Cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance, flexibility/mobility are all important variables of physical aptitude, with adequate levels required for sports participation and athletic prowess, and also the basic promotion of health and functional autonomy.

Traditionally these components have been worked separately. We live in a world where people struggle to fit in 30mins of exercise a day, motivation is low and noise on what is good and bad is at an all-time high thanks to social media. Most of us work with the general population who need all these components for all-round wellness and health. Even most athletes require an interplay between these different physiological demands, except for cardio endurance athletes or those participating in lifting disciplines such as body building, who may need to plan training to avoid any attenuation effects of training any other modality than the one they need at elite level.

We need to be fluent in creating workouts that leave our clients energised and offer all the main components of fitness congruently and intelligently. I hear from my time-pressed clients that they want time-effective and fun workouts that give them what they want and what they need – strength, endurance, power, cardiovascular fitness, mobility and flexibility.

How do we achieve this in a short space of time?

Enter High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT), which sits within modes of training considered CONCURRENT or CONCOMITANT TRAINING.

Concurrent training refers to undertaking aerobic and strength training within the same week. HIFT training can break modalities down across different days of WODS (Workout of the Day) but will often see elements brought together by exercises that raise heart rate while training muscular strength or endurance. But this style of training isn’t exclusive to CrossFit and we can take much of the research done on the modality and apply it to our clients to create time-effective workouts that embrace all components of fitness.

The definition of CONCOMITANT is ‘existing or occurring with something else, as a related feature or circumstance’. This is training cardio, strength and mobility/flexibility at the same time. Each exercise should increase heart rate, improve strength and endurance, and work at or near end range of a joint to improve mobility. It’s a great way to train our gen pop clients.

The most frequently cited challenges when it comes to exercise and meeting these recommendations are time and motivation.

This is where HIFT can be an extremely useful programming tool.

HIFT is an exercise strategy that variably incorporates functional movements from weightlifting, gymnastics and traditional cardiorespiratory exercise into workouts, which are intended to be performed at high intensity (>70%HRR) from 5-30mins but rarely longer.

There are almost infinite possibilities for how to structure a workout in this way, which reduces boredom and keeps motivation high. Progression/results are achieved because workouts are typically accompanied by instructions that encourage a specific effort (e.g., repetitions completed within a set time, time taken to complete tasks, frequency of rests, etc.). This is ultimately self-regulated and leads to a range of acute physiological responses which improve markers in cardio fitness (both aerobic and anaerobic), physical composition, muscular strength/endurance/motor skill and potentially flexibility/mobility depending on exercise.

A 2014 study comparing HIFT-based exercise to moderate-intensity endurance exercise for obese sedentary adults discovered that the HIFT group was more likely to continue the regimen post intervention. When it comes to aerobic results, high-intensity training is shown to have similar physiological improvements as moderate-intensity endurance training. Both methods elicit improvements in energy expenditure, oxygen consumption and V02max. HIIT-style training additionally improves anaerobic capacity, which moderate-intensity work does not. In untrained people, aerobic training intensities of >80% HRR also promote increases in muscle hypertrophy. The evidence for this seems to be related to the increase in mitochondrial proteins in the muscle, increased insulin mediated anabolic signalling, increased blood flow and muscle perfusion and a decrease in DNA damage and chronic inflammation. These benefits plateau quickly though, and the same response is not seen in trained people. Regardless, HITT- or HIFT-style training can elicit similar benefits to longer duration, steady-state, moderate-intensity training with significantly less time spent performing them and are often reported as more enjoyable.

HIFT differs in three key areas:

  • Structure – Workouts are usually organised into one or more circuits which emphasise density (e.g., completing as many reps as possible in each time limit).
  • Exercise selection – ‘Functional’ exercise could be broadly classed as whole-body movements that activate multiple muscle groups through universal motor recruitment patterns, mirroring activities of daily life or potentially a specific sport. Functional movements tend to elicit greater force and power outputs which are linked to better developments in neuromuscular function, muscle mass/muscle quality and strength compared to non-functional exercises. Exercises could also include less-complex segments which build up a bigger skill over time. For example, someone learning to perform a muscle-up might include pull-up variations and triceps dips as part of purposeful skill learning and strength building.
  • Variability – The theory of progressive overload states that training must consistently challenge a physiological trait to elicit adaptation. This occurs in HIFT because the overload stimulus is usually accomplished by instructions to perform as many good-quality reps/sets in the given time. This allows the participant to auto-regulate pacing and rest intervals, as well as scale intensity, duration and complexity of movement skill. Across workouts a huge variety of exercises could be given, which elicits adaptation in all areas of fitness.

OK, so how do we programme HIFT for our clients and create exercises that simultaneously increase heart rate, recruit high-intensity motor units for strength/hypertrophy AND work in joint end ranges to train for improvements in mobility/flexibility?

