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High Intensity Workout

Updated: Mar 11

Two people completing a high intensity workout.

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We’re all guilty of sticking to the same sessions and exercising at the same intensity. Even dedicated fitness enthusiasts are creatures of habit.


However, throwing the occasional high intensity workout into your routine is a great way to mix things up. As well as coaxing us out of our training comfort zone, it can kick-start a rusty cardio system and help break through training plateaus.


In addition, studies have shown that when athletes ‘incorporate intermittent high-intensity’ bouts into their regime, they ‘show more improvement in performance,’ (Physiology of Sport and Exercise).


Furthermore, a high intensity workout burns more fat than steady-state training. Researchers have shown that short high intensity bouts (of just 7 minutes) can contribute to weight loss.


This high intensity workout will enable you to tap into the benefits outlined above.


The high intensity workout

Once you’ve organised your training area, and completed the progressive warm-up, select the timeframe appropriate for your level of fitness and training needs. You have four options to choose from:


Option 1: 2-minutes 30-seconds HI / 30-seconds rest
Option 2: 5-minutes HI / 1-minute rest
Option 3: 7-minutes 30-seconds HI / 1-minute 30-second rest
Option 4: 10-minutes HI / 2-minutes rest

There are also two training plans to choose from. Choices, choices! The session mechanics remain the same. All that differentiates the plans is the exercises. By varying the stations, the workouts will (hopefully) appeal to a wider audience.


Also, for those that don’t have access to a competition kettlebell, you will be able to complete the other plan without having to go through the trouble of finding alternative exercises.


Starting at the first exercise, maintain a solid work rate for the stipulated duration.


Throughout this high intensity workout, your aim is to sustain between 60 to 85% of max effort. For the final minute or 30 seconds of each exercise, you can push the intensity if you’ve got enough in the tank.


When the time elapses, take a well-deserved break before progressing to the following exercise. The moment your rest is up force yourself straight into the next set. Don’t dally or delay for a second!


Repeat this formula until you have completed all exercises in the plan.


High intensity workout key points

  • The most important part of any workout is the warm-up (here’s why). To ensure that you are appropriately prepared for high intensity training, ensure you have warmed up well first.

  • Before getting sweaty, select the preferred training/rest ratio and workout plan.

  • Once warm and ready, set a repeat countdown timer.

  • Progress through the five exercises maintaining an intensity between 60% to 85% of max effort.

  • Remember, though, your objective is to sustain high output for the entirety of the round. If you are struggling early on, or you feel that you might not last the duration, bring the intensity down a notch or two. Once you’ve recovered, gradually start to work back up through the gears again.

  • On completion of an exercise, take your rest before transitioning.


Progressive intensity warm up

  • 1-minute of mobility exercises – joint rotations/flexions/extensions

  • 4-minutes of cardio (preferably rowing, skipping, or airdyne cycling) – progressively raise the intensity every minute.

  • Complete one cycle of the exercises that feature in the high intensity workout of choice:

  • 1-minute Skipping (or jogging)

  • 1-minute Barbell (or kettlebell) complex (2 reps each exercise – use a light barbell)

  • 1-minute Rowing (or airdyne bike)

  • 1-minute Bodyweight complex (or plyo progression) (2 reps each exercise)

  • 1-minute Boxing (or shadowboxing with light weights)

A session plan of a high intensity workout.

A session plan of a high-intensity workout.

High intensity workout exercises

Below is an outline of the exercises that feature in the high intensity workouts. The outline includes a list of targeted outcomes, suggested method of approach, and, where applicable, a link to additional resources.


As with all Hungry4Fitness workouts and training programmes, the exercise can be modified, amended, or replaced to suit your personal preferences.


Need some exercise ideas?

Skipping

Purpose of exercise: burn fat, improve muscle tonality, and promote cardiovascular fitness

Skipping is arguably one of the best cardio exercises in existence.


As well as engaging a vast range of muscles, including of course the cardiovascular system, skipping also improves coordination, timing, and agility. For this station, aim to maintain between 100 and 140 skips per minute. During the final 30-seconds throw in a few double-unders. (Check out the best skipping rope.)


Watch the demonstration of high intensity skipping

Barbell complex

Purpose of complex: build whole-body strength and promote muscular endurance.


This barbell complex consists of five compound movements. They include the sumo deadlift, bent-over row, hang clean, military press, and squat. Performing between 2 and 5 reps on each exercise, the objective is to cycle through the complex without pause. To achieve this, you will need to select a weight around 60% of your one-rep max. I’ll be honest, weight selection for a series of exercises like this is tricky. Go too light and it won’t be hard enough but go too heavy and you’ll struggle through every set. When I completed this workout, I found it helpful to have a few spare plates on standby.



