Move Over, HIIT—It’s HIRT’s Time to Shine

As we all know, HIIT has become massively popular in the last few years because of how time effective it is. Today we’ve even started applying resistance or strength exercises to HIIT protocols. The problem is that we continue calling these workouts “HIIT,” and that’s plain-old inaccurate. When we incorporate resistance or strength exercises into a HIIT workout, it’s no longer HIIT. We need to call it something else. We need to call it HIRT—high intensity (interval) resistance training.

If you’re thinking, “HIIT or HIRT—whatever. It doesn’t matter. It’s the same thing,” then I have to break it to you: you are WRONG. It’s not the same at all because HIRT activates different cellular signalling pathways than HIIT; thus, HIRT creates different physiological adaptations than HIIT (I’m talking mTOR vs. AMPK, but I’m not going into that in this article. Maybe in a future one).

 

What Is High Intensity (Interval) Resistance Training?

The first time I came across the word “HIRT” was in a 2012 study conducted by Antonio Paoli. When Paoli used the phrase “high intensity interval resistance training or HIRT,” it seriously caught my attention. From that mention, I started experimenting on my own with various related ideas. And that’s why I’m writing this article—to show how I structure HIRT workouts and what I think a HIRT workout should look like, so that you can start doing HIRT and help spread the word about how fast, fun, and effective HIRT workouts are.

In case you’re wondering whether my approach is the only way to design a HIRT workout, the answer is no. That’s because, as with HIIT, with HIRT you can tweak the training variables in many different ways.

 

HIRT and Timed-Sets

Since almost all HIIT protocols are timed-set protocols, when I first started experimenting with HIRT, I played around with timed-sets too. I soon realized that it’s very taxing to do HIRT sets that exceed 30 seconds in duration. So, I decided that my protocols wouldn’t exceed that duration. In experimenting with different work-to-rest ratios, I created two categories of HIRT protocols: (1) strength and (2) strength endurance. Let’s take a look at those two categories.

 

Cat 1: Strength HIRT (S-HIRT)

When creating a strength HIRT workout, you use short work durations (few repetitions) and long rest periods. The ratio can vary depending on exercise selection, exercise order, and the number of exercises you select. The optimal ratio is 1:1.5–4 and three exercises per circuit (if you are using a circuit format). The work duration should not exceed 12 seconds.

The exercise selection should focus on multi-joint exercises like squats, deadlifts, chin-/pull-ups, rows, and presses. The intensity should be somewhere between 70% and 85% of 1 RM with the intensity level dependent on the duration of each set and rest between sets or exercises.

 

Examples of Work-to-Rest Ratios

Work-to-Rest Ratio :       1:1.5            1:2            1:3          1:4

6 sec work                       6:9             6:12          6:18        6:24

8 sec work                      8:12            8:16          8:24        8:32

12 sec work                    12:18          12:24       12:36       12:48

 

S-HIRT Single Exercises
During this workout you will finish all sets of an exercise before moving on to the next set of an exercise.

Work-to-rest ratio of 1:3; 8–10 rounds of 8 seconds of work followed by 24 seconds of rest; rest 90 seconds between exercises.

Set One: 2 KB Squat – 8 seconds of work : 24 seconds of rest x 8–10 rounds
Rest 90 seconds
Set Two: Bench Press – 8 seconds : 24 seconds x 8–10
Rest 90 seconds
Set Three: Chin-Ups – 8 seconds : 24 seconds x 8–10
Rest 90 seconds

S-HIRT Tri-Set
This is a circuit format workout. This workout is going to be more metabolically demanding than the previous workout.

Work-to-rest ratio 1:2; 8–10 rounds of 8 seconds of work followed by 16 seconds of rest.

Circuit 1
Set One: 2 KB Squat – 8 seconds of work : 16 seconds of rest x 6–8 rounds
Set Two: Bench Press – 8 seconds : 16 seconds x 6–8
Set Three: Bent-Over Row – 8 seconds : 16 seconds x 6–8

Rest 120 seconds

Circuit 2
Set One: RDL – 8 seconds : 16 seconds x 6–8
Set One: Shoulder Press– 8 seconds : 16 seconds x 6–8
Set One: Chin-Ups – 8 seconds : 16 seconds x 6–8

 

Cat 2: Strength Endurance HIRT (SE-HIRT)

When creating a strength endurance HIRT workout, you use medium work durations (a moderate range of repetitions) and short rest periods. The ratio can vary depending on exercise selection, exercise order, and the number of exercises you select. The optimal ratio is 1–1.5:1.5–3 and three to four exercises per circuit. The work duration should not exceed 28 seconds (I rarely use that duration).

