to recover before the next set, you never want to rest longer than you exercise with HIIT.
The 1:1 work-to-rest ratio also helps boost testosterone levels. One study from New Zealand found that when competitive cyclists completed four weeks of HIIT training involving 30-second sprints on a stationary cycle separated by 30 seconds of rest (itself a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio) with either high pedal resistance (more power) or low pedal resistance, the subjects peddling against high resistance increased their testosterone levels by 100 percent, while the group peddling at light resistance only increased testosterone levels by 60 percent. So be sure to stick with this 1:1 ratio for maximizing all the benefits that Power HIIT offers.
To get you started, we’ve developed two full-body Power HIIT workouts. Because you’ll want to repeat this type of workout several times a week, you can alternate between the workouts without hitting the same exercises in the same order every time.
Both workouts A and B feature five exercises for three 20-second sets each (except in Workout B, which requires an extra set of woodchoppers). Add in the 20-second rest periods and each equals a total of 10 minutes. With the jump-rope warm-up, that’s a total of 15 minutes of intense cardio that not only burns fat and enhances cardiovascular fitness and health but also builds overall muscle strength, power and mass.
If your goal is to maximize muscle mass, strength and power and cardio is more an afterthought, then you can stick with the workouts at this duration. Focus on increasing the weight you use in the exercises and/or the number of reps you can bang out in those 20 seconds. However, if fat loss is your primary goal, then you’ll want to progressively bump up your total time of Power HIIT. So we’ve offered you two more stages in each workout to aim for. Each stage increases total workout time. Go at your own pace, and when the 15-minute workout no longer is much of a challenge, move on to Phase 2, which brings the total HIIT workout time to almost 20 minutes. Then, when that becomes less of a challenge, it’s time to really get serious and jump into Phase 3, which brings the total HIIT workout time to 25 minutes.
You can do Power HIIT either at the beginning or end of workouts, depending on your primary goal. If you’re using Power HIIT to boost muscle power and athletic performance, do Phase 1 before training with weights or on a separate day from your usual weight training altogether. If fat loss is the primary goal, do whichever phase you’ve reached at the end of your weight workouts or on a separate day from weights.
Power HIIT Workout
Stand with your feet about hip- to shoulder-width apart, arms hanging down by your sides. Maintain the natural arch in your lower back and keep your head directed forward. Bend at the knees and hips, letting your glutes track backward to drop quickly down into a squat position and immediately reverse the movement, driving up explosively through your feet to launch your body off the floor as high as possible. You can tuck your legs up or leave them straight below you, depending on what’s most comfortable. Just be sure that when your feet make contact with the floor again, you immediately bend at the ankles, knees and hips to drop into a squat position and absorb the impact. Reset your foot position and repeat.
Dumbbell Power Clean
Stand with your legs hip-width apart, with a set of dumbbells placed on either side of your feet. Squat down and grab the dumbbells with a neutral grip. Your torso should be bent forward from the hips about 45 degrees with your thighs almost parallel to the floor and your arms tensed and pulling on the dumbbells, ready to lift. Keep your abs pulled in tight and explosively drive through your heels to straighten your knees and bring your hips forward as you pull the dumbbells up. Once the dumbbells have cleared waist height, drop your body back down into a squat position, catching the dumbbells on top of your shoulders with your elbows pointing forward. Extend your knees and hips like you would in a front squat to stand straight up. Pause for a second, then lower the dumbbells back to the floor and repeat.
Set a kettlebell on the floor between your feet and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend at the knees and hips to grasp the kettlebell with your right hand using an overhand grip. In this start position, your legs and torso should be in a similar position to the start of the dumbbell power clean. Swing the kettlebell back between your legs behind you, then use your hips to swing it forward, bringing your arm straight over your head without bending your elbow. You should keep a firm yet loose grip on the kettlebell, allowing the bell to swing over to the back of your arm in the top position. Hold the top position for a second, then lower the kettlebell back to the floor and switch arms and repeat. Continue by alternating arms.
Connect two resistance bands with handles to a stable structure. Hold the bands securely in front of your shoulders and sprint as far forward as you can, as explosively as possible. Then quickly but carefully return to the start position and repeat in this fashion for 20 seconds. This exercise is similar to running up a hill that gradually increases in steepness; the further you sprint from the base, the more resistance the bands provide.
Assume the standard push-up position with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width, your palms flat on the floor. Your body should be in a straight line, with only your palms and toes touching the floor. Bend your elbows to bring your body toward the floor, then immediately reverse the movement by explosively pushing your palms into the floor to generate enough power to lift your hands off the floor. As soon as your hands make contact with the floor again, absorb the force of your bodyweight by bending your elbows again to lower your body into the bottom position of the push-up. Reset your hand position and repeat.
Stand in a shoulder-width stance with soft knees and elbows bent, holding a medicine ball in both hands over your chest. Bend your knees slightly into a shallow squat and explode upward, launching the ball into the air and letting your feet leave the ground. Let the ball bounce once to save your wrists, then catch it and reset to repeat.
Medicine-Ball Underhand Throw
This exercise is performed exactly the same as the overhead throw, only at the start position, cradle the medicine ball with both hands in front of your groin.
Medicine-Ball Reach and Slam
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees soft, with a medicine ball held in both hands at chest level. Keeping both hands on the ball, push the ball out to your right side, making sure the ball stays above shoulder level. Then bring the ball back in to the center and explosively slam it to the ground. Try to catch it on the bounce, bring it back to center and repeat to the left. Continue to alternate sides.