Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training For Bodybuilders

Get the most out of your cardio without losing that hard-earned muscle.

Cardio can be one of the more draining parts of your workout. After a big lift, the last thing you want to do is have to hop on the treadmill and stare at the same thing for an hour. But we suffer through it because we know our overall health is important to maintain and our desire to look lean can find ways of convincing us to power through. But there is another way to have those benefits of cardio work for you without putting in hours and hours into a forced routine. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one way to look leaner, get fit faster, and save time in the gym.

Seen as a way to burn fat effectively, high-intensity interval training has been beneficial for those looking to improve aerobic and anaerobic endurance, so its reputation has drifted away from bodybuilders or those seeking to put on muscle. But HIIT can be used for staying as lean as possible while also adding on muscle and the benefits of this form of training go far beyond simply endurance-focused athletes.

The framework for HIIT is the same for whatever form of exercise you choose for training. Brief, but maximum effort periods of work, with small periods of rest just to give you a second to catch your breath. On paper, high-intensity interval training seems simple and easy. But the key is to give everything you have into those 20 or 30 seconds to get the most out of it.

high-intensity interval training

What is High-Intensity Interval Training?

High-intensity interval training is a form of cardio workout where fast-paced intervals are alternated with recovery-style intervals to keep you working harder, but not longer. During the maximum effort portions, you should be working at 90% or over, but it’s important to not be under 90%. The recovery-type intervals should be at least 55-60% of your maximum effort to keep your body moving and to not allow the momentum of the workout to die out.

HIIT is appealing to many gym-goers because it allows you to work at maximum capacity and see big gains without struggling to stay afloat on an elliptical. The short duration of a high-intensity interval workouts is a big draw for those looking for a time-efficient exercise plan (1). Certain HIIT exercises include sprinting, biking, or jump roping and should involve short bursts to rapidly increase your heart and keep you working at a high level. While both HIIT and moderate continuous training can improve fitness and aid in your overall growth, HIIT has been shown to be not only time-efficient, but also more enjoyable (2).

high-intensity interval training

HIIT Benefits For Bodybuilding

Promotes Fat Loss

For those of us looking to shed unwanted fat but keep on our lean muscle, high-intensity interval training can seriously benefit our fat loss goals. While losing fat can be difficult, the key is calories. You need to consume less calories than you take in in order to start the process of losing that unwanted fat. HIIT allows you to burn calories more quickly during the physical workout (3) allowing for more burn in a shorter amount of time. For many, the amount of calories burned was the same, if not more, when compared to longer distance cardio.

A working metabolism can be key in fat loss and HIIT can increase your metabolic rate for a substantial amount of time after the workout is completed (4), offering the ability for more burn even after you’ve stopped. What HIIT can really do for you is turn to your fat stores for energy instead of carbs, thus targeting that unwanted fat to burn to keep you going strong. HIIT for those looking to see gains while bodybuilding can ensure less time in the gym with increased chance of fat loss while also sneaking fat from your fat stores for energy to keep you functioning and alert during the workout without the worry of running low on fuel.

Avoid Catabolism

For bodybuilders, the biggest fear is losing out on those gains you worked so hard for. While cardio is important to your health and performance, the fear of losing that hard-earned muscle can be overwhelming. High-intensity interval training can help avoid catabolism so your body does not break down the muscle tissue (5). This is a result of the shorter amounts of time spent actually doing cardio. For the short, high intensity intervals, the body seeks out a quick source of fuel, unlike longer more endurance-driven workouts which can break down muscle for small units of energy. For those looking to keep that muscle on but get the benefits of quick and efficient cardio, HIIT is the way to go for bodybuilders.

high-intensity interval training

Improve Oxygen Consumption

Endurance training is used to improve your body’s ability to consume more and more oxygen to keep you training longer and more efficiently. HIIT can produce the same benefits as a longer cardio session (6). The benefit to this may be obvious, but with increased oxygen capabilities, your training can be more intense and those gains will be easier to achieve. HIIT will challenge your ability to work hard for a short amount of time leaving you satisfied in your workout knowing you received the same benefit as you would have suffering through an hour long run.

Wrap Up

We all know cardio is important for our overall health and performance. But most of us do not have time to sit and struggle through a long-distance cardio workout to make sure we get the most out of cardio while also ensuring we do not lose our lean muscle. High-intensity interval training is the best solution to your cardio needs, especially as a bodybuilder. The short interval bursts, matched with even amounts of recovery, allows you to feel satisfied in your workout knowing you did what you could to achieve maximum gains. By aiding in fat loss, increasing oxygen consumption, and avoiding catabolism, HIIT will allow you to keep on all that hard-earned muscle while getting all the benefits of cardio. Don’t be afraid to give 100% during this workout because you won’t lose what you work for and the gains will be enough to continue with high-intensity interval training.

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*Images courtesy of Envato


  1. Gillen, Jenna B.; Gibala, Martin J. (2014). “Is high-intensity interval training a time-efficient exercise strategy to improve health and fitness?”. (source)
  2. Kong, Zhaowei; Fan, Xitao; Sun, Shengyan; Song, Lili; Shi Qingde; Nie, Jinlei (2016). “Comparison of High-Intensity Interval Training and Moderate-to-Vigorous Continuous Training for Cardiometabolic Health and Exercise Enjoyment in Obese Young Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial”. (source)
  3. Falcone, Paul H.; Tai, Chih-Yin; Carson, Laura R.; Joy, Jordan M.; Mosman, Matt M.; McCann, Tyler R.; Crona, Kevin P.; Kim, Michael P.; Moon, Jordan R. (2015). “Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men”. (source)
  4. Wingfield, Hailee L.; Smith-Ryan, Abbie E.; Melvin, Malia N.; Roelofs, Erica J.; Trexler, Eric T.; Hackney, Anthony C.; Weaver, Mark, A.; Ryan, Eric D. (2015). “The acute effect of exercise modality and nutrition manipulations on post-exercise resting energy expenditure and respiratory exchange ratio in women: a randomized trial”. (source)
  5. Laursen, Paul B.; Jenkins, David G. (2002). “The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training: optimistic training programmes and maximising performance in highly trained endurance athletes”. (source)
  6. Hwang, Chueh-Lung; Yoo, Jeung-Ki; Kim, Han-Kyul; Hwang, Moon-Hyon; Handberg, Eileen M; Petersen, John W.; Christou, Demetra D. (2016). “Novel all-extremity high-intensity interval training improves aerobic fitness, cardiac function and insulin resistance in healthy older adults”. (source)


Austin Letorney is a writer, actor, and fitness enthusiast. As a former rower, he has shifted his focus to sharing his knowledge of the fitness world and strength sports with others.