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HIRT: High Intensity Resistance Training Guide

Meet the new HIIT.

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As a certified personal trainer, I am always looking for workouts that will help people build muscle, improve their body composition, and be somewhat fun (believe me…it’s possible!), in less time (hey, even I can admit we’d rather get on with our day!).

High-intensity interval training, more commonly referred to as HIIT workouts, are a great option for a training session to meet these goals, but for beginners and more advanced athletes who specifically hope to stimulate muscle growth to gain muscle mass, there’s an event better option: high-intensity resistance training or HIRT.

A lat pull-down HIRT exercise.

What Is HIRT?

HIRT, which stands for high-intensity resistance training, is a type of workout that involves performing strength training exercises at an all-out effort and then taking short rest periods before going again. 

You can do full-body workouts with HIRT or you can focus just on lower body muscle groups or upper body muscle groups in a HIRT session.

Examples of types of exercise used during HIRT workouts include squats, kettlebell swings, push-ups, deadlifts, lat pull-downs, split squats, and rows.

What Is the Difference Between HIRT and HIIT?

There’s quite a lot of overlap between high-intensity resistance training (HIRT) and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) but also differences between HIRT vs. HIIT as well.

In terms of similarities, both HIIT and HIRT are high-intensity workouts that involve alternating between performing bouts of vigorous intensity exercises and periods of rest with the goal of elevating your heart rate during the work periods to at least 85% of your maximum heart rate.

The purpose of the recovery periods is to give your body enough of a break that you can push it much harder during the “on” intervals than you would be able to during a steady-state workout with no breaks.

HIIT and HIRT are both intense, efficient, and effective workouts.

However, there are also notable differences between HIIT vs. HIRT.

HIRT workouts focus on performing repetitions of high-intensity weight training or high-intensity strength training exercises such as traditional weightlifting exercises like squats and deadlifts, metabolic strength training exercises like burpees and kettlebell swings, or plyometric exercises like depth jumps and jump squats.

Free weights (like dumbbells and barbells) or resistance bands are often used to add more resistance to trigger hypertrophy (increase in lean muscle).

However, beginners may also do bodyweight exercises in HIRT home workouts.

A push up.

In contrast, HIIT workouts can include resistance training exercises, but they often also involve other forms of exercises like sprinting, jumping rope, indoor cycling or other cardio exercises, box jumps and other plyometric exercises, battle ropes, and other metabolic exercises, etc.

One of the major differences between HIRT vs. HIIT is the structure and intensity of the “on” and “off” intervals.

The “on” intervals with HIRT are usually fully all-out efforts as they are with the Tabata style of HIIT. 

However, plenty of HIIT workouts use near-maximal efforts, with a heart rate at or above 85% of your maximum heart rate, but not truly all-out efforts.

Tabata aside, the “on” intervals with HIRT workouts are also usually shorter than they are during HIIT workouts because the intensity is higher and it’s crucial to maintain proper form when you are using weights.

This means you don’t want to risk doing more reps than you can handle.

Additionally, the “off” intervals with HIRT workouts are usually much longer than with HIIT, at least in terms of the relative work: rest interval ratio.

Kettlebells swings.

For example, a typical HIRT workout involves alternating between hard intervals that last 5 to 15 seconds (2-15 reps) with either active recovery or complete rest intervals that last 3 to 5 times longer, if not more.

You might perform burpees for 15 seconds and then rest for 60 seconds before performing goblet squats for 10 seconds and resting for 45 seconds.

Most fitness experts recommend taking about 45 seconds of rest or every 10 seconds of all-out work, and that last point is key—your “on” efforts really should be at max effort so they need to be kept very short. 

As soon as you start allowing the hard intervals to creep up in duration, you won’t be able to give a true all-out effort.

In contrast, the work-to-rest intervals with HIIT are often 1:1 if not 2:1 rather than 1:3 or 1:5.

Weighted lunge.

With HIIT, the recovery periods allow your heart rate to come down just enough that you can hit the next hard interval all out again yet not enough that it takes you to fully recover, boosting the cardiovascular and metabolic demands of the workout.

With HIRT, the longer recovery periods allow your heart rate to drop further, so there’s often somewhat less of an aerobic challenge with HIRT vs. HIIT, and a bit more of an anaerobic emphasis.

A HIIT workout also often has longer “on” intervals of at least 30 seconds, if not 45 seconds or more.

With that said, some people also structure their high-intensity weight training workouts or HIRT workouts much more like HIIT by not taking the rest until the end of a superset rather than after each exercise. 

For example, rather than doing something like burpees for 15 seconds and then resting for 60 seconds before performing goblet squats for 10 seconds and resting 45 seconds, and then finishing with bench press for 15 seconds and resting for 45 seconds, you might do 15 seconds of burpees straight into 10 seconds of goblet squats before immediately rolling into 15 seconds of bench press.

Then, you would rest for 1-2 minutes before repeating the superset again.

This type of format resembles HIIT much more closely because the work interval ends up being 45-60 seconds or so and the rest interval won’t be appreciably longer than a 1:1 interval.

When HIRT workouts are structured this way, they are essentially HIIT workouts, but just with high-intensity strength training exercises specifically rather than cardio exercises.

Pull up.

What Are the Benefits of HIRT Workouts?

There are many benefits of high-intensity resistance training, including all of the standard health benefits of resistance training,1Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports11(4), 209–216. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8 such as weight loss and fat loss, muscle growth, increasing muscular strength and size, increasing bone density, decreasing blood pressure, and improving mood.

