Is Strength Training and HIIT an Ideal Combo?

It’s a constant exploration, trying to find the ideal combination of weekly workouts to help you lose weight, get stronger, feel better, and so on! So, regardless of what your stance is on strength training, or the use of slow reps to make you stronger, or just cardio, cardio, cardio, here is the case for high-intensity interval training or HIIT and strength training as the ideal training combo.

The HIIT Revolution

High-intensity interval training has made a lot of headlines in recent years, and there have been countless fitness routines and regimes designed to take advantage of this high-intensity aspect. But why does high-intensity training work so well? It all goes back to that age-old approach to building muscle by putting your body under a lot of duress. In doing such an intense amount of exercise, you aren’t just going for a basic run; you are pushing your body to the limit. Many say that cardio is only effective if you do it for a long period of time. With respect to HIIT, it’s all about utilizing the right intensity. Similarly to what felt at the end of a road race, but in the space of 10-20 minutes. One of the great things about HIIT is the more intense the effort the shorter the workout needs to be.

“HIIT is the closest thing we have to an exercise pill.”

Martin Gibala, PhD, Researcher and Author, The One-Minute Workout

The HIIT Basics

For those that are unaware of HIIT, the basic premise is that you mix short bouts of intense exercise with longer periods of recovery. This is repeated for a specific duration. An example would be a period of time where you are working at 60 to 70 percent intensity, for a few minutes. And then, the next 30-60 seconds you would go “all-out,” at 100%! After that intense interval, your’e back at a moderate intensity, and continue using this undulating format for a specific duration. A few examples of this type of training include Insanity (bodyweight) workouts and P90X (using dumbbells) to offer a better picture.

There are many benefits to this type of training. One such benefit is that it’s a perfect choice for those who don’t have a lot of time to exercise. This is why it is such a useful component in modern exercise because many people can’t dedicate 5 or 6 sessions a week to commit to workout. But as an entryway into intense exercise, it is a perfect method for you to build up your resilience to strenuous exercise. Keep your HIIT to initially to 1-2 sessions a week. This leads us nicely to adding-in the next component, making this an ideal combination each week.

Strength Training

Strength training has become the most vital component of a workout routine. Now, as people are more obsessed with the aesthetics of exercise, flat abs, toned arms, etc., strength training is a fundamental component of getting this right. There are lots of workouts that focus heavily on strength training where are you perform compound exercises like, squat, bench press, barbell row, overhead press and deadlift. This type of protocol with these specific strength training exercises are usually done three times a week, meaning you’ve got time to live your life! But, it also gives you the opportunity to recover.

The main idea with this particular strength training format is that you start off light, but every time you complete the amount of repetitions required, you add 2.5 kg (5.5 lbs) to the weight. So, there’s going to be a point where you will definitely plateau. As a result, this is one of the best ways to improve strength and other facets of your workout. And everybody can benefit from strength training. Many people, however, skip compound movements and focus on various isolation exercises instead.

The benefit of this type of strength training is that it forces the body to adapt and as a result, muscle and connective tissue become stronger. And because you are lifting so heavy, it places your body under the required amount of stress you need to build more muscle. And this is why it’s such a beneficial workout. Those who have been exercising for years may not feel the benefits as much, but for those who are looking for a perfect starting point to build muscle and strength, this is it. And when this gets combined with HIIT, you’ve got the perfect training package.

Combining HIIT and Strength

Going back to Insanity and P90X, these are good examples of strength training and HIIT working in tandem. Although Insanity is all about using your bodyweight, if you were to swap in free weights, as with P90X, and do HIIT in between those workout days, you’ll end up with a fat torching combo! The intensity of lifting heavy forces your body to recruit more muscle fiber, and it also helps with weight loss, because you increase your overall caloric expenditure. When you add high-intensity interval training, as in the form of Tabata sprints, it becomes a powerful combination. But be warned. Trying to implement both is a fantastic way for you to lose weight if you need it. Doing both together, though, is a very difficult thing indeed, and if you are trying something new like Insanity, it can be really challenging on your body.

The results will speak for themselves, although you should try it out, and build up a resilience to it, before implementing the other workout. The thing about both of these is that once your endurance improves, you will be able to push yourself even further in a workout. Naturally, there will be points when you plateau, but as a way to build strength and work capacity, you are going to be unstoppable if you do it right!

Use Jefit App to Plan & Track Workouts

Jefit is a workout log app that helps you meet your fitness goals. By providing an extensive exercise library, you can pick and choose your workouts according to your goals. You can also join our members-only Facebook group where you can connect and interact with your fellow Jefit members. Share your successes, stories, advice, and tips so you learn and grow together. Stay Strong!

Learn the Nuances of High Intensity Interval Training

Sometimes you may feel you need a PhD just to understand the differences between all the cardio terminology. For example, do you grapple with how to perform a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session or a Tabata protocol? Do you understand the subtle differences? Not to worry, most people from my experience don’t really know either. The following information includes insight on some of the more well-known cardio terms that are used.

