HIIT is becoming ever more popular among gym fanatics and normal individuals looking to get healthy and fit. For the most part, many people enjoy lifting weights as well, so the question is, how often can you combine the two, and how do you combine the two.
Using a split routine and weights in the active rest interval of your HIIT routine, you can utilize them every time you work through a HIIT routine. This is because you will be working for different muscle groups each time. If you plan to use a leg-weighted HIIT routine, then the recommendation is once a week.
This article will look at what HIIT is and how it works along with common HIIT routines. Then it will look at weights and how they should be considered when exercises. Lastly, we will combine the two trying to understand when to utilize weights and how often in a HIIT routine.
What is HIIT?
HIIT refers to a type of exercise (training method) that is different from normal exercise in the gym. It is defined by doing a concise and quick burst of training followed by a period of rest that is timed (for the most part) or otherwise defined to be, depending on the training, an exercise that is not anaerobic.
Unlike other exercises that incorporate the aerobic energy system to help the body utilize energy, HIIT uses the anaerobic system. This is what makes HIIT fundamentally different from other training methods.
HIIT will typically work your body very hard very quickly, and your heart rate should be working at approximately 80% of its maximum. This is crucial because at this heart rate this is where your body will move from using the aerobic energy system to the anaerobic energy system. It is important to note that even though you do get typical hit workouts (which we will discuss), everybody is different and will need to tailor a workout to their body accordingly because of their fitness level.
The most important thing to remember is that HIIT is about pushing your body to the maximum limit and then recovering so you can push it again. Check out this video here that enforces this.
Other forms of exercise like swimming, running, cycling, and so on are considered cardio exercise (aerobic exercise). Your heart rate here will typically be around 70% which means you can do this type of exercise for a sustained period of time. In some cases, even hours.
Let’s take a look at the energy systems and how they work differently from one another so we can better understand how HIIT works and then relate them to weights.
Anaerobic vs. aerobic exercise
The anaerobic system creates energy for the body in short bursts and does not utilize oxygen in order to create energy as with aerobic exercise. When the blood is unable to provide enough oxygen to the muscles, stored ATP in the muscles is used. One thing to note is that this type of energy system can only be used for about 30 seconds (because that’s how much stored energy the body has at hand) before it needs to rest and recharge.
A typical exercise or sport that would utilize the anaerobic system is soccer, where the participants use short bursts of sprints to move across the field at lightning speed and then slow down to a jog.
Another factor to understand when it comes to HIIT is that a byproduct is produced when this energy system is used. This byproduct is lactic acid. No doubt, if you have exercised before, especially if you are unfit, you would have felt it. Lactic acid is the cause of cramps, muscle fatigue, and soreness.
The aerobic energy system uses oxygen to give the body energy and creates ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) in order to do so. Besides ATP, the body also will break down fat, carbohydrates, and proteins depending on how to fit and how much energy can be made with oxygen. As we mentioned, some forms of exercise that utilize the aerobic system are swimming, running, cycling, and so on.
Now that we understand the concept of HIIT let’s discuss weights for a moment because lifting weights is not just moving to the rack and trying to lift the heaviest dumbbell on the rack. There is a science to it, and that’s why most individuals actually never achieve the results they want in the gym even after spending years exercising.
I have discussed the concept of weights in a few of my other articles here, which take into consideration what your goals are and how you should be lifting. Still, we will consider these factors more theoretically because we need to combine them with HIIT.
The first thing you need to understand is that no matter what weight you are lifting in terms of how heavy it is and no matter what body part (muscles) you are working on, you have to always go to failure.
This also extends to all forms of training, such as training for muscle mass, strength, endurance, or toning. No matter what your goals, you always, for every single set, have to use a weight accommodating your training goals and then do repetitions to a correct range to failure.
Then depending on your goals, you will do a specific amount of repetitions if you want to achieve muscle tone, strength, size, or endurance.
Check out my article here where I go over the number of repetitions you need in order to achieve the required results.
However, HIIT training incorporating weights might be a little be different so let’s take a look at what a typical HIIT workout would be.
Typical HIIT workout
There are many variations and many different routines that you can come up with regarding HIIT. The main thing to be aware of is that your heart rate must be working almost at its max during the exercise intervals. The recovery intervals will either be a more relaxed exercise, bringing your heart rate down or intervals of complete rest.
One type of HIIT routine is the 4-by-4 method from Norway, which involves a warm-up followed by four-minute intervals of heavy intensity training. Between those intervals, you will have a three-minute rest period of what they term active rest. A cooldown then follows this. Take note that this HIIT method only considers running.
Another prevalent method is the 10-by-1 method, where you will have 10 one-minute bursts followed by a recovery period interval of one minute each. What is great about HIIT is that you can swap out the exercises. So instead of running you can do cycling, or swimming or anything else. You just have to keep in mind that those intense intervals have to be working your heart rate almost at its max.
You still have to consider your fitness level and consider the workout regiment, changing it according to your fitness level.
Considering weights and HIIT
So we now know what HIIT is, what a typical workout will look like, and how you should lift weights. Now we have to look at combining HIIT and weights in order to understand how they work together. Then we can finally see how often you will be able to utilize HIIT and weights together.
We have to understand that trying to lift weight for a sustained duration while working your heart rate almost at its max (between 80 and 90 percent) for a sustained period (an interval) will be difficult to achieve.
