High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is increasingly becoming one of the most popular workouts due to its efficacy in weight loss, boosting heart health, and improving endurance. HIIT workouts are not new, but they have gained more prominence in gyms, classes, and studios in recent times. This type of exercise has proven to torch through fat faster as opposed to comparable cardio. Combining HIIT workouts with weights becomes even more effective not only in losing weight but in building and maintaining muscle as well.
Deciding to do good HIIT workouts with hand weights calls for total commitment because the high-intensity interval training is exactly as it sounds. Be ready for quick bursts of very demanding exercises accompanied by brief periods of rest. One of the most significant advantages of HIIT workouts is that they burn fat effectively and within a short time.
What Is High-intensity Interval Training?
It is a form of interval training that consists of intense exercise which is alternated with recovery. It is a cardiovascular (relating to heart health) exercise. The high-intensity part of the exercise lasts anywhere from 15-30 seconds to five minutes and has around five to eight rounds (2).
How HIIT Workouts Work For Weight Loss?
What are HIIT workouts? When the body works out at high intensities that can only be sustained for limited periods of time, oxygen stores are depleted, and muscles are forced to build up lactic acid quickly. Upon finishing the exercise, the body has to build those oxygen stores back up and eliminate the lactic acid.
This process is referred to as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). The process elevates body metabolism for several hours after completing the workout.
Can HIIT Be Done With Weights?
On its own, HIIT already sounds like a killer cardio workout; hence many people will not want to add weights to the equation. Is it ok to do HIIT workouts with weights? HIIT can be done with weights, and the combination is undoubtedly among the most effective ways to maximize fat burn and, at the same time, improve heart health (2).
Doing HIIT training workouts with weights calls for safety, which is why you will be required to exercise caution. It should not be done every day, and the workout routine has to be switched up every couple of months. The good thing is that it will be worth the hard work since you get out what you put in. The benefits of combining HIIT with weights include:
- Burning more calories. The combination of HIIT with weights offers the body calorie burn that goes beyond the brief period one is out of breath during the exercise resulting in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
- Losing fat while keeping muscle. Engaging in cardio without taking into consideration any strength training will result in both fat loss and muscle loss. Too much cardio potentially slows metabolism because of losing lean muscle mass. Chances of this happening are higher with calorie restriction.
- Boosting health benefits. Cardio and strength training are perfect for heart health (3). Both exercises can improve circulation, help lower blood pressure, reduce triglyceride levels and increase HDL cholesterol, sometimes referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol.
- Less time, more productivity. Resistance training helps improve muscular fitness in less than half the time required to achieve the same result in regular resistance training. It means the HIIT option can accommodate even a busy schedule.
Different Types Of HIIT With Weights
There is a risk of the exercise becoming boring despite lasting for only 20 minutes. Luckily, there are different types of HIIT with weights, thus making it more interesting as you get to try new things with time. The different ways of achieving cardio with weights may vary from adding cardio between the weight sets, and compound exercise to lifting heavier lifts with shorter rests. Some of the types of HIIT workouts with weights include:
Strength training with cardio in between
What is HIIT cardio? It is one of the best HIIT workouts for women with no weights and includes a standard strength training workout but with the addition of intervals of cardiovascular exercise (jump rope, jumping jacks, running in place) in between each set. It is up to you to take a break of about 20-30 seconds or continue alternating between the strength and cardio without rest. One example of strength training with cardio in between is two minutes of chest exercises and then thirty seconds of running as fast as you can in place.
A compound exercise is one in which multiple muscle groups are worked simultaneously, making it one of the perfect HIIT workouts for men with weights. The aim is to help the body achieve maximum effort because more muscles are working, thus considerably elevating the heart rate.
Compound exercises may be in the form of a single exercise that works different muscle groups (deadlifts, squats, push-ups, lunges) or a combination of two exercises into one movement (lunge with a bicep curl, deadlift with tricep kickback, squat with the overhead press). A perfect example of a compound exercise is when you squat with weights, and then as you lift, you do an overhead press.
This strategy involves lifting heavier weights for fewer sets, and it is a guarantee for quicker gains as opposed to lighter weights for more sets. Workouts with heavier lifts increase the rate at which the body builds muscle. This is because the higher the load, the more the body maximizes strength adaptations. Ensure to push your body close to your fatigue level and then take short rests.
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Key Considerations When Doing HIIT Workouts With Weights
There must be a plan in place when doing any form of body training. The success of HIIT workouts with weights at home depends on not only doing it effectively but safely as well, because you do not want to injure your body in the process.
Know the limit beyond which you cannot push your body, and that is where you should take a break. You are always advised to consult with a physician before commencing on an intensive exercise such as HIIT (1). Below are some of the things to take note of when you want to know how to do HIIT:
1. Safety is paramount
In the programming stages of the exercise, you ought to focus on effectiveness, time-efficiency, and safety. The likelihood of injuries is higher, especially because you will be using heavier weights which is why you should obtain and maintain proper form. Avoid any distractions during workouts and focus on your body alignment. How can one ensure a safe HIIT workout with weights?
