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HIIT and Strength Training - Should You Do Both?

Reading Time: 8 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2024-02-22

With a seemingly endless list of workout types to do, it's tough to decide where to focus your time and efforts. Choosing for yourself is difficult, but if you're a trainer you must also guide clients.

Two popular types of workouts both have benefits: HIIT and strength training. You don't have to choose one or the other, and in fact, these two workouts complement each other well. Do them separately or in combination for maximum fat loss, strength gains, and cardiovascular fitness.

Are you looking for a way to work from home, help others with their fitness journey, and truly make a difference? Get certified with ISSA's Certified Personal Training Course and start making money and positively impacting people's lives.

HIIT and Strength Training - A Comparison

There are so many types of workouts available for the typical gym-goer, but there are two that are both popular and effective. They both help improve overall health, build strength, reduce body fat, and lose or maintain weight.

  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT workouts alternate between intense, short bouts and recovery or low-intensity periods. The idea is to get the heart rate up very high, recover slightly, and then do it again. For example, you might sprint 200 meters at the track, jog 200, and repeat for 10 or 12 reps.

  • Strength Training. This is a broad category of workout that focuses on building muscle strength and/or size. Lifting weights, using resistance bands, bodybuilding, bodyweight exercises, and using weight machines all count as strength training.

Both types of workouts have benefits. And they can each be scaled up or down for ability level and to progress.

Benefits of HIIT Workouts

HIIT workouts are cardio-focused, which means they benefit heart and cardiovascular health. Compared to traditional cardio workouts performed at a steadier effort level and heart rate, HIIT has a lot of benefits (1):

  • Improves both aerobic and anaerobic fitness

  • Lowers insulin resistance and improves glucose tolerance

  • Burns calories

  • Results in significant fat loss

HIIT can be a great workout, but there are some risks too. Check out this post to find out how to do HIIT safely and when to skip it.

Benefits of Strength Training

Strength training also has its benefits, many that overlap with HIIT. It increases muscle mass, and slows muscle loss that accompanies aging; it improves bone density and joint flexibility; strength training reduces injuries.

Research also shows that strength training is a powerful way to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, and lose fat, especially compared with steady-state cardio.

Don't let your female clients get away with skipping weights. Women and men both benefit from strength training.

Do HIIT and Strength Training for Best Results

For optimal health benefits from working out, you need both cardio and strength training. And with the added benefits of HIIT cardio, doing both provides the most advantages.

Especially if you or a client want to lose body fat and focus on weight loss, use both types of workouts. Studies show that the combination of strength training and cardio in an exercise routine maximizes fat loss and healthy weight. (2)

ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, HIIT, Strength Training, HIIT and Strength Training - Should You Do Both?, Battle Ropes

Doing HIIT and Strength Workouts Separately

There are two ways to get both HIIT and strength training into your routine. Either complete them separately or combine them. You may want to separate these two workouts if you have the time in your schedule to maximize the results of each individually.

Can You Do HIIT And Strength Training on The Same Day?

Certainly, but there are some caveats. HIIT workouts are tough on the body, so for most people, it's better to do these workouts on separate days. However, if you are already highly trained, you can probably handle it.

When doing both in the same day, keep the HIIT workout strictly cardio so that you're not overtaxing the muscles. A sprint workout or using an elliptical machine or cycling bike works well for a true cardio HIIT workout.

The order in which you do the two workouts separately is not important. If you prefer to do cardio on Tuesdays and strength on Wednesdays, or vice versa, that's fine. If you like weights in the morning and cardio in the evenings, make that your routine.

Time-Saver: Combining HIIT and Strength

You can combine HIIT with strength training, and research suggests there may be some good reasons to do so. A study compared participants doing high-intensity and medium-intensity resistance workouts. A few important results put the HIIT participants ahead (3):

  • They had more significant strength improvements in more of the ten exercises used for the study.

  • The medium-intensity group saw zero improvements in some of the exercises, while the HIIT group improved in all.

  • Both groups had significant fat loss.

  • The HIIT group had greater improvements in health measures, like blood pressure.

These benefits, plus saving time make a HIIT strength workout pretty appealing.

Adding Weights to a HIIT Workout

There are two ways to approach a combo workout: take your usual strength session and turn it into a HIIT workout or start with a HIIT workout and add weights. There isn't necessarily a better strategy, so do what works for you or your client.

For those who focus more on cardio, start with a standard HIIT workout and add in elements of strength training. One way to do this is to do some strength moves during the recovery periods. For instance, follow an intense interval of burpees with a set of bent over rows or triceps dips.

Another option is to weight your HIIT moves. A plyo HIIT workout is ideal for this. Box jumps, squat jumps, jumping lunges, and other plyometric moves make a great HIIT workout because they rev up the heart. Add weights, safely and a little bit at a time, to these moves for more strength training.

Turning a Strength Workout into a HIIT Workout

If you already spend most of your time on lifting or other strength training workouts, it may be easier to make some adjustments to turn one or two sessions per week into HIIT plus strength. Here are some things you can do to make it an easy transition:

  • Shorten rest periods. When you workout for HIIT the goal is to get your heart rate seriously elevated. One way you can get the same effect with weights is to take less time to rest in between sets.

  • Add in more compound movements. For your HIIT-strength days, focus on compound movements that work entire large muscle groups. Think lunges and pushup instead of lat pull downs and biceps curls.