There are situations where you will be able to do this with other forms of weight, for instance, tractor tire rolls. That is where you pick up a tractor tire, roll it over, and then do it again, pushing the tractor tire over a specific distance. Another two are squats or leg press. You might be asking, well, why those? Well, that is because those exercises or any that utilize your quads and glutes will make it much easier to elevate your heart rate. That is because to work your body in terms of cardiovascular exercise, your glutes and quads are a prerequisite. Thus, if you do weighted exercises with the correct weight that incorporate those muscles, you will achieve those high-intensity intervals. However, this won’t be easy.
However, utilizing normal weights and weight exercises, for example, bicep curls, will make it difficult for you to elevate your heart rate to 80%. Furthermore, suppose you do manage to get your heart rate to that level. In that case, you still need to consider that you have to maintain that heart rate level for the interval duration. Then it would help if you also took into consideration muscle fatigue which will happen in under 20 seconds. This means that utilizing weights for the high-intensity intervals won’t be possible for the most part.
This is why the high-intensity intervals of HIIT focus mainly on a very intense cardiovascular exercise like sprints or fast cycling. Some form of cardio that can elevate your heart rate to its max and sustain it there.
Check out this article where these principles are outlined.
We will take a look at leg-weighted exercises for HIIT but let’s first consider normal-weighted exercises.
You will incorporate normal weighted exercises, including leg exercises in your intervals of active rest (you rest intervals). Also, you can choose to have your weighted active rest interval not to have an additional rest period (which will be more difficult), or you can choose for it to have one, meaning you will relax after you have finished exercising with the weights trying to recover for your next high-intensity interval.
For example, you will sprint flat out for one minute (or for as long as you can) and then do chest press to failure if you intend to work chest. Take note that you will not and would not look to build muscle strength and size when doing HIIT because the amount of energy expenditure your body is going through won’t allow this to take place, plus the fact is you will be too weak to lift the sufficient amount of weight in order for sufficient muscle growth or strength gains. This means you should opt for a moderate weight and try to make it to around 10 repetitions. Remember that is to failure.
This is the optimum way to incorporate HIIT with weights. Take a look at this video where you can utilize these exercises with weights for your active rest period.
Considering leg weighted HIIT exercise exercises and routines
We said that it was possible to achieve your max heart rate by doing leg weighted exercises because these would allow us to use our cardiovascular system as well as the required muscles.
If you intend to achieve your max heart rate by doing leg weighted exercises, keep in mind that it is going to be very difficult. That is because not only are you going to be working at your max heart rate, but you will also need to consider muscle fatigue which will not be such a problem with exercises like sprinting and fast cycling.
The weight would have to be so light enough for you to push through as many repetitions as you need to in 30 seconds or one minute but heavy enough for you to hit your max heart rate 5 seconds into the exercise. This means you are going to be going relatively quickly with moderately heavy weight because your legs are a strong muscle group.
If done correctly, you probably won’t be able to stand or walk after this interval, and you will use your rest period as a complete recovery period. Furthermore, you will probably have to lower the weight for the subsequent intervals because this type of training will fatigue not only your cardio system but your leg muscle very quickly.
So how often can you do HIIT with weights?
Considering the first HIIT method were we incorporate weights in our active rest interval, and if you are utilizing a split routine (a routine where different body parts are worked on different days), you could do HIIT with weights every time you go to the gym. This is because you would be training different muscle groups every time.
For example, you would do HIIT and chest one day, then HIIT and back the next, and so on. Keep in mind that HIIT is a very tiring form of exercise so I would not recommend that you do it every day. I would recommend substituting other training methods on different training days and keeping HIIT to three times a week, also considering rest days (days off from the gym). That is because your body needs rest to recover, and most people don’t ever want to acknowledge this. With the correct exercise routine and sufficient rest, you will see the best results.
If we have to consider leg-weighted HIIT exercise routines, I would only recommend this once a week and no more. If you are going to the gym on a regular basis, then as I said, you should be incorporating different training methods and not just HIIT. This will ensure that besides the leg HIIT routine, you are also working your legs, and this could be done with cardio, weighted exercises, or other training methods such as CrossFit.
Furthermore, training HIIT with leg-weighted exercises will tire your legs out sufficiently that exercises this way will not allow you to do it more than once a week. If you find yourself being able to, then you did not do that HIIT routine correctly.
We discovered that HIIT is a specific training method that uses a different energy system from typical exercise and that the energy system is the anaerobic energy system.
This energy system uses stored ATP and not oxygen to fuel the body with energy, and HIIT focuses on this by incorporating workouts that consist of high-intensity intervals followed by rest periods.
We also discovered that there is a specific way to lift weight in order to achieve goals such as muscle mass, strength, endurance, and tone; however, when combined with HIIT, you will most likely be using a weight that is suited between toning and endurance. that means a 10 rep max to failure.
To incorporate HIIT with weights, we also said that weights needed to be included in the rest or active rest interval of a HIIT routine because trying to get our heart rate to work at its max by lifting weights for a sustained period of time would be difficult.
The only way this is possible is to use leg weighted exercise, but this HIIT routine is not for the faint of heart and should only be attempted by the very fit and should only be done once a week.
We conclude that if you use a split routine, you can practically use weights every time you do a HIIT workout, but you should limit your HIIT workouts to three times a week because of its strain on your body.