High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT)

High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT)

An interesting article was published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in their May/June 2013 issue regarding the benefits of a high intensity circuit training (HICT) work-out that they created.  They combine aerobic activity and resistance training into a single exercise regime that only lasts approximately 7 minutes and only relies on body weight.  This 7 minute regime can be repeated two to three times, depending on the amount of time the person has to spend.

HICT for Fat or Weight Loss

The researchers claim that HICT is a fast and efficient way to lose excess body weight and body fat because the resistance training that is incorporated into the regiment helps to significantly burn fat during a work-out.  Interesting, an increased amount of both catecholamines and growth hormones are found in the blood of subjects during and after HICT exercise with short rest periods.

HICT Improving Markers of Health

VO2max is a marker of cardiopulmonary health, and when the researchers compared HICT versus traditional protocols effects on VO2max, they found that HICT results are comparable and sometimes even greater, despite having significantly less exercise time.

HICT may also be efficient and effective at decreasing insulin resistance, which is a major factor in developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, the researchers noted that positive changes were observed in insulin resistance even with as little as 8 minutes per week at an intensity of more than 100% VO2max!

Exercise Selection

According to the researchers, the exercises in the HICT circuit should be used to:

  1. promote strength development for all major muscle groups of the body
  2. use large muscle groups to create the appropriate resistance and aerobic intensity
  3. create a balance of strength throughout the body
  4. be immediately modified or adapted as necessary to increase or decrease exercise intensity
  5. be safe and appropriate for the participants in the training space provided
  6. be interactive with the available features of the training environment
  7. be easily transitioned to accommodate minimized rest time

Exercise Order

The exercises for the HICT circuit should be placed in an order that allows for opposite muscle groups to alternate between resting and working in the following exercise stations.

For example, you should have an upper body exercise (eg. push-ups) followed by a lower body exercise (eg. squats).  This is because the muscles of the upper body are being used, while the muscles of the lower body are at rest during the push-ups.  This results in the lower body having enough energy to perform the squats properly (form and technique) and at an adequate intensity.

Also, if a particular exercise creates a significant increase in heart rate, the following exercise should slightly decrease the heart rate.

Following these guidelines will help the person perform the exercises in quick succession using the proper form and technique, and at a high intensity with minimal rest between exercises.

Individual Exercise Time

The general rule of thumb is: the longer the exercise duration, the lower the exercise intensity that can be accomplished.  A 30 second exercise bout allows for maximizing the metabolic impact of the exercise and sufficient time to allow for the proper execution of 15-20 repetitions of the exercise.

Rest Between Exercises

A rest time of 30 seconds or less results in maximizing metabolic impact.  If the rest period is too long, it undermines the purpose of the HICT protocol.  It is important to remember that the objective is for INcomplete recovery between exercises so that the high intensity can be sustained over the short exercise period without compromising the proper exercise form and technique.

Total Exercise Time

In general, 20 minutes of high intensity exercises is usually recommended.  This means that the circuit should be repeated a few times in order to obtain optimal results.

Sample Exercise Program

The researchers suggested the following HICT protocol, which 30 seconds spent on each exercise and a 10 second rest period between.  They estimated that the total time of the entire circuit workout is approximately 7 minutes, so they recommend repeated the entire circuit 2-3 times.

  1. Jumping jacks
  2. Wall Sit
  3. Push-up
  4. Abdominal crunch
  5. Step up onto chair
  6. Squat
  7. Triceps dip on chair
  8. Plant
  9. High knees/running in place
  10. Lunge
  11. Push-up & rotation
  12. Side plank

Please see the original article for photos that demonstrate these exercises.


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Here are a few more posts on healthy habits that you might also be interested in:




  • Klika B & Jordan C.  Amer Coll Sports Med.  High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results With Minimal Investment.  May/Jun 2013; 17(3): 8-13.




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