High Intensity Circuit Training Definition - Learn About HICT

Group Doing Pushups with Dumbbells
Getty Images/John Fedele

The trend to work harder at both cardio and strength workouts is everywhere. Visit any major city and you'll find places like CrossFit and Orange Theory Fitness, both of which tout high intensity circuit-type workouts designed to send your heart rate soaring.

This type of training, or High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT) involves combining both cardio and resistance training in the same workout, alternating upper and lower body moves as well as high intensity and lower intensity exercises.

The idea is a challenging, total body routine that offers better weight loss results in less time.

The major benefit of HICT is that you increase your afterburn - The number of calories your body continues to burn after your workout is over. That afterburn or Post Exercise Oxygen consumption (EPOC) is a great secret weapon to have in your arsenal, especially if your goal is to lose weight.


The standard guidelines for exercise usually include two different kinds of workouts: Cardio for about 150 minutes a week and then a separate strength training workout that you do on alternate days.

While we know that's how much exercise we need to lose weight, most of us don't have that much time to spend exercising each day.

Of course, there are ways to combine strength and cardio in the same workout, but that still takes time and how well does it really work? If you do cardio first, your strength training may suffer and vice versa.

The next question is: Is it effective if you combine the two in the same workout? That's something all of these circuit training workouts have in common but a study published in the May/June 2013 issue of the ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal shows that circuit training, done at a high intensity, really does work.


You burn calories and you build strength, all in the same workout. That saves you time and energy while giving you an effective workout that will give you solid results.

The HICT Workout

The study authors who set up the HICT workout to test its effectiveness used the following parameters:

  • 9-12 exercises that included a mix of cardio and body weight exercises. When choosing exercises, they looked for:
  • They alternated between muscle groups and intensity. For example, an upper body exercise (e.g., dips) was followed by a lower body exercise (e.g., lunges), while a high intensity exercise (e.g., burpees) was followed by a lower intensity exercise (e.g., knee lifts with a med ball). This allows some rest between muscle groups and energy systems so you can maintain good form and avoid bonking too quickly.
  • To maximize intensity, they had subjects do each exercise for about 15 to 20 reps or 30 seconds.
  • For maximum efficiency, the rest between exercises was short, less than 15 seconds.
  • The circuit they put together (listed below) was 7 minutes long and they recommended exercisers repeat the circuit up to 3 times for about a 20-minute workout.

Sample HICT Workout

Below is the workout the study authors put together, complete with 12 exercises that require no equipment, work all the muscles of the body and can be done just about anywhere. Do each exercise for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds in between and repeat 1-3, or more, times.

This is just a sample and more advanced exercisers may want to increase the intensity by adding weight or trying more advanced exercises.

The Benefits of HICT

So, the real question is, does this type of workout actually work? They found a number of benefits of HICT including:

  • It's a fast and efficient way to lose weight and burn body fat
  • HICT also increases your afterburn - The number of calories you burn after your workout
  • These types of workouts may also target more belly fat
  • HICT workouts are shorter and more time efficient
  • They increase VO2max as well as your overall fitness


The high intensity of this type of training coupled with the short rests demands more energy than traditional workouts.

And, because you're moving quickly, you'll want to be very familiar with the exercises so that you have good form, even when you get tired. Try practicing the exercises with as much rest as you need and then shortening the rests as your fitness improves.

Another thing to keep in mind that too much high intensity training, no matter what kind it is, can lead to overtraining, injury or even burnout if you don't give your body enough time to recover.

Try doing these workouts about twice a week with rests in between and consider cross-training with other activities like cardio, yoga, or Pilates to work your muscles in different ways.


Klika B, Jordan C. "HIGH-INTENSITY CIRCUIT TRAINING USING BODY WEIGHT: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment." May/June 2013. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 17(3), 8-13. Sept 8, 2013.

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