This Upper Body HIIT Workout Takes Less Than 30 Minutes

If you want to get a good sweat in—while showing your back, shoulders, and arms some love—an upper body HIIT workout is a great way to do it.

The hallmark of HIIT (high intensity interval training) is repeated, to-your-max bouts of work that spike your heart rate interspersed with periods of recovery, as SELF reported previously. During those work periods, the goal is to hit your absolute edge.

Most workouts for the general pop that people call HIIT aren’t true HIIT, though—they’re more accurately described as interval training or circuit training. That’s because many exercisers prefer hard efforts sandwiched with shorter recovery. (With true HIIT, work periods are very short and all-out, usually with recovery periods that are two or three times longer.)

But interval and circuit training provide many of the same benefits as HIIT: They’re all about muscular endurance and muscular burnout, Alicia Jamison, C.P.T., trainer at Bodyspace Fitness in New York City, tells SELF. They also challenge you cardiovascularly—all of which helps you go longer and harder when you’re exercising.

Typically, HIIT-style workouts focus on your lower body, with ample jumping moves. But you can isolate your upper body for interval training, too.

“Any exercise can be intensified, so long as you get that muscular burnout,” Jamison says.

To intensify upper body moves, Jamison advises implementing a longer work period and increasing the speed of your reps during that work period. And if you find yourself sacrificing form for speed, “get out of the working position,” Jamison says “Take two deep breaths, reset your position, and then get back into your work.” Quality is always more important than quantity, especially when you’re moving quickly through the reps, so if you find your form getting iffy, focus on getting it in check even if you have to slow down.

Because you’ll be moving quickly and intensely, a solid warm-up should always precede a HIIT-style workout. To properly warm-up for this HIIT workout, Jamison says to make sure your dynamic stretches and exercises go through a full range of motion, especially focusing on activating your glutes, core, shoulders, lats, and upper back. You should also include a few moves to get your heart rate up before you jump into your first circuit. These can include jumping jacks, T-spine rotations, arm circles, and cat-cows.

This circuit-style upper body HIIT workout, designed by Jamison, focuses on muscular and cardio endurance. It uses dumbbells and your bodyweight, and predominantly relies on upper body and core moves with a few full-body moves to turn up the heat and really keep your heart rate up.

Here’s what you’ll need for this super sweaty, super satisfying 26-minute upper body HIIT workout.

The Workout

What you’ll need: One light set of dumbbells (you can try 3-8 pounds), one medium set (about 10-20 pounds), and an exercise mat for extra cushioning.

The Exercises

Circuit 1

  • Bear crawl
  • Dumbbell bent-over fly
  • Blast-off plank to shoulder tap
  • Dumbbell renegade row with push-up

Circuit 2

  • Dumbbell bicep curl to overhead press
  • Burpee with push-up
  • Dumbbell wood chop
  • Dumbbell tricep extension

Directions

  • Perform each exercise in Circuit 1 for 40 seconds, resting for 20 seconds after each move. Complete three times total. Rest for 2 minutes after the third round.
  • Perform each exercise in Circuit 2 for 40 seconds, resting for 20 seconds after each move. Complete three times total.

Demoing the moves below are Shauna Harrison (GIF 1), a Bay Area–based trainer, yogi, public health academic, advocate, and columnist for SELF; Rachel Denis (GIFs 2, 7-8), a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting; Delise Johnson (GIF 3), CEO and strength coach at Wellness and Weights; Amanda Wheeler (GIF 4), a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-founder of Formation Strength; Denise Harris (GIF 5), a NASM-certified personal trainer and Pilates instructor based in New York City; and Cookie Janee, (GIF 6), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve.

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