Exercise selection should focus on multi-joint exercises. The intensity should be somewhere between 40% and 70% of 1 RM with intensity level dependent on the duration of each set and rest between sets or exercises.

 

Examples of Work-to-Rest Ratios

Work-to-Rest Ratio :       1:1.5             1:1             1.5:1           2:1         3:1

16 sec work                     16:24          16:16          16:12         16:8        NA

18 sec work                     18:27           18:18          18:14       1 8:9        NA

24 sec work                     24:36         24:24          24:18       24:12      24:8

28 sec work                    28:42         28:28          28:21       28:14      28:9

 

SE-HIRT Tri-Set
This is a circuit format workout.

Work-to-rest ratio 2:1; 3–5 rounds of 24 seconds of work followed by 12 seconds of rest.

Circuit 1
1. Goblet Squat – 24 seconds of work : 16 seconds of rest x 3–5 rounds
2. Push-Ups – 24 seconds : 16 seconds x 3–5
3. TRX Row – 24 seconds : 16 seconds x 3–5

Rest 120 seconds

Circuit 2
1. Swing – 24 seconds : 16 seconds x 3–5
2. Shoulder Press – 24 seconds : 16 seconds x 3–5
3. Roll-Outs – 24 seconds : 16 seconds x 3–5

 

HIRT Rest-Pause (RP)

Let’s return to that study by Antonio Paoli I mentioned already. Paoli’s study used a rest-pause (RP) method and compared it with a traditional weight-training protocol. The rest-pause protocol consisted of a 6 RM lift followed by 20 seconds of rest; then subjects lifted the same weight until failure, followed by 20 seconds of rest; and again the same weight to failure. After one such set subjects rested for 2.5 minutes and then repeated the same exercises, two more times for the leg exercise and one more time for the upper body exercise. The legs did the rest-pause protocol a total of 3 times; and the upper body 2 times. The total time to complete the RP workout was 32 minutes (including the warm-up). Paoli’s study found that the RP workout increased subjects’ resting energy expenditure to a greater extent than that of a traditional weight-training protocol, meaning it vastly improved subjects’ fat oxidation. Plus, the RP workout was much shorter than a traditional weight-training protocol.

After reading this study, I researched rest-pause methods and found a few more studies. Paul Marshall at University of Western Sydney in Australia conducted a study that used a 20-repetition rest-pause protocol. Subjects used 80% of their 1 RM and performed repetitions until failure, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Then they performed another set to failure and rested another 20 seconds. This was continued until subjects completed it a total of 20 times.

Using the information from those studies, plus some variations and modifications of our own, we can design some interesting HIRT workouts. These are what I’ve come up with.

HIRT Rest-Pause Workout 1—Paoli Protocol 1
1. Back Squat – 6 RM x 3 sets to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
2. Bench Press – 6 RM x 3 sets to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
3. Bent-Over Row – 6 RM x 3 sets to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
Repeat this circuit 2 or 3 times.

HIRT Rest-Pause Workout 2—Paoli Protocol 2
1. 2 KB Squat – 10–12 RM x 3 sets to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
2. Shoulder Press – 10–12 RM x 3 sets to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
3. Chin-Ups – AMRAP x 3 sets to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
Repeat this circuit 1 or 2 times.

HIRT Rest-Pause Workout 3—Marshall Protocol 1
1. DB Bench Press – 20 repetitions with 10–12 RM load; perform each set to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
2. Deadlift – 20 repetitions with 10–12 RM load; perform each set to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
3. Bent-Over Row – 20 repetitions with 10–12 RM load; perform each set to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
Repeat this circuit one more time if you have time.

HIRT Rest-Pause Workout 4—Marshall Protocol 2
1. Shoulder Press – 30 repetitions with 10–12 RM load; perform each set to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
2. Bicep Curl – 30 repetitions with 10–12 RM load; perform each set to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
3. Triceps Extensions – 30 repetitions with 10–12 RM load; perform each set to failure with 20 seconds of rest between sets and 1.5 minutes of rest between exercises
Repeat this circuit one more time if you have time.

 

HIRT RR and EW:R

The two final methods we’ll be looking are variations of cluster set protocols. The first of these is the rest redistribution (RR) protocol. RR protocols differ from rest-pause and cluster sets in that they have shortened rest periods. The total rest time is redistributed within an RR protocol, and no extra rest is provided. Let’s look at an RR protocol I learned about in a research study.