Kettlebell complex

Purpose of complex: forge functional strength in all the major muscle groups.


Kettlebells offer a novel alternative to conventional resistance equipment – barbells, dumbbells and machines. One of the great attributes of training with kettlebells is the impressive scope of primary and secondary muscle groups engaged. When performing the kettlebell swing, for example, the entire posterior chain register is recruited to assist the lift. In addition, because kettlebells are brutes to control, the many muscles of the core and a panoply of synergists are involved to stabilise the body. The order of exercises is as follows: stiff-leg deadlift, squat, swing, clean, and jerk. Complete 2 to 5 reps on each exercise before transitioning.



Rowing

Purpose of exercise: engage the major muscle groups – legs and back – including the cardio-respiratory system, burn fat and improve fitness conditioning.


The row offers a reduced resistance recovery station after the barbell (or kettlebell) complex. However, while the big muscles of the back and legs enjoy a temporary respite, the heart must work overtime to sustain a high output. Your fitness and rowing experience will dictate the pace. But to maintain an intensity level consistent with the workout ethos, you should aim to row a minimum of 20-seconds under your comfortable pace. For example, if you can sustain 2:20/500 metres, you would bring that down to 2:00/500 metres.


Challenge yourself to the ultimate rowing challenge: From 0 to 44,195 metres

Bodyweight progression

Purpose of progression: increase muscle endurance and promote whole-body functional fitness.


Now into the final two exercise stations of the workout, you will likely be fighting fatigue and battling the inclination to coast. If you find yourself struggling at this stage in the session, you can use the bodyweight progression as a breather. Slow the pace down and take short breaks after each completed progression.


It’s comprised of four exercises that naturally flow into each other. Starting with 5-seconds of plank, you will then perform 5 reps of the following three exercises: press-ups, squat thrusts, and burpees. On completion of the burpees, you can either treat yourself to a short shuttle sprint (15- to 25-metres) or drop straight back down into the plank. You decide.



Plyometrics progression

Purpose of progression: build explosive power in the legs and chest.


In contrast to the usual controlled method of performing bodyweight exercises, this plyo progression provides an explosive, high-octane alternative. Applying a plyometric element to an exercise instantly increases the intensity. In addition, due to the stretch-shortening cycle, plyo movements improve the stored elastic energy within the muscle (Jumping Into Plyometrics). This plyo progression consist of the following exercises: push press-ups (or clap-hand, if you can do them), burpees, box jumps. Aim for 2 to 5 reps per exercise prior to moving on.



Boxing

Purpose of exercise: burn fat, enhance muscle tonality, promote cardiovascular fitness, improve pugilism, relieve stress.


It’s fitting for the final round to conclude with a boxing bout. Facing down a heavy bag, drained and tired as you no doubt will be, your objective is to fight as though a world title is on the line. To survive you must maintain a consistently high punch rate. This won’t be possible if you’re throwing big bombs. Throughout the early stages of the round keep your punches light and snappy – throw punches in bunches (as the saying goes). When, and only when, you enter the final minute of the melee, should you start hitting hard!


Master the basics of boxing

 

How I completed this high-intensity workout

Even though I’ve completed these workouts several times now, I still find them engaging exercise experiences. They both provide an effective whole-body training session each of which develops a score of fitness components. Also, their simplicity makes them ideal for those times when you need a low-maintenance, fuss-free workout.


One limitation I’ve found with workouts of this nature is the continual challenge of maintaining high intensity output. When you’re training on your own with no judging eyes present or carrot-and-stick incentives driving you on, it’s tempting to take your foot off the gas.


Two methods of maintaining high intensity

However, I’ve identified a couple of ways to overcome this limitation. The first involves exploiting the power of self-competition. By completing each exercise twice (for a shorter duration – either 2:30 or 5-minutes), you have the opportunity of trying to beat your previous score.


The second method is similar to the first except that, instead of competing against yourself, you will compete against a group of dedicated fitness enthusiasts. (You must find the fitness enthusiasts first though.) Same as above, you will visit each exercise twice. After completing the exercise, each participant makes a note of their score – how many skips performed, how many times through the barbell complex, etc.


This method works best when the scores are posted publicly, such as on a large whiteboard. Of course, when each member of the group has established a benchmark, the objective is to try and beat it. When applying this method, you’ll find that training intensity goes through the roof – and into the stratosphere if you implement rewards and punishments.


 

Enjoyed this high-intensity workout?

Get your hands on 70 more with the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Volume 2.

This high intensity workout blog concludes with the Hungry4Fitness book of circuits and workouts volume 2.

 

About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and fitness coach. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam at info@hungry4fitness.co.uk.


 

References

Chu, D (1998) Jumping Into Plyometrics. Human Kinetics. USA.


Kenney, L., Wilmore, J., Costill, D (2019) Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.

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