Using High-Intensity Circuit Training (HICT)

Fast, Effective Workouts With Both Cardio and Strength Exercises

Group Doing Pushups with Dumbbells

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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.


The standard guidelines for exercise usually include two different kinds of workouts: Moderate to intense cardio for about 150 minutes a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity per week, plus a separate strength training workout at least two days a week.

While that's how much regular exercise you need for health and fitness, many people don't have that much time to spend exercising each week. 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. In 2013, research published in the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal details the efficacy of high intensity circuit training workouts that combine strength and cardio.

With HICT, the idea is that you burn calories and you build strength, all in the same workout—saving you time and energy while giving you an effective workout that will give you solid results.


The Heath & Fitness Journal authors set up the following HICT sample workout with the following parameters to test its effectiveness:

  • 12 exercises with a mix of cardio and body weight exercises including 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)
  • Alternating between muscle groups and intensity (For example, a lower body exercise (squats) was followed by an upper body exercise (dips), while a high-intensity exercise (jumping jacks) was followed by a lower-intensity exercise (wall sit). This allows some rest between muscle groups and energy systems so you can maintain good form and avoid burning out too quickly.)
  • Each exercise is performed for 30 to 60 with 2 to 3 reps
  • The circuit is seven minutes long totaling a 20-minute workout when repeated three times

Sample Workout

Below is the workout the 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.

  • Abdominal crunches
  • Forearm plank
  • Forearm side plank
  • High knees/running in place
  • Jumping jacks
  • Lunges
  • Push-up
  • Push-ups to side plank
  • Squats
  • Step-ups onto a chair
  • Tricep dips on chair
  • Wall sit

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


The authors 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.
  • HICT workouts are shorter and more time efficient.
  • They increase VO2max, the maximum amount of oxygen used during intense exercise, 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 first and then shortening the rest periods 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 cross training with other activities like cardio, yoga, or Pilates to work your muscles in different ways.

7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Klika B, Jordan C. High-intensity circuit training using body weight: Maximum results with minimal investment. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 2013;17(3):8-13. doi:10.1249/FIT.0b013e31828cb1e8

  2. Zickl D. Runner's World. How Many Calories Do You Really Burn Once Your Workout Is Over?. July 6, 2018.

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition. 2018.

  4. Scott CB, Leighton BH, Ahearn KJ, McManus JJ. Aerobic, anaerobic, and excess postexercise oxygen consumption energy expenditure of muscular endurance and strength: 1-set of bench press to muscular fatigueJ Strength Cond Res. 2011;25(4):903-8. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181c6a128.

  5. Heden L, Lox C, Rose P, Reid S, Kirk EP. One set resistance training elevates energy expenditure for 72 hours similar to three sets. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2011;111(3):477-84. doi:10.1007/s00421-010-1666-5

  6. Bacon AP, Carter RE, Ogle EA, Joyner MJ. VO2max trainability and high intensity interval training in humans: a meta-analysis. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(9):e73182. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0073182

  7. Tibana RA, De sousa NMF. Are extreme conditioning programmes effective and safe? A narrative review of high-intensity functional training methods research paradigms and findings. BMJ Open Sport Exerc Med. 2018;4(1):e000435. doi:10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000435

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."