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Muscle Diet

Mark Gilbert BSc (Nutrition)
Mark is an expert in sports nutrition and dietary supplements. He has over 20 years of experience working with the biggest names in the bodybuilding industry.
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Can You Do HIIT with Weights?

If boring cardio machines aren’t for you, apply basic HIIT parameters to your favourite calisthenic or light weight movements

Just about everyone’s aware of the revolution that has overtaken how we do cardio training. That is, you can still sit on an exercise bike or walk on the treadmill for long periods doing low-intensity exercise, or, even better, you can use high-intensity interval training (HIIT) instead. With HIIT, you alternate short periods of very high intensity work with short recovery intervals, a protocol that burns more calories and more body fat and provides a greater cardiovascular benefit … all in lesstime!

What’s news is that HIIT training isn’t just for cardio machines anymore! You can apply the same techniques to calisthenic or light weight workouts to get the same benefits without ever having to step on a cardio machine. Let’s see how!

Critical Conditions

HIIT is one of the most important exercise revelations we’ve witnessed. But it’s not just restricted to the average or casual athlete; some forms of it can improve performance in already very highly trained athletes, with many more high-level long-distance runners and cyclists having adopted it over the last few years.

Let’s start by defining HIIT, since there seems to be a great deal of confusion. I’ve come up with one (based on all the published studies in which HIIT caused substantial losses of body fat): HIIT consists of a series of at least four intense intervals of at least 90 percent effort, where the intervals are from 20 to 60 seconds interspersed by slow/rest intervals that are between one and four minutes. As a rule of thumb, don’t start your next interval until your breathing rateis almost back to normal.

One other point about the research on HIIT is that almost all of the studies done on it have used cycle ergometers or treadmill running. (See my MuscleDiet YouTube videos for more details on how such protocols are set up.) So what does this mean for “other” forms of HIIT? Without question, HIIT targeting the legs and glutes is highly effective because those are the largest muscle groups of the body. But what about training focused only on the upper body? In fact, it appears HIIT is effective here as well. Studies in kayakers show that HIIT does improve fitness in the upper body similarly to what occurs with running and cycling.

However, no one can say for surethat doing HIIT with weights or calisthenics is as effective. Theoretically, if you can get the heart and breathing rate just as high, and you can produce a similar amount of lactate and deplete as much glycogen, then these forms would be expected to have the same effect.

You see, HIIT works in two main ways, and this is important. For one, it burns the calories from the exercise itself, which is pretty apparent. But unlike low-intensity exercise, high-intensity intervals result in raising your metabolism for the next 24 hours; that is, you increase your oxygen consumption above what it might have been. That oxygen is required for the body to burn body fat as fuel, so exercise scientists want to measure what’s called the “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). The problem is, unless breathing, heart rate, lactate and glycogen depletion are all similarlyaffected during these alternative types of HIIT workouts, we can’t be confident of getting the similar results.

Well, producing high lactate and burning off glycogen are fairly easy (albeit painful, the muscle-burning type of pain) to do, but what about breathing and heart-rate elevations? I’m just not sure it’s as easy to achieve similar bounces with weights or calisthenics as you can with cardio.

Therefore, the best alternate HIIT protocol is probably doing multi-joint movements that can be done with a high cadence. So things such as jumping squats, jumping lunges, medicine-ball throws, and kettlebell swings are likely to work best. Again, the key to this is 20 to 60 seconds of “high” level work, and don’t do your next intense interval until that breathing rate has come back down.

Follow the above-mentioned protocol for a minimum of four sequences, though you can certainly do more as your conditioning improves. With a warm-up and cool-down included, your workout doesn’t have to be longer than 25 to 30 minutes, tops.