High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT)

Nicholas J. Perri MA, NASM-PES

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all the rage right now but a style of training that I’ve been using for years with my clients, and for my own training as well, is known as High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT). High Intensity Circuit Training is similar to HIIT in that both styles of training center on high intensity bouts of exercise followed by short recoveries, allowing for maximal health benefits elicited by maximum effort. In terms of it’s health and training benefits, HICT has been established as being superior to traditional resistance training or traditional steady state aerobic exercise, such as long distance running. And the best part about HICT is that those coveted benefits are made in a significantly less exercise time. Time is probably the most valuable commodity we have and HICT provides us a way to spend less time training and more time enjoying the rest of our life.

How does HICT work? A typical HICT workout should last about 20 minutes, with rest time kept to a minimum for maximal results. I tend to keep my HICT workouts between 12 and 20 minutes with most lasting around 15 minutes. The total exercise time will depend on the number of exercises in your circuit as well as the number of rounds you perform. Traditionally, 9 to 12 exercises are performed during a HICT workout but I prefer to keep it to 3 to 6 exercises and adjust the number of rounds performed accordingly. For instance, a circuit with three exercises may be performed 4 to 5 times while a circuit with five exercises may be performed 3-4 times. it depends on the number of exercises and the exercises themselves. If you’re unsure of how many rounds to perform, perform one round and make your decision from there based on the amount of time it took to perform the first round. Move from one exercise to the next with little to no rest. At the completion of a round, recover for 60 seconds and repeat. The exercises performed in a HICT workout should generally be oriented towards using the large muscle groups to create strong resistance and an anaerobic effect.


Here are a couple examples of HICT workouts I have performed recently:

1. Burpee Push Ups

2. Underhand Grip Pull Ups

3. Kettlebell Squat Thrusts

Four rounds of the sample above was performed for a total exercise time of approximately 15 minutes. By adding a fifth round, I could have easily taken this up to 20 minutes.


1. Mountain Climbers 

2. Airborne Push Ups

3. Planks w/Dumbbell Rows

4. Seated Dumbbell Shoulder Press

5. Jumping Split Squats w/Medicine Ball Chop

Three rounds of the sample above was performed for a total exercise time of approximately 17 minutes.


Each set is performed to failure with GOOD form. I do not time each individual exercise…only total exercise time and recovery time.

HICT is much more demanding than your average resistance training session or run on the treadmill. Be sure to monitor your heart rate and or Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and listen to your body. For best results, your form should be next to flawless. Otherwise, while you may be getting your heart rate up, you are not reaping the full benefits of the workout and in fact may be hurting yourself.

Nick Perri


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