  • Add cardio. Take some of your strength movements to the next level with cardio moves. This will ensure you get the muscle training but also raise your heart rate. Plyo moves are great for this, like squat jumps and jumping lunges.

  • Increase the weights. Heavy lifting is important for major strength gains, but it also increases your heart rate. Use bigger weights and fewer reps for a HIIT session.

HIIT and strength training are both effective workouts for a number of fitness and health measures. Include both in your routine safely and without overdoing it. Stick with no more than two HIIT workouts per week of any type, and if your body feels burned out, take a day off or dial back the intensity.

Sample HIIT and Strength Training Workout

Strength training and HIIT are different. HIIT workouts are more cardio-based and demand an increased heart rate. Strength training is more focused on building muscle mass. Both offer great benefits and when combined provide the best of both worlds.

Warm-up for HIIT and Strength Training

Tip: Begin with a 5-10 minute warm-up to prepare the body for exercise.

Jumping Jacks: Jump your feet out to the side of your body. At the same time bring your arms out to the side of overhead. Bring your feet together and arms down to your side. Land softly and repeat.

3 sets x 30 seconds

Jump Lunge: Start in a lunge position. One leg in front of the other. Jump and switch legs. Land softly into a lunge and repeat with the opposite leg.

2 sets x 10 reps each leg

Plyo Push-Ups: Start in a high plank position, hands shoulder-width apart. Lower your chest down to the ground and explosively push back up. As you leave the ground, land softly into the next rep. 

3 sets x 6 reps

Bear Crawls: Start in an all-fours position. Keep your knees at a 90-degree angle off the ground. With your back flat, move one hand and the opposite foot forward. Stay low and switch sides. Repeat the movement. 

3 sets x 10 yards

Strength and HIIT Workout

Tip: Choose 5 weighted strength exercises followed by a more cardio-based exercise. Perform in a circuit and aim for 1-3 rounds depending on fitness level.

1. Dumbbell Squat + Jump Squats

Dumbbell Squat: Hold two dumbbells at your side and place your feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down, bending at your knees and pushing your hips back. Keep your back straight and chest up. Stand up by driving your hips forward. Perform for 30 seconds.

Jump Squats: Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down and on the way up explode up off the ground. Land softly moving right into the next rep. Perform all out for 30 seconds.

Complete both exercises back to back. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for 1-3 total sets.

2. Dumbbell Push Press + Box Jumps

Dumbbell Push Press: Hold one dumbbell in each hand and rest on the shoulders. Slightly dip by bending at your knees and hips (do not squat). Explosively drive by extending your legs and press the dumbbells above your head. Lower them back to the starting position and repeat. Perform for 30 seconds.

Box Jumps: Stand about one foot from a box. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. As you bend your knees, drop down and bring your arms behind you. Propel your body into the air as you jump up onto the box. Arms should swing in front of your body. Perform all out for 30 seconds.

Complete both exercises back to back. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for 1-3 total sets.

3. Renegade Row + Mountain Climbers

Renegade Row: Start in a pushup position with hands on dumbbells. Row the left dumbbell up to the side of your body. Lower it back down and repeat on the other side. Perform for 30 seconds.

Mountain Climbers: In a high plank position, start the movement by driving the right knee into the chest. Quickly step back and repeat on the other side. Continue to alternate. Perform all out for 30 seconds.

Complete both exercises back to back. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for 1-3 total sets.

4. Dumbbell RDL + Rower

Dumbbell RDL: Hold two dumbbells in front of your body. Hinge at the hips and lower the dumbbells as far as you can go while maintaining good posture. Keep your back flat and dumbbells close to your body. Perform for 30 seconds.

Rower: Sit on the rower and secure your feet. Keep arms straight, back upright and ankles flexed. Begin by pushing with your legs and sliding back. As you slide, pull the handle to your rib cage and return to the starting position. Repeat all out for 30 seconds. 

Complete both exercises back to back. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for 1-3 total sets.

5. Step Ups + Assault Bike

Step Ups: Stand in front of a box or step. Place one foot on the box. Pushing through your lead foot, lift your body up onto a box. Step backward to the starting position. Alternate legs each time. Repeat for 30 seconds.

Assault Bike: Adjust the seat height and sit on the bike. Grab onto the handles and place your feet on the pedals. Pedal forward and simultaneously push and pull with your handles. Perform all out for 30 seconds. 

Complete both exercises back to back. Rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for 1-3 total sets.


Tip: Finish off the workout with a cooldown to prevent injury and promote recovery.

Light Walking: Walking for a few minutes is a great way to bring the heart rate down after a combined HIIT & strength workout.

Child's Pose: From tabletop position, sink back to sit on your heels. Reach your arms forward. Let your chest fall into your thighs and focus on breathing. Hold for 30 seconds or more.

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  1. Boutcher, S.H. (2011). High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss. J. Obes.doi: 10.1155/2011/868305.Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991639/

  2. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2014, December 22). Weight Training Appears Key to Controlling Belly Fat. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/weight-training-appears-key-to-controlling-belly-fat/

  3. Dalleck, L.C., Smith, L.E., and Green, D.J. (2018, June). Is HIIT Resistance Exercise Superior to Traditional Resistance Training? A Randomized, Controlled Trial. ACE. Retrieved from https://acewebcontent.azureedge.net/June2018/ACE_HIITresistanceStudy.pdf

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