  • Equipment choice
  • Strength theme(s)
  • Workout structure
  • Circuit sequence

Equipment choice

My tool of choice is always ViPR. I love how versatile and scalable it is, but you can use other equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX, even barbells to work at end range when you use them less traditionally.

ViPR is one of the best tools to bridge the gap between movement and strength training. Loaded Movement Training (LMT) is my favourite way to train and to programme for clients who need to be life strong, not gym strong!

LMT with ViPR challenges and conditions muscle, fascia, nerves, skin and more because of the long range positions you are able to achieve. Moving with load improves balance, agility and dynamic strength in a way you cannot achieve with traditional static strength work and which works beautifully with HIFT-style workouts.

ViPR training is shown to:

  • increase functional mobility and agility
  • improve multi-directional stability, strength and power
  • enhance balance, timing and co-ordination
  • increase calorie burn during and after workouts compared to traditional resistance workouts.

All ViPR movements can be regressed and progressed, which goes hand in hand with a training model where the person gets to self-select how hard they work. ViPR and HIFT are a fitness marriage made in heaven.

ViPR is my desert island piece of kit! But you can achieve HIFT and mobility with bodyweight and a towel too, as well as almost any piece of equipment you can think of. The only limitation is your imagination and understanding of how joints move and muscles load.

Strength theme

When it comes to HIFT, we draw from movement-based strength and power-based strength, as well as traditional strength.

Movement-based strength is whole-body integrated and task specific. The themes include:

Fundamental strength – The development of basic whole-body integrated movement patterns

We identify which movement patterns are most important to our client’s goal or look most like their sport and create movement patterns with as many variations as possible, including loaded, unloaded, linear and multi-directional, to create variable strength within the basic pattern.

Dead strength – Overcoming resting inertia

Dead strength is the ability to produce high levels of muscular force with minimal contribution from our elastic tissues such as fascia, ligaments and tendons. Dead strength can include:

Dead Starts – moving from a static position with a high amount of force, such as a 100m sprinter leaving the blocks. Dead strength is useful for athletes who need to rapidly produce power from a static to a dynamic position, but also for gen pop as power and the ability to move fast from a resting position can come in handy!

Deadlifts – overcoming resting inertia to move a mass vertically against gravity, such as picking up a heavy bag from the floor. Deadlifts train muscular strength and endurance, something both athletes and gen pop need.

Dead shifts – overcoming resting inertia to move a mass horizontally through gravity, such as lifting the bag onto the back seat of a car without any momentum. Moving a mass perpendicular to gravity trains our muscles, especially our core, to handle force in front and to the side. So, when we need to lift a mass perpendicular to gravity in real life, such as a muddy child into a bath, the body and brain are more prepared to accept the load and allow it without pain.

Ground to standing – overcoming one’s own resting inertia from ground positions to standing positions, such as falling and quickly having to get up as a car is coming! Ground to standing allows greater independence as we age.

As with fundamental strength, the more variables we programme, the more we are going to work differential parts of muscle, tendon, ligaments and bone to create a robust meatsuit!

Odd-position strength – Overcoming uncommon body postures (which are often surprisingly common!)

Odd-position strength is the ability to move and produce force in odd or uncommon postures/positions while maintaining movement integrity. Many sports and real-life tasks demand the body to move in and through odd positions. If we don’t train these positions that’s when we are at risk of injury. We MUST replicate life and sport in the gym. Lengthening under load (tensile strength) strengthens us in our more vulnerable ranges and creates hypertrophy at end range. This is cool because you get stronger and more resilient to the potential threat of injury when you need to find these positions quickly in life. Odd-position training also trains neuromotor skill and movement efficacy as the motor system must be intelligent enough to navigate through odd positions safely and effectively. This takes time and practise and the more variables you give the motor system, the more it learns how to deal with many eventualities.

Agile strength – Sustaining momentum

Agile strength is the ability to sustain momentum. Think swings with a kettlebell, skater-type movements, parkour and gymnastics. To sustain momentum, the body looks to capture potential energy from our elastic tissues (fascia, skin, ligaments and tendons) which reduces the energy required to accomplish the task.

Relative strength – Lifting the most important weight: yourself!

Relative strength is about being bodyweight strong and how much of your bodyweight you can lift for given tasks. From simple squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups to more advanced exercise such as muscle-ups, an iron cross, pistol squats, crawling and tumbling patterns.

