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What is High-Intensity Resistance Training and Is It Really Effective?

Tonal’s new live Strength and Sweat workouts can boost endurance and burn fat. 

High-intensity resistance training on Tonal

If you think you need to spend hours working out to build lean muscle, burn fat, and boost your metabolism—think again. High-intensity resistance training offers all these benefits in one highly effective workout by combining strength training with cardio conditioning. Each high-intensity resistance training session has all the ingredients you need to get lean. On Tonal, the new live high-intensity Strength and Sweat workout will give you a taste of this highly efficient training style in 30 minutes or less. If you’d rather work out on your own schedule, there are also dozens of HIIT classes available on demand. 

Here’s everything you need to know about high-intensity resistance training and how to incorporate it into your routine.

What is High-Intensity Resistance Training?

If you’ve done cardio-based interval training by sprinting on the track or spinning fast on an exercise bike, you’re familiar with the general style of these workouts—bursts of hard efforts followed by rest periods. High-intensity resistance training follows a similar format but kicks it up a notch by incorporating weight lifting. 

“High-intensity resistance training is a form of interval training where we’re utilizing strength-based movements,” explains Jenna Moore, a certified strength and conditioning coach and Fitness Programming Specialist at Tonal. “Typically, it’s combination movements that target large muscle groups—like a squat with row—to elicit a metabolic response, paired with bodyweight cardiovascular movements like jumping jacks or high knees.” 

She explains that these workouts are usually done as circuits, in which you perform a series of exercises and then repeat that series for a certain number of sets.

How is High-Intensity Resistance Training Different from Lifting?

Even though you’ll be lifting weights in high-intensity resistance training, the pace and purpose of these exercises differ from standard strength training. If your goal is to develop peak strength, you’ll lift very heavy weights (think 85 percent or more of your one-rep max for a certain exercise) for a low number of reps. 

“In high-intensity resistance training, you’re going to see a higher volume of reps and lighter weight,” says Moore. The intended outcome of this type of training isn’t to set a PR in your deadlift, but rather to work at a fast pace to get your heart rate up and elicit a metabolic response, stimulating the endocrine system to release hormones necessary for improving body composition (or the ratio of muscle to fat mass). Instead of 6 reps or fewer in traditional strength training, you’ll complete around 8 to 20 reps of a particular exercise—or as many as you can in a certain amount of time, and lift only 55 to 75 percent of your one-rep max. 

Moore says that’s why high-intensity resistance training workouts on Tonal are often programmed for duration instead of reps, allowing members to work at their own pace. An experienced exerciser might be able to complete 20 goblet squats in 30 seconds giving their maximum effort, while a beginner working at their own 10-out-of-10 intensity level may only be able to do 5 reps—but both will enjoy the benefits of packing in as much work as possible in the timeframe.

The secret sauce for high-intensity training is the work-to-recovery ratio. “A two-to-one work-to-rest ratio is pretty common,” says Moore. For example, in these intervals, you’d go all-out for 20 seconds and rest for 10. Manipulating these ratios changes the desired outcome of the workout, with longer, less intense intervals used for endurance training and shorter, more intense ones designed to maximize power. Rest periods in high-intensity resistance training will be shorter than in traditional strength training.

How Should High-Intensity Resistance Training Feel?

Don’t be surprised if these workouts leave you sweaty and breathless.

“The whole point of any type of interval training is to push yourself during the work periods to that slightly uncomfortable level,” says Moore. 

Don’t shy away from the challenge, though, as that’s what will help you break through plateaus and achieve your goals. “A lot of us stay in our comfort zone when we’re training,” says Moore, “so this type of workout is probably going to push people outside of that comfort zone.” 

You’ll likely feel your heart rate spike in these workouts because of the cardiovascular conditioning component. Compound exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups and plyometrics will both elevate your heart rate.

During high-intensity training workouts on Tonal, coaches will guide you through each move letting you know what level of intensity to give for each set. Be patient if you’re just getting started. With this type of training, you learn what it feels like to give a 5-out-of-10 effort versus a 10-out-of-10 effort.

What Are the Benefits of High-Intensity Resistance Training?

Even though these workouts are, by definition, intense, the rewards are worth the effort. Pushing hard for short bursts increases your body’s work capacity, meaning you’ll be able to do more reps or sets in a certain time frame. This increased work capacity translates to greater endurance and more efficient fat burning. “You’re going to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time,” says Moore.

And with high-intensity resistance training, the calorie-burning doesn’t stop when you finish your last rep. 

“From a scientific standpoint, we call that EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” says Moore. “Your body is revved up following the workout because of the intensity, and it’s going to take longer to recover. While your body’s recovering, you’ve got that metabolic response—your fire is stoked— so you’re going to end up burning calories for a longer period of time throughout the rest of the day.” 

Since this type of training includes resistance, you’ll also build lean muscle mass, improving your body composition. The high-rep ranges will boost muscular endurance while explosive plyometrics recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers and stimulate hypertrophy. 

“That’s why a lot of people love training in this way,” says Moore. “It not only gives you conditioning benefits, but it gives you aesthetic benefits as well.”

