Using High-Intensity Circuit Training (HICT)

Fast, Effective Workouts With Both Cardio and Strength Exercises

Group Doing Pushups with Dumbbells
Getty Images/John Fedele

High-intensity circuit training (HICT) involves combining both cardio and resistance training in the same workout. It alternates upper and lower body moves as well as high-intensity and lower-intensity exercises. The idea is a challenging, total body routine that promises better weight loss results in less time.

The major benefit of HICT is that you increase your afterburn—the number of calories your body continues to burn after your workout is over. That afterburn or post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is considered by some to help boost your metabolism, which may help with weight loss The trend to work harder at both cardio and strength workouts is everywhere. CrossFit and Orange Theory Fitness both tout high-intensity circuit-type workouts designed to send your heart rate soaring.

High-Intensity Circuit Training Shown Effective

The standard guidelines for exercise usually include two different kinds of workouts: cardio for about 150 minutes a week and then a separate strength training workout that you do on alternate days. While that's how much exercise you need for health and fitness, many people don't have that much time to spend exercising each day. Of course, there are ways to combine strength and cardio in the same workout, but that still takes time. There are also debates about whether doing cardio first may result in your strength training being less effective, and vice versa.

A 2013 study of these circuit training workouts that combine strength and cardio showed that circuit training, done at a high intensity, really does work. You burn calories and you build strength, all in the same workout. That saves you time and energy while giving you an effective workout that will give you solid results.

The HICT Workout

The study authors who set up the HICT workout to test its effectiveness used the following parameters:

  • Nine to 12 exercises that included a mix of cardio and body weight exercises. When choosing exercises, they looked for:
    • Whole body, compound exercises
    • Exercises that recruit the larger muscles of the body, such as the butt, chest, and back
    • Moves that can be easily modified for different fitness levels (e.g., push-ups on the knees rather than traditional push-ups)
  • They alternated between muscle groups and intensity. For example, an upper body exercise (dips) was followed by a lower body exercise (lunges), while a high-intensity exercise (burpees) was followed by a lower-intensity exercise (knee lifts with a med ball). This allows some rest between muscle groups and energy systems so you can maintain good form and avoid bonking too quickly.
  • To maximize intensity, they had subjects do each exercise for about 15 to 20 reps or 30 seconds.
  • For maximum efficiency, the rest between exercises was short, less than 15 seconds.
  • The circuit they put together (listed below) was seven minutes long and they recommended exercisers repeat the circuit up to three times for about a 20-minute workout.

Sample HICT Workout

Below is the workout the study authors put together, complete with 12 exercises that require no equipment, work all the muscles of the body, and can be done just about anywhere. Do each exercise for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds in between and repeat one to three (or more) times.

This is just a sample and more advanced exercisers may want to increase the intensity by adding weight or trying more advanced exercises.


The researchers found a number of benefits of HICT including:

  • It's a fast and efficient way to lose weight and burn body fat.
  • HICT also increases your afterburn—the number of calories you burn after your workout.
  • These types of workouts may also target more belly fat.
  • HICT workouts are shorter and more time efficient.
  • They increase VO2max as well as your overall fitness.


The high intensity of this type of training coupled with the short rests demands more energy than traditional workouts. Because you're moving quickly, you'll want to be very familiar with the exercises so that you have good form, even when you get tired. Try practicing the exercises with as much rest as you need and then shortening the rests as your fitness improves.

Another thing to keep in mind that too much high-intensity training, no matter what kind it is, can lead to overtraining, injury, or even burnout if you don't give your body enough time to recover. Try doing these workouts about twice a week with rests in between. Consider crosstraining with other activities like cardio, yoga, or Pilates to work your muscles in different ways.

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