HIRT RR Workout—Moreno Protocol
This RR protocol is one I learned about from a study conducted by Steven Moreno of California State University. The study’s purpose was to compare plyometric jumps done in cluster sets and traditional sets. The RR protocol used was 10 sets of 2 repetitions with 10 seconds of rest between sets.

1. Goblet Squat – 2 reps x 10 sets with 10 seconds of rest between sets
Rest 60 seconds and repeat the same exercise.
2. Bench Press – 2 reps x 10 sets with 10 seconds of rest between sets
Rest 60 seconds and repeat the same exercise.
3. Chin-Ups – 2 reps x 10 sets with 10 seconds of rest between sets
Rest 60 seconds and repeat the same exercise.

The second protocol, also a variation of a cluster set, is the “equal work-to-rest ratio” (EW:R) protocol. As explained by researcher James Tufano, in the EW:R protocol, you use the total time for rest and divide it by the total number of repetitions for a set in a traditional protocol to calculate the work-to-ratio in your EW:R protocol. This allows for endless manipulations and a lot of options when doing cluster set protocols. Let’s look at two EW:R protocols I learned about from research.

HIRT EW:R Workout 1—Iglesias-Solar Protocol
This EW:R protocol is from a study by Eliseo Iglesias-Soler of University of A Coruña. In this study Iglesias-Solar compared the functional and neural effects of two strength-training programs. One of the set configurations used was 32 sets of single repetitions with 18 seconds (17.4 seconds to be precise) between sets.

1. 2 KB Front Squat – 1 rep x 32 sets with 18 seconds of rest between sets
Rest 1.5 minutes
2. Bench Press – 1 rep x 32 sets with 18 seconds of rest between sets

HIRT EW:R Workout 2— Modified Iglesias-Solar Protocol
Here’s another EW:R protocol from Iglesias-Solar. Complete 32 sets of double reps with 18 seconds of rest between each set.

1. Deadlift – 2 reps x 16 sets with 18 seconds of rest between sets
Rest 1 minute
2. Shoulder Press – 2 reps x 16 sets with 18 seconds of rest between sets
Rest 1 minute
3. Chin-Ups (weighted if needed) – 2 reps x 16 sets with 18 seconds of rest between sets

People’s bodies and minds get bored of doing the same thing, so that’s another reason HIRT is so outstanding—there are endless possibilities for structuring HIRT workouts. I showed you a few that had only a single variable at play—timed-sets, rest-pause, rest redistribution, and equal work-to-rest ratio. In fact, you can combine some or all of these variables into a single HIRT workout to get even more possibilities.

Because HIRT entails a high volume of exercise in a short amount of time and because there are so many possibilities for structuring the workouts, HIRT offers us intense, interesting, fast, and rewarding workouts. With this said, I hope you agree that it’s high time that HIIT moves over and gives HIRT deserved time to shine in the limelight. Let’s put HIRT out there and get people hurtin’ for HIRT!

 

Best regards from Iceland.

 

By Helgi Gudfinnsson

References

Iglesias-Soler, E., X. Mayo, D. Rio-Rodriguez, E. Carballeira, J. Farinas, and M. Fernandez-Del-Olmo. “Inter-Repetition Rest Training and Traditional Set Configuration Produce Similar Strength Gains without Cortical Adaptations.” Journal of Sports Sciences 34, no. 15 (2016): 1473–84. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2015.1119299.
Marshall, P.W., D.A. Robbins, A.W. Wrightson, and J.C. Siegler. “Acute Neuromuscular and Fatigue Responses to the Rest-Pause Method.” Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 15, no. 2 (2012): 153–58. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2011.08.003.
Moreno, S.D., L.E. Brown, J.W. Coburn, and D.A. Judelson. “Effect of Cluster Sets on Plyometric Jump Power.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 28, no. 9 (2014): 2424–28. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000585.
Paoli, A., T. Moro, G. Marcolin, M. Neri, A. Bianco, A. Palma, and K. Grimaldi. “High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) Influences Resting Energy Expenditure and Respiratory Ratio in Non-Dieting Individuals.” Journal of Translational Medicine 10 (2012): 237. doi: 10.1186/1479-5876-10-237.
Tufano, J.J., L.E. Brown, and G.G. Haff. “Theoretical and Practical Aspects of Different Cluster Set Structures: A Systematic Review.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31, no. 3 (2017): 848–67. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001581.

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