HIRT workout: What it is and why you should be doing it

Move over HITT, high-intensity resistance training is the best workout you should try.

Amanda Capritto
4 min read
a young woman doing exercises with a resistance band

Chill out on the HIIT. Try HIRT instead. 

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Not to put a coronavirus spin on everything (OK, I am doing that, you got me), but if the COVID-19 pandemic taught us one thing, it's that it's OK to slow down. It's more than OK, actually -- it's necessary. 

The sudden halt to our everyday lives back in March 2020 showed us all that we just do too much. Pre-COVID, hustle culture was alive and well. People scoffed at downtime and we were made to feel guilty about resting. I don't know about you, but as of late, people in my circles have been encouraging others to slow down.

It feels like slowness is encouraged in all aspects these days, including exercise. I've taken this cue and applied it to my workouts -- instead of my usual high-intensity, CrossFit-style workouts, I've been enjoying slower, more intentional workouts. 

I said goodbye to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and embraced high-intensity resistance training (HIRT), a type of workout I think everyone can benefit from. 

What is high-intensity resistance training? 

HIRT is a slower, easier-on-the-joints version of HIIT. The latter has been glamorized by the fitness industry for nearly 20 years, ever since researchers found out that HIIT can burn more calories in less time than other forms of exercise. 

That's dandy, but HIIT can also keep cortisol levels high if you don't recover from your workouts properly and give yourself enough time to rest between sweat sessions -- not a beneficial scenario for those of us who are already chronically stressed. 

An older woman doing push-ups inside her home.

HIRT workouts revolve around high-volume resistance training.

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HIRT slows things down and gives you the ability to put more intention behind your movement. You can focus on your form while still getting in an effective workout. 

This type of workout is essentially timed, high-volume weightlifting. You'll use weights on the lighter side for your strength level so that you can perform more reps. 

Benefits of high-intensity resistance training

With HIRT, you get all the benefits of HIIT, plus some. Those include:

  • Muscle growth: Typical rep ranges for HIRT workouts fall into the ideal rep range for building muscle
  • Strength: Lifting weights is the best way to get stronger.
  • Muscular endurance: Higher rep ranges improve your body's capacity to move for long periods of time
  • Gentle on your body: Unlike HIIT workouts, there aren't any explosive or high-impact exercises in HIRT workouts. 
  • Strengthens bones: Resistance training maintains bone density and is preventive against osteoporosis. 
  • Reduced risk of diseases: Strength training helps prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Weight loss: Lifting weights can help you lose weight.
  • Time-effective: Like HIIT workouts, HIRT workouts are quick but constructive.
  • Sustainable: HIIT isn't sustainable for many people because it's so intense. Many people find that HIRT is easier to stick to long-term.
  • Fun: You might find HIRT more fun than traditional weightlifting, which can get boring if you don't like to wait out long rest intervals.

What you need for a HIRT workout

dumbbells on a purple yoga mat

You don't need much for a HIRT workout.

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The only downfall to HIRT as compared to HIIT is that it more often requires equipment. 

You could do a HIRT workout without equipment by focusing on the tempo of your movements (e.g., performing squats with a 5-second descent), but you'll find it easier to incorporate variety if you have equipment. Plus, you'll get better results if you have some dumbbells or kettlebells handy. 

You don't need a lot of equipment. One pair of dumbbells, a kettlebell or even a couple of resistance bands will do. 

Read more: The best kettlebells for 2020: JaxJox, Apex and more

Beginner high-intensity resistance training workouts

Try out these three HIRT workouts in place of your next scheduled HIIT workout -- hopefully, you'll feel stronger, more energized and reinvigorated about fitness. 

HIRT workout 1

What you need: Two dumbbells

Every minute on the minute for 10 minutes:

  • Even minutes: 10 dumbbell squats
  • Odd minutes: 10 dumbbell shoulder press

How it works: At the start of every minute, perform your 10 squats. Then, rest for the remainder of the minute (your rest could be 40 seconds, could be 15, depending on how fast you do the reps). Focus more on proper form and movement quality than speed -- HIRT workouts should tax your muscles more than your lungs. At the start of the next minute, perform 10 shoulder presses. 

By the end of this workout, you'll have completed five sets of 10 squats and five sets of 10 shoulder presses in just 10 minutes. How's that for time-effective?


The kettlebell swing

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HIRT workout 2

What you need: One kettlebell

As many rounds as possible for 15 minutes:

  • Five slow push-ups (3-second descent; modify to your knees if needed)
  • 10 kettlebell swings
  • 15 kettlebell rows
  • Rest 60 seconds

How it works: Set a clock for 15 minutes and move continuously through the movement sequence. Don't forget to rest for 1 minute at the end of each round.

HIRT workout 3

What you need: Resistance bands

Complete three rounds of the following:

How it works: Move through the sequence above three times. Focus on movement quality. Record your time so you can try it again in a few weeks and see how you've progressed.

More workout tips: 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.