Develop a habit of engaging in warm-up exercises before you begin your workout. A warm-up is meant to prepare the body’s muscles and mind for the workout that is about to follow. During the warm-up, ensure you focus on the muscle group that you will be working. If, for example, you will be doing a HIIT based arm workout, then the perfect warm-up will be doing arm circles and modified push-ups.
Focus on form
Nothing good can come out of poor form other than injuries and slow gains. It is of the essence to align your body properly and make your movements smooth throughout the exercise. If by any chance you start straining or feel pain in an area of your body and it is not general muscle fatigue of the area that you are working out, then the only conclusion is that your form is off.
Start with lower weights
The cardinal rule with HIIT workouts with weights is that you start with the lower ones and then progress gradually to the heavier ones. This should be the case if you are new to using dumbbells; hence you ought to practice proper form. Emphasis should be put on slow movements, slow lifting, and controlled descents. Once your body gets used to the movement, then it is time to go to the next level.
2. It should not be done daily
There is a reason why it is called intensive training. Your body should be given time to recover. Although very effective, HIIT puts your body under a lot of stress. Remember that your body will be working at 85-95% of VO2Max (the maximum amount that your heart, lungs, and muscles use oxygen).
As a result, stress hormones, the likes of adrenaline and cortisol are increased. Doing too much HIIT with weights increases the risk of potentially weakening the immune system, making you vulnerable to diseases. The recommendation is that you do HIIT not more than two to four times per week and maintain at least 24-48 hours between the exercise sessions.
These intervals are meant to help the body replenish energy stores and also repair muscles. If you have to exercise a day after the HIIT session, let the exercise be low to moderate intensity while using different muscle groups or movements. Ensure the body gets adequate hydration and pre and post-workout nutrition to recover, build muscle, and avoid injury properly (2).
3. Switch it up every couple of months
HIIT with weights may be an intense workout, but the best way to continue achieving gains and seeing results is by slowly working harder as time goes by. If you don’t increase the level of intensity, then your body muscles will adapt to the workout and make it difficult to gain any transformation. If you find the workout you have been doing no longer challenging, then it is time to switch things up a bit.
The duration after which you should switch things up can vary depending on your body type, body needs, type of exercise, and other external factors. But six weeks should be a perfect duration based on the FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time, & Type) principle:
- Frequency. How often you do your workout. If, for instance, you are doing the HIIT workouts with weights once per week, switch it up to twice but don’t exceed four times in a week.
- Intensity. How hard you work out. Gradually increase your weights by a couple of pounds.
- Time. The duration of your workout. Gradually increase the amount of time you are doing your highest intensity, for instance, from 20 to 25 seconds.
- Type. The mode/format of the workout activity. Continue adding an endurance exercise to your workout, such as a long walk to your weekly routine.
4. You get out what you put in
Getting into a routine is no problem as long as you are used to a workout. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable place where your heart beats fast, your legs burn, you sweat heavily, and you feel like you are almost gasping for air, that is the point in which your body starts to experience true change.
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20-Minute Workout Sample: Dumbbell HIIT
The 20-minute workout: dumbbell HIIT sample includes a three-minute warm-up and seventeen minutes of intensive HIIT. It is a metabolic conditioning routine that is perfect for days of quick exercise fix.
Warm-up (3 minutes)
Each warm-up exercise should be performed for about 30 seconds, after which you move onto the next.
1. Jack with an alternating reverse lunge
In HIIT workouts with weights warm-up exercise, stand up with your feet hip-width apart and arms extended to the sides. Perform a jumping jack (Jump up and spread your feet beyond hip-width apart while bringing your arms above your head, nearly touching, and then jump again while lowering your arms and bringing your legs together. Return to your starting position and repeat the same)
As you return to the starting position, step your right leg back into a lunge (stand up tall, step forward with one foot until your leg reaches a 90-degree angle while your rear knee remains parallel to the ground and your front knee does not go beyond your toes. Lift your front lunging leg to return to the starting position and repeat several times) with both knees bent.
Press into the ball of your right foot to return to start and do the same process again but this time lunging back with the left leg. Do this repeatedly with alternating sides.
2. Alternating lateral lunge with ankle reach
Be in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart and arms by the sides. Lunge your right leg out to the right as you bend the right knee while keeping the left leg straight as you reach the left hand to touch your right ankle and extend the right arm upwards. Press into the ball of your right foot as you return to start as you repeat but this time lunging to the left. Repeat with alternating sides for 30 seconds.
3. Bodyweight squat into an inchworm
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart while toes are slightly turned to the side. Squat and bend knees 90 degrees and sink glutes downwards. At the lowest point of the squat, walk hands out to the front in plant position (palms under shoulder, abs engaged, and toes tucked under) and then perform a push-up. Walk the hands back to the squat position, press through heels, stand up and repeat the process for 30 seconds.