There are also unique benefits of HIRT workouts given the high-intensity strength training approach versus a standard traditional resistance training intensity and format. 

Because these workouts are so intense, they are extremely efficient and can improve cardiovascular fitness in addition to muscular strength.

Additionally, studies suggest2Paoli, A., Moro, T., Marcolin, G., Neri, M., Bianco, A., Palma, A., & Grimaldi, K. (2012). High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals. Journal of Translational Medicine10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5876-10-237 that high-intensity resistance training causes a more significant increase in resting energy expenditure and a decrease in respiratory exchange ratio after the workout than traditional strength training.

This means that HIRT can boost metabolic rate after the workout is over (in much the same way that HIIT does) and increases fat oxidation. 

Chest press.

Is HIRT Better that HIIT Workouts?

The benefits of HIRT vs. HIIT are that HIRT can minimize some of the potential drawbacks of the extremely high-intensity nature of HIIT, decrease mitochondrial stress, reduce the risk of fatigue, and shorten recovery time between workouts.3Moro, T., Marcolin, G., Bianco, A., Bolzetta, F., Berton, L., Sergi, G., & Paoli, A. (2020). Effects of 6 Weeks of Traditional Resistance Training or High Intensity Interval Resistance Training on Body Composition, Aerobic Power and Strength in Healthy Young Subjects: A Randomized Parallel Trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(11), 4093. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17114093

‌HIRT can also cause a greater increase in testosterone compared to HIIT because of the longer relative rest intervals. 

One study4Scudese, E., Simão, R., Senna, G., Vingren, J. L., Willardson, J. M., Baffi, M., & Miranda, H. (2016). Long Rest Interval Promotes Durable Testosterone Responses in High-Intensity Bench Press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research30(5), 1275–1286. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001237 investigated the effect of the length of rest intervals on testosterone levels during a high-intensity bench press workout. Subjects either rested for three minutes or one minute between sets. 

Results demonstrated that those that took the three-minute rest interval experienced a more significant increase in total and free testosterone that persisted for a longer period after the workout than subjects who only rested for one minute between sets.

What Is an Example of a HIRT Workout?

Below are two sample HIRT workouts you can try. 

You will perform three supersets

This means you will do 3 sets of three exercises and then move on and do three sets of three different exercises, and finish with three sets of 4 final exercises rather than doing all 10 exercises in a row and then starting back again with the full lineup again for the second set.

The first workout has rest after each exercise, whereas the second is more of a cardio challenge because rest isn’t until the end of each superset.

Squat.

Power HIRT Strength Training Workout #1

Warm-Up

  1. 60 seconds of jumping jacks
  2. 60 seconds of high knees sprinting in place

Superset #1

  1. 10 heavy goblet squats
  2. Rest 45 seconds
  3. 10 dumbbell chest presses
  4. Rest 45 seconds
  5. 15 kettlebell swings
  6. Rest 45 seconds

Superset #2

  1. 6 heavy barbell deadlifts
  2. Rest 30 seconds
  3. 5 weighted jump squats
  4. Rest 30 seconds
  5. 8 heavy barbell rows
  6. Rest 30 seconds

Superset #3

  1. 8 right-foot Bulgarian split squats
  2. Rest 30 seconds
  3. 8 left-foot Bulgarian split squats
  4. Rest 30 seconds
  5. 10 lat pull downs
  6. Rest 30 seconds
  7. 10 dips
  8. Rest 45 seconds
Deadlift.

Power HIRT Strength Training Workout #2

Warm-Up

  1. 60 seconds of jumping jacks
  2. 60 seconds of high knees sprinting in place

Superset #1

  1. 10 heavy squats to overhead press
  2. 10 incline chest presses
  3. 10 deadlifts
  4. Rest 45 seconds

Superset #2

  1. 15 kettlebell swing
  2. 10 pull-ups
  3. 10 clapping push-ups
  4. Rest 45 seconds

Superset #3

  1. 8 right-foot Bulgarian split squats with rotation
  2. 8 left-foot Bulgarian split squats with rotation
  3. 8 right foot side lunge with a biceps curl
  4. 8 left foot side lunge with a biceps curl
  5. Rest 45 seconds

Now that you have some HIRT workouts to try out, what about some HIIT workouts?

Check out our HIIT workouts you can do from the comfort of your own home.

Bicep curl.

References

  • 1
    Westcott, W. L. (2012). Resistance training is medicine: Effects of strength training on health. Current Sports Medicine Reports11(4), 209–216. https://doi.org/10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8
  • 2
    Paoli, A., Moro, T., Marcolin, G., Neri, M., Bianco, A., Palma, A., & Grimaldi, K. (2012). High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals. Journal of Translational Medicine10(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1479-5876-10-237
  • 3
    Moro, T., Marcolin, G., Bianco, A., Bolzetta, F., Berton, L., Sergi, G., & Paoli, A. (2020). Effects of 6 Weeks of Traditional Resistance Training or High Intensity Interval Resistance Training on Body Composition, Aerobic Power and Strength in Healthy Young Subjects: A Randomized Parallel Trial. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health17(11), 4093. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17114093
  • 4
    Scudese, E., Simão, R., Senna, G., Vingren, J. L., Willardson, J. M., Baffi, M., & Miranda, H. (2016). Long Rest Interval Promotes Durable Testosterone Responses in High-Intensity Bench Press. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research30(5), 1275–1286. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001237
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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