How to Take Your Workouts to The Next Level 

For cardio, strength, and HIIT workouts!

By: Jessica Migala

Your workout routine is solid. You’re hitting your planned workouts, and you’re seeing progress in strength, endurance, and your overall goals. Now, to keep moving forward, you’re going to want to level up your workout. And that means increasing the intensity. Whether you’re doing cardio, strength, or HIIT, here’s exactly how to increase workout intensity safely and with confidence. Enjoy the new gains.

How to Take Your Cardio Workouts to the Next Level

Add Sprints

Sprinting can turn your cardio workout into an interval workout — and research shows it can aid in weight loss, boost your cardiorespiratory fitness, and improve insulin function (a major fat-storage hormone). Go ahead and incorporate sprints into a variety of workouts, such as running, cycling, the elliptical, stair stepper, or rower. Plan on performing a 30-second sprint and then 4 to 4.5 minutes of recovery, suggests the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). This might be 30 seconds of exercise at hard effort, followed by recovery of a light effort, such as slow jogging, cycling, or walking. Repeat 3 to 5 times. 

A 30-second sprint might feel like too much at first, so go ahead and start with shorter intervals (even as low as 6 or 8 seconds) and follow that up with a long enough recovery for your heart rate to decrease and your breathing slow again before starting the next sprint.

Switch Your Activity

The guidelines for exercise include getting in 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking. However, if you don’t have the time, turn things up a notch. You can reap the same benefit with 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise — and yes, that’s cutting your workout in half. Make your walk a jog or run, swim laps, play singles tennis or pickleball (instead of doubles), or cycle on a hilly (not flat) route.

Add in Active Recovery

If you’re doing a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, you’re probably feeling sweaty and tired at the end. But instead of sitting down with your bottle of water, consider going for a jog. People who followed up a HIIT session with a 15-minute moderate jog improved certain measures of fitness better than those who sat down, one study found. The jog didn’t actually help their muscles recover, but rather was a way to prolong the benefits from the HIIT session. So, crank down the intensity, and keep things going just a little longer.

RELATED: The Best Rest Day Activities to Support Active Recovery

How to Take Your Resistance Training Up a Notch 

Increase the Weight

Quick check: What weight are you lifting right now? If you can power through your reps easily with your current weight, pick up a heavier load for your next set of squats or shoulder presses. Lifting heavier builds muscle strength better than lighter loads, finds a review of more than 20 studies. 

To know if you’re lifting the right weight, you should be able to do about 8 to 12 reps before fatiguing. If you can crank out 15 or 20 no problem with your current weight, then that’s when you know it’s time to increase the load. Make sure, though, that you’re not going too heavy. You still should be able to perform each rep with proper form, which ensures you’re using your muscles as intended to lift the weight and safeguards against injury.

Add HIIT to Strength

HIIT is not just for cardio. HIIT is for strength work, too. Doing both together delivers the best of both worlds: better cardio fitness, blood sugar control, major calorie burn, and increased muscle mass, according to the International Sports Sciences Association

One way to make this happen is by alternating between cardio and strength moves. In this instance, your cardio periods would be the “work” portion of HIIT, while strength would be done as an active recovery. For example, do box jumps followed by pushups, then burpees followed by squats. The result is a full-body workout.

Give these HIIT-Strength workouts a try:

Adjust the Rest Between Sets

The time you rest in between sets matters, and when it comes to improving your strength, make sure you rest for 60 seconds to 120 seconds — or more! — in between sets, research suggests. That might be shorter or longer than what you’re doing now. The research found that for newbie lifters, they’re best off going for 60 to 120 seconds of rest between sets. 

More experienced lifters, however, should allow for more than 120 seconds between sets to max out strength gains. (Though, more than five minutes is probably too long.) Longer rest isn’t slacking — it allows your body a chance to recover so that it’s not too fatigued going into the next set. Then, you can really go after it again, lifting (or increasing) your weight and completing the intended number of reps, without having to cut yourself short. 

So, how do you know if you are resting “enough”? You should feel psychologically and physiologically ready for the hard work ahead, the authors say. 

Take it to The Next Level, No Matter Your Workout or Fitness Level

How to increase workout intensity, made easy! With these easy-to-implement tips, take your workout to the next level, no matter where you’re at in your fitness journey! Simple fitness hacks like adding rests between your sets, upping the weight, adding in HIIT and sprints, and prioritizing active recovery are some simple ways to level up your workouts. Give these a try for a next-level fitness experience!