4. Dynamic beast with shoulder taps
Get on all fours with knees under hips and palms under shoulders. Tuck your toes under and lift a couple of inches above the ground. Keep your abs engaged and then move your hips back a few inches while bringing the chest near the things. Press through toes to return to ‘beast position’ followed by tapping the left shoulder with the right hand. Go lower and tap the right shoulder with the left hand and continue alternating the hip press and shoulder taps.
5. Jump squats
Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended sideways. Squat and then press into the balls of your feet to jump straight up into the air. Land softly in the squatting position and repeat the same process for 30 seconds.
6. High knees
While standing, spread your feet to be hip-width apart and bend your arms by the sides. Drive your left knee towards the chest, pressing your right arm forward; left arm back (as if running). Hop off the ball of the right foot and switch arms and legs mid-air, so that your right knee is bent in front of you, and your left arm is forward.
Dumbbell HIIT (17 minutes)
The HIIT workouts with weights should be performed as a circuit that involves completing each exercise in one minute and moving to the next immediately without rest. When finished, the rest duration should be a maximum of 90 seconds, after which you repeat the entire circuit.
1. Pulse squat into a curtsy lunge
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, lifting a heavy dumbbell in each hand while the arms are extended sideways. Bend the elbows by sides to bring weights up to shoulder-level in front of you, followed by squatting, sinking glutes while knees are bent at 90 degrees.
Pulse once in a squat position and then press through heels to stand back up. Lunge your left leg back and to the right of your right knee, then bend both knees and extend arms down by sides. Return to start, switch sides and repeat.
2. V-sit with chest fly
Sit with your legs lifted and bent in a tabletop position in front of you. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand and keep your abs engaged, torso tall, chest open. Arms should be extended at shoulder-level in front of you and palms facing each other. With your shoulders down, elbows bent slightly, and the lower body stable, extend the arms sideways to shoulder-level and squeeze through the chest as you return to start. Repeat.
3. Push-up to single-arm front raise
Begin at plank position. Abs should be engaged and holding light dumbbells under shoulders while the palms face inwards. Do a push-up with your elbows by the sides and then extend the left arm straight up to the shoulder-level in front of you. Lower the arm as you repeat while switching sides alternatingly.
4. Star jack with a single dumbbell
Stand and spread your legs to hip-width apart. Grasp a light dumbbell horizontally with both hands close to the chest while your elbows are bent to the sides. Bend your knees and then jump legs out to sides as you press arms straight overhead. Jump the legs back to the centre as you bend elbows and lower the dumbbell to the chest. Repeat.
5. Single-leg deadlift into reverse lunge/bicep curl
Stand upright and spread feet to be hip-width apart. Grasp a heavy dumbbell in each hand and extend the arms in front of your thighs but the palms should be facing backwards. Lift the right leg to the hip level behind you while slightly bending your left knee and then hinge forward from the hips. The back should be kept flat, and the hips square as you lower the upper body towards the ground and lowering the arms in front of the shins.
6. Renegade row with tricep extension
Lay in a plank position with legs extended and your back flat. Grip two light dumbbells under your shoulders with your palms facing in. Your abs should be engaged as you pull the right elbow straight up to shoulder-level and then extend your arm behind you. Reverse the movement to start with the right hand under the right shoulder. Repeat the HIIT workouts with weights as you switch sides.
7. Bridge with chest press
Lie on the ground facing up with your knees bent so that your feet are flat and hip-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in each hand as you bend elbows to the sides at shoulder-level. While squeezing through your glutes, lift your hips upwards slowly to form a diagonal line from knees to shoulders. Move your arms over the chest and then bend elbows back. Repeat the process while your hips are lifted throughout.
8. Weighted speed skaters
Stand upright and spread your feet to be hip-width apart. Hold a light dumbbell horizontally with both hands. Extend your arms in front of the thighs. Lift the left leg as you bend the right knee and then spring off the ball of the right foot to jump over to the left while bending the elbows and bringing the dumbbell up to the chest.
Land on your left foot with the knee slightly bent and the right leg extended diagonally behind and to the left of your left foot as you extend your arms and lower the dumbbell to the outside of the left knee. Switch sides and repeat.
The Bottom Line
Physical fitness and health are not things that can be taken for granted, and it is for that reason that many people are turning to HIIT. Working out at high intensities is something that cannot be sustained for prolonged periods, and that is why it should be alternated with rest or low-intensity exercises. At the end of it all, you will be in love with the results, because you will have achieved your fitness goals in no time.
Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): Definition and Research Implications for Improved Fitness (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- High-intensity interval training induces a modest systemic inflammatory response in active, young men (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Physical Activity and Your Heart (2013, nhlbi.nih.gov)