Live High-Intensity Resistance Training on Tonal

Experience high-intensity resistance training for yourself with Tonal’s new live high-intensity  Strength and Sweat workouts. All clocking in at 30 minutes or less, these workouts are designed to drive muscular endurance and burn fat. “It’s more of what you’ve come to know and love from Tonal high-intensity,” says Troy Taylor, Senior Director of Performance at Tonal. 

Strength and Sweat workouts stream live on Tonal every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:30 a.m. E.T. Ideally, you’ll want to do these workouts live to enjoy cheering on your fellow members and getting virtual cheers in return when you achieve a new accomplishment or hit a new PR, but they’ll all be available on-demand if you’d rather work out on your own schedule. The coach for these workouts will rotate weekly, offering you a variety of motivational styles. 

Most workouts will feature intervals of 30-45 seconds in duration, according to Taylor, and will follow a consistent weekly split: lower body on Monday, upper body on Wednesday, and full body on Friday. Even though that structure repeats, the actual workouts will always be unique to keep you engaged.

Tonal Live Workout Schedule

More High-Intensity Resistance Training Options on Tonal

If you want to give high-intensity resistance training a try on your own schedule, Moore created this quick workout that incorporates full-body lifts with heart-pumping cardio. It’s a highly efficient session that should take less than 15 minutes to complete. Run through the moves without stopping, then rest for 60-90 seconds at the end of the circuit. Repeat three times.

High-intensity resistance training workout on Tonal

Standing Overhead Press – 15 reps

How to Do it: Press both arms up overhead reaching the knuckles toward the ceiling, but keeping the shoulders pulled toward the floor. Bend the elbows to slowly bring the hands back to start.

Racked Offset Squat – 10 reps

How to Do it: Facing Tonal, take a handle in one hand and bring it to your shoulder with palms facing in. Stand with feet hip-width apart at the end of Tonal’s arms. Move through your hips as your knees bend like you’re sitting back into a chair. Stand by squeezing your glutes and pushing the floor away from you.

Mountain Climber – 30 seconds

How to Do it: Start in a hand plank position. Drive one knee forward with power like you’re sprinting up a hill, keeping the other leg planted on the floor. As you drive the moving leg back, power the opposite knee forward to the chest. Repeat quickly, alternating sides.

Tonal also offers plenty of coach-led high-intensity programs and workouts. You can see all the options by filtering for “High Intensity” on the Tonal app or check out some of Moore’s top picks below.

20-in-20: Metabolic Burn – Coach Ash Wilking

In this intermediate-level program, you’ll complete 20 workouts over the course of four weeks—and all of the workouts are 20 minutes or less. Even though you’ll work out for five consecutive days each week, Moore explains that each of the weekly workouts focuses on a different training adaptation to keep you feeling fresh. During each week, you’ll target endurance, work capacity, power, cardio conditioning, and core work. 

Peak Power HIIT– Coach Kendall “Woody” Wood

This advanced program follows a 3-2-1 protocol in which the duration of intervals gets shorter as you push through each block, but the intensity goes up. You’ll learn how to manage your effort at different levels and fight fatigue to maintain a high output as the workout goes on. 

Low-Impact HIIT – Multiple Coaches

High-intensity workouts don’t have to be hard on your joints, as this beginner-friendly, low-impact program proves. You’ll still get your heart pumping and muscles burning as you burn fat and boost endurance without any jumping.

Bodyweight High-Intensity Resistance Training 

When you’re on the go, you can still squeeze in an efficient high-intensity resistance workout with just your body weight. Here’s Moore’s recommendation for a bodyweight circuit. Perform each move for 30 seconds without stopping in between, and then rest for 90 seconds at the end of the block. Repeat three times. 

Bodyweight high-intensity resistance training circuit

Broad Jump to Back Pedal 

How to Do it: Stand with feet hip-width apart and arms at your sides. Bend your knees and push the floor away as you power your hips forward to jump forward and land in a squat a couple of feet ahead. Come to stand and quickly back pedal to move back to your start position and repeat.


How to Do it: Bending the elbows about 45 degrees from the torso, drop your chest toward the floor aiming for your fingertips. Once at the bottom, push the floor away from you while pressing with your chest.

High Knee

How to Do it: Stand facing Tonal with your feet hip distance apart. Lift the right knee as high as it will go while raising the opposite arm, then switch quickly, bringing the left knee up before the right foot lands. Repeat.


How to Do it: Jump up, reaching your arms overhead, and landing with bent knees in a squat. Place your hands on the floor in front of your feet and jump into a plank. Press up and then jump your legs back toward your hands to land in a squat. Power back up reaching your hands to the ceiling and repeat.

Lateral Bench Jump

How to Do it: Wrap your hands around the sides of the bench and place your feet to one side with knees soft. Keeping your arms strong and your grip tight, make the shape of a rainbow with your feet by jumping up to bring your legs and torso to the opposite side of the bench. Keep your shoulders over your wrists and move back and forth quickly.

Skater Bound

How to Do it: Bound up and to the side off of one foot and land on the other foot as soft as a ninja, by shifting your weight back and down gently. Once you land, bound back to the other leg.

The Bottom Line

For a fast, efficient workout that builds muscle and burns fat, you can’t beat high-intensity resistance training. Try one of Tonal’s new live high-intensity Strength and Sweat workouts to break a sweat, improve fitness, and have fun with a world-class coach guiding you every step of the way and the support of your community.

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