Power-based strength themes:

  • Acceleration – Overcoming inertia to move as fast as possible.
  • Deceleration – Stopping momentum or putting on the brakes.
  • Agility – Stopping, starting and changing direction rapidly.
  • Speed – Moving as fast as possible in one direction.
  • Quickness – The ability to react or change body position quickly in any position and any plane of motion. This could be to a coach’s auditory or visual cue or when reacting in sport.
  • Plyometrics – Not just because it’s hard! Plyometrics train our body’s elastic system. Plyometrics comprise an eccentric phase (tissue loading), amortisation phase (transition) and concentric phase (tissue unloading). We want a short transition time for greater plyometric effect. When we have good plyometric ability, we have efficient locomotion.

Workout structure

When designing a HIFT workout, we borrow from HITT and CrossFit and use protocols such as AMRAPs (as many reps as possible in timeframe), Tabata (20 seconds’ work/10 seconds’ rest x8), AMSAPs (as many sets as possible in timeframe), EMOMs (every minute on the minute), intervals, supersets, pyramids, etc.

Protocols that work to a set time allow the client to self-select pace and work as hard as they can in any session. Other protocols might ask a certain number of reps or sets and the total time to complete the circuit is recorded. This protocol is helpful if it is to be repeated to track progress of general fitness and ability. As one of the key tenets of HIFT is variability, you would change your workouts often and avoid repeating them for too long, if at all, based on client preference and ability. Some clients may benefit from performing a workout a few times before moving on, especially newer clients who need to develop skill in movements. HIFT has a non-linear periodisation profile, meaning clients will achieve progression through variety rather than repetition.

Circuit sequence

You’ve decided on a strength/power theme. You’ve decided what structure you will use to elicit the intensity, so now what order do we place the exercises in? Everything you have ever learned about exercise order stands here and is yours to play with. I recommend doing some of the workouts you programme to see how they feel and you’ll get better at programming the right variables for your individuals. Here are a few pointers:

  • Most complex exercises first whilst physically and mentally fresher.
  • New exercises earlier on for the same reasons.
  • Consider vascular blood shunt effects of moving between lower and upper body as, while this creates a higher calorie burn and increased heart rate, it can also make some people dizzy and push them too hard.
  • Have certain muscles been pre-fatigued by other exercises (e.g., a push-up fatigues the shoulders and core so following it directly with a squat thrust or mountain climber is nasty!)? Newer trainees will need less stimulus on an area to create high fatigue and reduced performance.
  • Do the first and last exercise in a circuit complement or conflict? When repeating a circuit several times, ensure the last movement will not make the first movement more challenging than necessary.
  • Every session is whole body, but you can have a bias towards an area such as legs, arms or core.
  • Does the circuit increase heart rate but offer exercises within the sequence which give the participant a chance to recover while working muscularly?

Example circuit

In the main video I have programmed a circuit using the following:

  • Equipment – ViPR
  • Strength Theme – Odd-position Strength, Ground to Standing and Acceleration/Deceleration
  • Workout Structure – AMRAP

Circuit sequence:

  • ViPR (offset grip) XXX Squat with Shlift then Reverse Lunge opposite leg (Odd Position 30secs) R & L
  • ViPR (offset grip) Lateral shuffle into Squat React with rainbow ViPR Overhead (Odd Position 30secs) R & L
  • ViPR Kneeling Lunge, start with ViPR wide hold at chest – quickly lunge back leg through with ViPR overhead press (Ground to Standing 30secs) R & L
  • ViPR Diagonal Burpee rainbow to Ground (Ground to Standing 30secs)
  • ViPR (cylinder) Turning Knock Run with hard stop from static start (acceleration/deceleration – 30secs) R & L
  • ViPR (neutral grip) – turning squat jump with high cartwheel ViPR (Acceleration/Deceleration 30secs)
  • ViPR Mobility Squat with High Cylinder Lift (Odd Position 30secs)
  • ViPR Roll Up into Lunge and Press Oh with Twist (Ground to Standing 30secs)
  • ViPR Kneeling Lean Back with Swing Down from Overhead (Acceleration/Deceleration 30secs)

This gives a total work time of five minutes for the first round and 90 seconds for the second. Aim to repeat each circuit three times for a total of 18 minutes’ continuous work or with a small break between sets/circuits depending on the client.

The next two videos show how to use dumbbells and a CMT for the same movements, but changing the equipment will give a different feel to both joints and muscles.

This gives you an idea of how to put together a HIFT sequence but remember this is a modality with a lot of flexibility, so you can be as creative as you like while using the guidance above. Have fun playing with less traditional pieces of kit such as ViPR to create loaded movement experiences that offer simultaneous cardiovascular, strength and mobility gains in a time-efficient manner for maximum enjoyment and benefit.

Ally Foreman has been a personal trainer and group exercise instructor for over 21 years and runs a private studio in East Horsley, Surrey. She specialises in training the human being, not just the human body and believes we need more focus on movement for health, rather than just aesthetics. She has also worked in fitness education for over 12 years and has trained over 1000 trainee fitness instructors in that time. 


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