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What is HIRT (High Intensity Resistance Training) and How Should You Use It?

Posted Dec 11 2009 12:00am
December 11th, 2009 Posted in ,

Originally written: November 20, 2009
Updated: December 11, 2009


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High Intensity Resistance Training (HIRT) is essentially resistance training for fat loss, and like HIIT, it really is a big deal. HIRT training is the most effective way to increase your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), increase your Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), and burn calories at the same time.

When using HIRT you will execute several exercises together (sometimes called a super-set or giant-set), for a certain number of reps per set, for a certain number of minutes, without rest.

Along with HIIT, HIRT is a useful tool when avoiding endurance cardio while trying to lose fat, and it actually increases muscle mass more effectively than HIIT.

HIRT training will give you the following benefits:

  • Increase metabolism for up to 36 hours post-workout
  • Outperform aerobic exercise in fat loss studies
  • Maintain muscle mass on a low calorie diet
  • Build muscle mass on a moderate to high calorie diet
  • Minimize fat gain on a high calorie diet
  • Burn more calories than endurance cardio
  • Increase muscle density
  • Improve anaerobic endurance
  • Improve aerobic endurance

You may supplement this info with the post titled, “What is HIIT?

What is HIRT?
HIRT Theory BMR and EPOC
Who Can HIRT Benefit Who Should Avoid HIRT Design a HIRT Routine
Sample HIRT Training Splits Sample HIRT Training Routines  
HIRT Routine #1 HIRT Routine #2 Olympic HIRT Routine

The important things to know about HIRT are:

  • HIRT workouts help maintain muscle mass when following a low calorie diet
  • HIRT workouts outperform diet and aerobic exercise in fat loss studies
  • HIRT workouts increase metabolism for up to 36 hours
  • Full body workouts using sets of 5 to 15 reps
  • Pushing through the lactic acid burn
  • Utilizing a variety of combo-sets (super-sets, tri-sets, giant-sets, etc…)
  • Utilizing compound exercises
  • Focusing on the largest muscle groups

Rule #1 about HIRT: Don’t talk about HIRT. er… no, that’s a rule for a different club I attend on Saturday nights… ah, I’ve already said too much…

Seriously though:

As I mentioned before, along with burning calories through exercise, two of the most important factors in exercising to lose fat, are increasing BMR over the long term, and increasing EPOC per workout. Let’s learn a little more about BMR and EPOC, shall we?

Why do we care about BMR?

Your BMR describes the base metabolic rate for your body. It tells us how many calories your body burns at rest. Burning more calories at rest means you will lose fat faster or gain fat slower (if your daily calorie intake is too high). Improving BMR is simple: when you have more muscle mass, your body has a higher BMR.

Increasing your BMR will help you burn more calories over the long term.

Why do we care about EPOC?

Your EPOC describes how quickly your metabolism returns to your BMR after exercise. Because it deals more with the aerobic energy system, HIIT is more effective at increasing EPOC than HIRT, but not by very much. When targeting fat loss, we want to focus on workouts that increase EPOC as well as BMR.

The higher we can pump the EPOC after each workout, the more calories we will burn in the short term.

Anyone who wants to lose body fat while keeping all of their hard earned muscle mass, or anyone who wants to minimize fat gain while attempting to gain muscle mass. Alongside HIIT, HIRT should be a vital component to any serious fat loss plan.

HIRT would be useful for people who:

  • are looking to elevate their metabolism (BMR) long term
  • are looking to maximize short term fat loss through resistance training
  • are looking to keep as muscle as possible during a cutting phase
  • are looking to minimize fat gain during a bulking phase
  • are looking to increase aerobic endurance
  • are looking to increase anaerobic endurance
  • are looking to burn more calories on a daily basis
  • are looking to supplement their HIIT workouts with additional fat burning exercise
  • are athletes who participate in a sport such as boxing, MMA, soccer, basketball, football, wrestling, etc…, who need to increase muscular endurance in 5-10 minute bursts, while minimizing body fat

Unlike HIIT, there are virtually no people who should avoid HIRT. Grasping at straws, the few people for whom HIRT might not be the best solution include those who:

  • are not cleared by their doctor to begin a high intensity exercise routine. Check with your doctor before starting HIRT.
  • are overzealous. You can’t use HIRT 3-4 times a week, and strength training or HIIT 3-4 times a week. Even though HIRT is not neurologically as taxing as HIIT or strength training, you still must rest between workouts.
  • are looking to maximize strength gains. Excessive HIRT and HIIT workouts will slow down strength gains.
  • are looking to increase speed. Because no sprints or max effort attempts are included in HIRT, speed will probably not be affected.

HIRT can be used for either cutting or bulking, usually maintain muscle mass while decreasing bodyfat, but also to minimize fat gains while increasing muscle mass. HIRT is also somewhat effective at improving aerobic endurance and even more effective at increasing anaerobic endurance.