Cardio Terminology: The Difference Between HIIT and Tabata

Two of the main differences in these protocols are time and intensity. Tabata is completed in just four-minutes using maximal intensity. In respect to rest periods, Tabata has shorter rest periods then HIIT, which are always 10-seconds. Other HIIT protocols have longer recovery periods, typically 30-seconds to one-minute but sometimes up to two-minutes. Finally, Tabata involves 8 rounds of intense exercise using a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio (20 seconds on and 10 seconds off). The total workout time equates to only 4-minutes, not including warm-up and cool-down. Keep in mind, your heart rate and breathing are really elevated and you shouldn’t be able to carry on a conversation during that time.

The one key word in all of these cardio definitions is INTENSITY. The workout time is less than steady state cardio, therefore, it has to be performed at a higher intensity level. As explained by leading HIIT expert, Martin Gibala, PhD, author of the One-Minute Workout. “The harder you go, the shorter the duration and the fewer intervals you need to achieve the same benefits of a much longer endurance-training workout.”

The Obsession with Intervals

Athletes have been using forms of interval training since 1902, a runner by the name of Joe Binks was one of the first athletes to understand the value of this type of training. By 1910-12, it started gaining more popularity after a few Finnish Olympic runners won Gold medals using intervals as part of their training. It wasn’t until 1930, though, when Franz Stampfl, who coached Roger Bannister (world’s first sib-4-minute miler), took interval training to new heights. He is considered the person who “was responsible for introducing the notion of interval training as we know it today (Noakes).”

The idea behind interval training is to push your body past anaerobic threshold (typically 85 percent of maximum heart rate) for a desired time. Following this, you return back to more of a comfortable aerobic threshold before repeating this sequence for “x” amount of intervals depending on your proposed training outcome. The final goal is to improve your overall performance level.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT has gained popularity because it brings an understandable “to do” message that gets across to the public. Meaning, health guidelines continue to push 150-minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. Another option for that is 75-minutes of vigorous exercise per week to accumulate health benefits. The issue however is most people don’t get close to reaching those numbers. HIIT is more manageable, more challenging yes, but doable. High intensity interval training is simply a method of training where the intensity of the workout is manipulated, in an undulating fashion, for a specific period of time.

I like to think of HIIT as the driver of the bus and all other cardio-type workouts (terminology) as unique features of the bus. Think of it like HIIT being the parent and their kids are Tabata, Fartlek and Intervals, all belonging to the same family but yet slightly different.

A big take away from HIIT is the following. The harder and faster you can work in a training session, the less time you need to exercise. Go as fast as you can using short bursts. As a results, you can get the same endurance benefits but with less than 5 percent of the time exercising hard. Not to mention you’re working out only a third of the time compared to someone doing traditional or steady state cardio (i.e. 150-minutes a week) for longer duration.

Who Created Tabata and What is it?

Why none other than Mr. Izumi Tabata, PhD, a Japanese research scientist. He actually had a little help from a Japanese Olympic speed skating coach but that’s a story for another day.

What is it? Tabata training is a method of endurance training. A 4-minute workout sounds way too simple I know but trust me, it’s not! The original study used a type of stationary bike and had test subjects perform seven to eight 20-second, all-out sprints, each separated by just 10 seconds of rest. Following 6-weeks of training college students, five days a week, participants increased their aerobic fitness by 14 percent.

By comparison, a second group – who performed more traditional steady state exercise on the same bike for 60 minutes – experienced an increase in aerobic fitness by only 10 percent. In other words, the 4-minute workout was found to be more effective than an hour of cycling at a moderate pace. Even more significant was the fact that the Tabata participants saw a 28 percent improvement in anaerobic capacity. This was the first study of its kind that showed both aerobic and anaerobic benefits received from biking.

What’s a Fartlek?

The word fartlek means “speed play” in Swedish. Think of it as continuous running with intervals mixed in. The intensity of the intervals used depends on how good the person feels that day. Back in the 1930’s coaches started using this type of training with their athletes. According to the Science of Running website, “fartlek training was a very informal type of training where you vary the speed based on the athletes feel. This means you vary the speed throughout the run often times alternating fast/slow, or fast/medium, or medium/slow.” 

Keep in mind, the different forms of interval training mentioned here are basically, high-intensity interval training. Each of which is very strenuous on the body and require only 1-2 sessions a week to obtain real benefits. More is not better when it comes to interval training. The focus should be about quality of training not quantity.

Workout and Stay Strong with Jefit

Millions of members are having great success using the Jefit app that comes equipped with a customizable workout planner, training log, the ability to track data and share workouts with friends. Take advantage of Jefit’s 1400 exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Stay strong with Jefit.


Noakes, Tim, Lore of Running (4th edition), Human Kinetics: IL, 2003.

Gibala, Martin, The One-Minute Workout, Avery: New York, 2017.