We’ve been led to believe that you must lift heavy if you want to build muscle. And for anyone who’s a cardio lover and gravitates towards the treadmills, ellipticals, and spin bikes, your hopes of building muscle aren’t very high.

But contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to lift heavy to build muscle - you can crank up the intensity of your workout with cardio-like movements and still increase muscle mass.

How? It’s called HIIT, also known as high-intensity interval training. And when you combine HIIT with resistance training, you’re entering a whole new realm of muscle-building possibilities.

Ready to make the most out of your workout?

We’re giving you the details on why HIIT effectively improves body composition, overall health, and performance and how you can build muscle using high-intensity training.

Let’s get started.

What is HIIT?

You’ve likely heard about HIIT before. More formally known as high-intensity interval training, it’s a style that incorporates short periods of maximum effort (80-100% VO2max) with brief periods of rest.

Typically, you’ll see a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off breakdown, where you’re doing 20 seconds of maximum all-out effort combined with 10 seconds of complete rest for a set period.

HIIT training is based on the premise that you’re getting maximum results with minimal effort - but how does that work?

Studies find that increasing exercise intensity can amplify the training stimulus and associated training-induced adaptations like VO2max, anaerobic threshold, stroke volume, and performance 1. For people that lack the motivation to exercise, a quick and intense workout may be the key to unlocking better health.

And studies also show that despite being significantly shorter than most other workouts, HIIT can produce health benefits similar to twice as much moderate-intensity exercise 2, 3.

Want proof? Let’s dig into the benefits.

Benefits of HIIT Workouts

Burns calories faster

If you want to maximize your exercise time, HIIT is how to do it. Because you’re working at high intensities for short periods, it can burn a lot of calories.

One study looking at energy expenditure between 30 minutes of HIIT, resistance training, running, and biking found that HIIT burned an average of 25–30% more calories than the other types of exercise 4. HIIT can produce the same results as other forms of training in a fraction of the time.

Accelerates fat burning

Want to burn fat, get shredded, and build muscle? Combine HIIT with resistance training. You can burn fat without compromising muscle mass thanks to EPOC, or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC is your body’s inherent homeostatic system that restores balance after intense exercise.

Because it takes energy to get your systems back into balance, you’re burning calories well after exercise has stopped. Compared with traditional strength training, HIIT, combined with weight training, can burn up to 600 calories in a single session.

And studies find that metabolic resistance training (HIIT + weights) can ignite your metabolism and elevate EPOC for up to 38 hours after exercise, directly equating to more calories burned 5.

Builds muscle

Most people are under the impression that you can’t build muscle doing high-intensity exercise - but you can. Conventional cardio exercises aren’t great for building muscle - they may maintain it, but they don’t provide sufficient stimulus to boost muscle growth - which is where HIIT and MRT shine.

The primary reason HIIT combined with resistance training works for muscle growth is that it increases your lactate threshold - the point where lactic acid rapidly accumulates in your muscles, which can interfere with muscle contraction and work capacity. Lactic acid is a byproduct of glucose breakdown in muscles.

Under normal circumstances, lactate is buffered out, but when glucose breakdown exceeds lactate buffering capacity, it accumulates in muscles and increases the pH (acidity). When muscles are too acidic, they lose their ability to contract, and fatigue sets in.

Metabolic resistance training improves your body’s ability to buffer and clear lactate, which translates to greater work capacity, muscle stimulation, and muscle growth.

3 Tips For Building Muscle With High-Intensity Training

If you’re tired of putting in the effort without seeing the results, here are some tips for building muscle with high-intensity training.

Focus on your form

Regardless of your training style, proper form is required to build muscle. If you’re rushing through movements and not focusing on form, you’re not targeting the muscles you intend to target, which means other muscles are compensating and getting stronger. To build strength in the upper body, perfect your form before increasing your weights.

Choose your weight wisely

While HIIT workouts are short and high intensity, you still want to ensure your muscles get sufficient stimulus to stimulate muscle growth.

Although your form is always king, once you’ve nailed your form, focus on choosing a weight that’s challenging for you without compromising your technique.

Progressive overload is what builds muscle, so ensure you’re constantly challenging yourself when one weight gets too easy.

Use the proper work:rest intervals

As mentioned, your muscles need sufficient stimulus to grow, and even going heavy for 10 seconds isn’t going to provide it.

When choosing your HIIT protocol, you want to ensure that your work intervals are long enough that you provide a big enough signal to your muscles to adapt and grow.

While the typical HIIT protocol is 20 seconds on/10 seconds off, 40 seconds on/20 seconds off may be more suitable for you. Experiment and find what works best.

Ensure you’re fueling up

Although it doesn’t pertain to a HIIT workout, if you want to maximize muscle growth, you need to eat to support it. High-intensity training with weights causes damage to muscle fibers, which require amino acids for repair.

If you’re not consuming enough dietary protein to support muscle growth, your body will tap into the stores it already has (I.e., muscle tissues), which is going to make it extremely challenging to build, or even maintain, muscle mass.

Whether before or after training, ensure you hit your macronutrient goals to maximize results.

The Best Upper Body HIIT Workout

Ready to set your upper body on fire? Here’s the only upper-body HIIT workout you’ll need to maximize muscle growth.

It’s a 30-minute HIIT workout with weights to target all upper body muscles to elevate heart rate, burn calories, and build strength.

Here are your exercises:

  • Bear crawl
  • Shoulder press
  • Weighted high plank T rotation (left/right)
  • Up and down plank
  • Overhead tricep dip
  • Renegade row
  • Wide-arm push-up

And here’s your time protocol:

Time: 30 minutes
Rounds: 3

  • 30 seconds on: Dumbbell bear crawl
  • 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds on: Dumbbell or barbell shoulder press
  • 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds on: Weighted High plank T rotation – left
  • 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds on: Weighted High plank T rotation – right
  • 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds on: Up and down plank
  • 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds on: Overhead tricep dip
  • 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds on: Renegade row
  • 20 seconds rest
  • 30 seconds on: Wide push up
  • 1-minute rest before starting round two and three.


  1. Weston KS, Wisløff U, Coombes JS. High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2014;48(16):1227-1234.
  2. Kong Z, Fan X, Sun S, Song L, Shi Q, Nie J. Comparison of High-Intensity Interval Training and Moderate-to-Vigorous Continuous Training for Cardiometabolic Health and Exercise Enjoyment in Obese Young Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. 2016;11(7):e0158589.
  3. Skutnik BC, Smith JR, Johnson AM, Kurti SP, Harms CA. The Effect of Low Volume Interval Training on Resting Blood Pressure in Pre-hypertensive Subjects: A Preliminary Study. Phys Sportsmed. 2016;44(2):177-183.
  4. Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, et al. Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(3):779-785.
  5. Schuenke MD, Mikat RP, McBride JM. Effect of an acute period of resistance exercise on excess post-exercise oxygen consumption: implications for body mass management. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2002;86(5):411-417.