As always, your diet is still 75% responsible for determining how these goals are achieved. Manipulate calorie intake and macronutrient ratios to gain muscle or lose fat according to your goals.

These are the guidelines I will use for creating a HIRT workout:

  • Each HIRT workout must be a full body routine.
  • Sets of 5 to 15 reps will be used. Lower reps to focus on muscle gain, higher reps to focus on muscular endurance.
  • Each HIRT workout will use super-sets, tri-sets, or giant-sets.
  • Each HIRT exercise will be a compound exercise focusing on the largest muscle groups.
  • Each super-set should last 8-10 minutes.
  • 60-90 seconds rest between super-sets.
  • No rest within a super-set.
  • All exercises should be executed explosively – meaning as fast as possible while maintaining good form.

There are thousands of ways you can integrate HIRT into your workout routine. You can use full body workouts, a 5 day split with HIRT at the end of your strength training, you can go HIIT-less to avoid sprinting, you can focus solely on HIIT and HIRT for max fat loss. You are only limited by your own imagination.

You can choose to implement several kinds of HIRT splits:

  • Priority: fat loss

    Day 1: 45 minutes of HIRT
    goal – maximal intensity resistance and endurance training

    Day 2: 25 minutes of HIIT
    goal – maximal intensity cardiovascular training

    Day 3: 45 minutes of endurance cardio (optional)
    goal – anaerobic recovery and aerobic endurance training

    Day 4: 45 minutes of HIRT
    goal – maximal intensity resistance and endurance training

    Day 5: 25 minutes of HIIT
    goal – maximal intensity cardiovascular training

    Day 6 & 7: Off

  • Priority: fat loss, but maximize muscle retention

    Day 1: 45 minutes of full body resistance training
    goal – maximal strength resistance training

    Day 2: 30 minutes of HIIT
    goal – maximal intensity interval training

    Day 3: Off
    goal – recovery

    Day 4: 45 minutes of HIRT
    goal – maximal intensity resistance and endurance training

    Day 5: 30 minutes of full body resistance training plus 20 minutes of HIIT
    goal – maximal strength resistance training and maximal intensity interval training

    Day 6 & 7: Off

  • Priority: gain muscle and attempt to lose fat at the same time

    Day 1: 45 minutes of full body resistance training
    goal – maximal strength resistance training

    Day 2: 30 minutes of HIRT plus 20 minutes of HIIT
    goal – maximal intensity cardiovascular training and maximal intensity interval training

    Day 3: Off
    goal – recovery

    Day 4: 45 minutes of full body resistance training
    goal – maximal strength resistance training

    Day 2: 30 minutes of HIRT plus 20 minutes of HIIT
    goal – maximal intensity cardiovascular training and maximal intensity interval training

    Day 6 & 7: Off

  • Priority: gain muscle

    Day 1: 45 minutes of full body resistance training
    goal – maximal strength resistance training

    Day 2: 30 minutes of HIRT
    goal – maximal intensity cardiovascular training

    Day 3: 45 minutes of full body resistance training
    goal – maximal strength resistance training

    Day 4: 30 minutes of HIRT
    goal – maximal intensity interval training

    Day 5: 45 minutes of full body resistance training
    goal – maximal strength resistance training

    Day 6 & 7: Off

For this workout, you will have to change equipment and/or stations to move to each new exercise, so your best bet will be to plan ahead and keep all the equipment you will need for the super-set at one station. This will keep rest down between sets.

Execute each super-set for 10 minutes without rest.
Rest for 180 seconds between super-sets.
The workout should take 45 minutes including a 5 minute warm-up and stretching after the workout.

Super-set A:

Super-set B:


Super-set C:

For this workout, you will have to change equipment and/or stations to move to each new exercise, so your best bet will be to plan ahead and keep all the equipment you will need for the super-set at one station. This will keep rest down between sets.

Execute each super-set for 10 minutes without rest.
Rest for 180 seconds between super-sets.
The workout should take 45 minutes including a 5 minute warm-up and stretching after the workout.

Super-set A:


Super-set B:


Super-set C:

For this workout, you will move from one exercise to the next without any rest at all, since you won’t have to change equipment. Each movement will set you up to transition to the next movement, so that you are only executing one rep of each exercise per set and then flowing directly into the next rep of the next exercise.

This workout mainly utilizes Olympic lifts. Use really light weight or you might die, but you will probably puke anyway.

Execute each super-set for 10 minutes without rest.
Rest for 180 seconds between super-sets.
The workout should take 45 minutes including a 5 minute warm-up and stretching after the workout.

Super-set A:


Super-set B:

Super-set C:

Written by Steve
Steve is a formerly ISSA certified personal trainer and sport nutritionist, who has been studying, practicing, and experimenting since 1994. Please use the content at Project Swole to supplement the advice of your doctor or physician. All medical questions should be directed towards a qualified medical professional, and the advice provided at Project Swole should be used at your own discretion.

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