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Upper Body Muscle Building HIIT Workout

I’ve been doing a lot of high volume training recently and wanted to share a muscle building HIIT workout that I put together. It’s not an easy workout and it draws on a few different types of training, but it follows a couple of things I know to be true from over 15 years as a personal trainer…

  1. High volume weight training builds serious muscle.
  2. High intensity weight training burns a lot of calories.

When base your muscle building HIIT workouts around these two principles, you won’t go far wrong. You’ll build muscle and burn fat, which is the holy grail of resistance training.

75 Hard, muscle building HIIT workout

High intensity training for muscle building isn’t anything new – Dorian Yates popularised the approach in the 90’s, crediting his high intensity training with the incredible amount of muscle he brought to the bodybuilding stage. He was the pioneer of the thick, dense physiques that we see on the bodybuilding circuit now.

By adapting some of the workouts and using them for muscle building and general conditioning, rather than pure bodybuilding, we’re able to gain the muscle building and fat burning benefits of HIIT workouts.

These aren’t bodybuilding workouts, they’re just high intensity workouts that will add muscle and burn fat quickly.

Isn’t HIIT for Cardio?

No. That’s a misconception.

The easiest way to explain this is to break down exactly what HIIT is. It stands for High Intensity Interval Training.

In a HIIT workout person will work at a high intensity for a given interval – that might be determined by time, distance, reps or fatigue. The type of exercise doesn’t matter, so you can use the principle for weight training, cardio training, rehab etc.

The reason people associate HIIT with cardio is because it is most often used as a cardio workout and it forces the athlete to work at a very high heart rate.

How Does High Rep Training Build Muscle?

Without going into the physiology of muscle building, essentially there’s a three-pronged approach to muscle building – stimulus, repair and recovery. I’ll explain these first….


This is the weight training itself. When we exercise we create microtears in the muscle fibres, which signal to the body that they need to regenerate bigger and stronger, in order to deal with a heavier load. We also stimulate the release of anabolic hormones such as human growth hormone (HGH).

The higher volume training increases the amount of load placed on the muscles, it also stimulates more HGH release.


This is the process by which the muscles grow bigger and stronger. The repair process starts as soon as the exercise stops. The muscle and connective tissues are rebuilt, more contractile units are added and the ability to generate force improves. The rate and the quality of the repair process is determined largely by the conditions created post exercise.


This is the time where we allow the muscles, bones and connective tissues to repair. During this time we have to ensure we eat well, including plenty of protein, vitamins, minerals and drink lots of water. We also need to get plenty of sleep, which allows the whole process to occur.

Now you know how muscle is built, we look at why a muscle building HIIT workout is so effective…

In a muscle building HIIT workout, the muscles are pushed to their limits – we lift to fatigue, allow a small window for recovery and then lift to fatigue again. This places a lot of pressure on the muscles and connective tissues, so the body is forced to make more drastic adaptions.

The huge rep numbers create a massive output of human growth hormone, triggering muscle growth. The reps also mean there is a lot of time under tension, creating perfect muscle growth conditions.

There’s another benefit to a muscle building HIIT workout – it’s a big calorie burner. By being clever with your exercise selection and ordering, you can distribute fatigue and maintain a high level of output for a long period of time.

A way I do this in a muscle building HIIT workout is by splitting the body into pairs – front and back, upper and lower, legs and arms etc.

The pairs themselves aren’t important beyond they must use different muscle groups, so we don’t do too much work with any one body part – too much work with a single muscle group would bring about faster fatigue and drop the overall intensity of the workout.

By keeping the intensity of the workout high, we maintain a high heart rate and burn a lot of fat during the workout. In many ways it’s how and why CrossFit athletes look the way they do – they have a mix of high intensity and high volume, meaning they’re burning fat and building muscle concurrently. The fat burning benefits of HIIT workouts are one of the reasons they’re so popular with personal trainers and exercisers alike.

Muscle Building HIIT Workout

This workout is an absolute beast when it’s done properly. These videos show the exercises themselves, but you can adjust the rest ranges to whatever suits you. Here’s my suggestions with the videos…

20 Kettlebell Swings, 10 Push Ups

30 Dumbbell Jump Squats

30 Bent Over Rows

30 Burpee Pull Ups

That’s one round – do as many as you like. I’d suggest you go for at least 4 rounds, keeping rest periods as short as possible.

When it comes to the sets, perform as many reps in a row as you can. Once you hit fatigue and the form drops, rest for the shortest time possible before continuing on with the set.

Keep rest between exercises as short as possible – the idea is to complete the set as quickly as you can, then rest afterwards for up to 2 minutes, before completing the circuit again.

It Doesn’t Look Like a HIIT Workout…

That’s possibly because you’re conditioned into thinking that a HIIT workout needs defined work periods. In this case, the work intervals are determined by the person doing the exercise and their fatigue levels – not by the stopwatch. It takes a level of mental strength to work even when tired, but that’s true of a lot of exercise.

To keep an eye on the intensity, I’d suggest you use a heart rate monitor during the workout. I use one for every workout because I find it gives me an accurate indicator of the work I’m doing and what kind of condition I’m in that day. I use the Polar M400…

I’d never train without a heart rate monitor now, purely because it gives me real data on what kind of effort and output I’m working at.

Muscle Building HIIT Workout: Concluded

This workout is effective because it’s a huge amount of volume done at a high intensity. It’s escalating density training in many ways, but harder and with more of a cardio element to it.

You’ll be pushing your body to a state of fatigue that you may not be used to, but like with anything, the more you do it the better adapted you’ll become. Your fitness levels will improve dramatically and you’ll start to gain muscle and drop fat quickly (as long as you eat sensibly, use the right therapeutic tools and recover properly alongside it!)

Throw it into your training twice per week and you’ll see the benefits very quickly.

If you’d like more HIIT workout ideas, I wrote a book on it. It’s available on iBooks for £3.99/$3.99 – you can download it to your phone and you’ll have 52 HIIT workouts to try in the gym. You can buy it by clicking the image below…

muscle building HIIT workout

A muscle building HIIT workout may be the shake up your training needs to take it beyond a plateau. If you’re not used to the style of training, it’ll be a big wake up call in terms of intensity and effectiveness. You’ll wonder why you hadn’t been doing it before!

By the way, if you subscribe to the Hoyles Fitness mailing list you’ll receive a free eBook containing 101 Health and Fitness Tips, plus offers and news exclusive to Hoyles Fitness subscribers. Click the image below to download…

free health and fitness ebook

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Owner of Personal Trainer, Father and fitness copy writer. Working hard making the world fitter and healthier!

2 thoughts on “Upper Body Muscle Building HIIT Workout”

  1. Great article. Also, if you want to build muscle faster don’t forget to eat healthy, rest and recover after a workout.

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