Do HIIT Workouts Build Muscle?

It seems like everywhere you look, people are touting the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. They promise to help you burn fat faster than traditional cardio exercises. But does HIIT deliver on its promises? And more importantly, is it suitable for building muscles?

Before we begin, you need to understand what HIIT is and how it affects your body to determine whether it will help you achieve your muscle-building goals.

In this article, we will go over everything you need to know about HIIT and muscle building.

Let’s start by understanding what exactly HIIT is.

What Does HIIT Mean?

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training and is a type of exercise that alternates between intense activity and brief rest periods. HIIT is typically performed with any kind of cardiovascular activity, such as running, biking, or rowing. The key to HIIT is working at near-maximal effort for short bursts of time, which helps to improve both aerobic and anaerobic endurance.

HIIT workouts are typically shorter than traditional cardio workouts, making them more time-efficient. In addition, HIIT has been shown to boost metabolism and burn more calories in the hours after a workout.

Though HIIT has only become popular in recent years, its origins can be traced back to the early 1900s. In 1912, Finnish runners Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen popularized the “interval training” method to prepare for the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at the Summer Olympics.

This method became known as the “Fartlek” training system and was used by athletes throughout the mid-20th century. It wasn’t until the 1990s that HIIT began to gain mainstream popularity, thanks in part to research that showed its effectiveness in improving athletic performance.

In 1996, Japanese researcher Izumi Tabata published a study demonstrating the benefits of HIIT for athletes, and since then, HIIT has been increasingly adopted by fitness enthusiasts and professional athletes alike. Today,  HIIT has become a popular choice for athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

Now that we know what HIIT is, let’s understand the science behind muscle building in the next section before seeing the impact of HIIT on muscle building.

How do muscles get built?

When you work out, you’re damaging your muscles. That may sound bad, but it’s a good thing. When muscle fibers are damaged, they repair themselves by getting bigger and stronger. This process is known as muscle hypertrophy. To build muscle, you need to do two things: damage your muscles and give them time to heal.

The best way to damage your muscles is to lift weights. You generate tiny tears in your muscle fibers when you lift a heavy weight. These tears cause the soreness you feel the day after a workout.

Your body repairs these tears by fusing nearby cells to form new muscle fibers. This process is known as myofibrillar hypertrophy, primarily responsible for the increase in muscle size that comes with strength training. However, it’s not the only way to build muscle.

Another form of hypertrophy, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, increases fluid volume inside muscle cells. This can lead to an increase in muscle size without necessarily affecting strength. Both myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is necessary for maximizing muscle growth.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about the answer you came here for.

Do HIIT workouts build muscle?

The short answer is yes! But with some caveats.

While HIIT workouts help to increase your overall cardiovascular fitness and burn more calories than traditional steady-state cardio exercises. However, they are not the best exercise for building pure muscle mass.

So what can you do? You incorporate weights or at least some sort of resistance into your HIIT routines.

Here is a simple fact. When resistance is applied to the muscle, new muscle cells are built over time. This process is usually triggered by lifting weights, a resistance exercise. Dumbbells, barbells, cables, and machines are typically used to add resistance.

Luckily it is not limited to just that. In fact, resistance can be added to the muscles by training with resistance bands or even by using your body weight.

You see, for a muscle to be built, you have to meet a certain intensity level. For example, dancing can stimulate your leg muscles but not enough to promote noticeable muscle growth.

Your muscles are there to do the grunt work. In short, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Forget about building more. And we are not talking about lifting the heaviest weight you can find. No, it can be as simple as using a 2 kg dumbbell for some people, depending on your current muscular strength.

For example, If you are used to lifting weights, whether in the gym or as part of your work, then the required intensity to promote hypertrophy will be different than someone who only does cardio workouts.

So the point is that while HIIT can build muscle, it may depend on the choice of your activities. Traditional HIIT workouts are usually more cardiovascular-centric, which can help build muscular endurance, which is the ability of your muscles to work for an extended period without fatigue. But they’re not going to do much for hypertrophy. So if you want to build muscle through your HIIT workout, you must tweak your exercise routines.

The good news is that since HIIT is more a concept of doing short bursts of high-intensity exercise rather than a specific workout, you are free to choose your activities based on your individual goal.

So if your goal is to build muscle, you can incorporate particular props and equipment in your workouts that will isolate the muscles and promote hypertrophy.

Now, what exactly are those props? It’s up to you. Some people like using dumbbells or barbells. However, you can also do freestyle using your body weight or a resistance band, ropes, kettlebell, etc.

Still confused? Don’t worry. In the next section, we’ll give you an overview of exercises you can include in your HIIT muscle-building routine.

What are the best HIIT exercises for building muscle?

Creating a HIIT routine that targets all major muscle groups with little effort is possible. As mentioned above, HIIT is more about the concept than the workout itself. So that allows you to change the activities as per your individual goal.

Since we are talking about muscle building and hypertrophy, here are some exercises you can include in your HIIT routine that stimulate the muscles enough to promote hypertrophy.

The beneficial part of these exercises is that they focus more on the concentric movement of your muscles than the eccentric one.

Concentric movement is the shortening of a muscle as it contracts. Eccentric movement is the lengthening of a muscle as it stretches. An example of eccentricity includes the downward motion of a squat or lowering your body while performing crunches.

The eccentric movement is the one that is responsible for all the pain and soreness that you feel the next day—also known as DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness).

Does this mean you will not feel much pain the next day after this workout?

It depends on how often you train your muscles. As we mentioned earlier if you are untrained or only do cardiovascular activities such as running, cycling, etc. You will most likely feel a lot of soreness the next day as your muscles are not used to any added resistance.

But don’t worry, it is entirely normal. It means that the body is doing its job. As long as you keep up your routine and are consistent with your workouts, your muscles will rapidly get used to it, and in no time, you will be flaunting your muscles on social media.

Now you must be thinking, all that is fine, but how would this look in a training routine? Don’t worry; we have got you covered.

HIIT Exercise

Work Interval 

Rest

Jumping Rope

30s

20s

Box Jumps

30s

30s

Lunges with dumbbells

25s

30s

Kettlebell Swings

30s

30s

Power clean with barbell

25s

30s

Battle Ropes

25s

30s

Sprints

30s

20s

Rower

30s

30s

Boxing Heavy Bag Drills

30s

30s

Burpees

40s

30s

*** Total time – 10 minutes
*** Make sure to warm up before you start your workout
*** Include a cooldown and a full body stretch after your workout

The Final Stretch

HIIT workouts are a great way to increase your overall fitness and burn more calories. Still, in its traditional form, it is not the ideal type of exercise for building muscle.

To really focus on putting on muscle mass, you have to get creative and incorporate weights or some other form of resistance into your HIIT routines.

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Kyla Clark
Kyla Clark
Kyla Clark writes about healthy living and fitness. She holds a Master's Degree in Physical Activity for Health which she obtained at the University of Edinburgh. Kyla has been working as a freelance writer for three years.