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High-intensity interval training (HIIT) boasts many benefits. Whether you’re sprinting at your local track or cranking out strength circuits at the gym, stop–start workouts with built-in rest periods burn fat while building strength, power, endurance, and cardiovascular health.

But HIIT has its downsides, too.

“It’s too hard for many people,” says integrative physician and fitness coach Jade Teta, ND, and it can contribute to instances of injury and overtraining if it’s approached the wrong way.

As an alternative to conventional HIIT, Teta recommends rest-based interval training, which applies an intuitive model to high-intensity workouts. Rather than watch a timer, you tune in to your body.

“It’s an individualized approach,” says Teta, who created The Metabolic Effect training program to help people achieve maximal body composition and hormonal improvements with a minimal investment of time and energy. “Instead of resting according to what the clock says, you rest according to how you feel.” (For more on rest-based training, check out “Intuitive Training for Fitness.”)

Here’s how it works:

Pick several full-body exercises and perform them in a circuit, aiming to complete a certain number of reps per move, and keep it up for a set time period — say, 20 minutes. If you’re using weights, you’ll want to be able to use the same ones throughout the circuit.

What sets this protocol apart from traditional HIIT is that you rest as needed — between exercises, between circuits, even in the middle of a set.

Continue resting, with the clock running, for as long as you need until you’re ready to attack the next set (or rep) with full power and excellent form. Then, and only then, pick up where you left off — on rep six of your third exercise, for example.

“Work until you can’t, then rest until you can,” explains Teta.

It’s a simple concept, but it’s imperative that you listen to your body and be honest with yourself. Do that, Teta says, and you’ll find it’s surprisingly effective for burning fat, improving stamina and power, and building strength.

The Workout

You can do this rest-based interval workout anywhere — and perform it up to three times a week on nonconsecutive days, with a single set of dumbbells.

  • Do the following four moves in a continuous circuit, completing 12 reps of each exercise before moving to the next one.
  • Rest as often as necessary (even in the middle of a set) for as long as you need until you feel ready to continue the workout.
  • Then pick up exactly where you left off.

To determine when and how long to rest, “monitor the levels of your Bs and Hs — burning, breathlessness, heaviness, and heat — on a 1-to-4 scale,” advises workout designer Jade Teta, 1 being fully rested and 4 being unable to continue.

For best results, and for a beneficial release of the hormones that trigger fat loss, muscle growth, and mood elevation, Teta suggests working until those fatigue indicators accumulate to a full-on level 4, then rest until they subside entirely.

Choose a weight you can curl with good form for about 15 reps, and use the same set of dumbbells for the entire workout. Complete as many rounds as possible, aiming for about three, in 20 minutes. If you finish fewer than three rounds in the allotted time period, pick slightly lighter weights next time. Four or more rounds? Go a little heavier.

1) Squat-to-Press

Works your legs, core, and upper body equally, and challenges head-to-toe conditioning.

Perform 12 reps.

Full Instructions
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance, holding the dumbbells at shoulder height (under- or overhanded).
  • Squat as deeply as you comfortably can, allowing your knees to spread wide, keeping your chest up and your lower back in its natural arch.
  • Without letting your knees collapse inward, reverse the movement, standing fully upright.
  • Press the dumbbells to arm’s length overhead.
  • Lower the weights to shoulder height and repeat.

2) Lunge-to-Curl

Works your lower body (glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings) and biceps.

Alternate sides; perform 12 reps per side.

Full Instructions
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance, holding the dumbbells by your sides.
  • Lunge forward with your right foot, bending both knees to about 90 degrees, left knee close to the floor.
  • Reverse the movement to stand upright, then rotate your hands so your palms face forward. Slowly curl the dumbbells to shoulder height.
  • Lower the dumbbells back to your sides.
  • Repeat the movement, this time stepping forward with your left foot.

3) Pushup-to-Row

Emphasizes your upper-body pushing and pulling muscles (chest, shoulders, upper back) and challenges the rotary stability of your core.

Repeat the entire sequence 12 times.

Full Instructions
  • Holding the dumbbells, assume a pushup position with the dumbbells on the floor: core engaged, glutes squeezed, feet shoulder width apart, and body straight from head to heels.
  • Maintaining a straight body, bend your arms, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and lower your chest as close as possible to the floor
  • Reverse the movement, straightening your arms.
  • With your left arm fully extended, lift the dumbbell in your right hand as high as possible, keeping your right elbow close to your side.
  • Slowly lower the dumbbell and repeat the movement with your left hand.
  • You can modify this move by performing a renegade row: Hold the plank position and row the dumbbells, but remove the pushup portion of the exercise.

4) Burpee-to-Press

Conditions the whole body, with extra emphasis on your extensor muscles (hamstrings, glutes, lower back).

Perform 12 reps.

Full Instructions
  • Assume a shoulder-width stance, holding the dumbbells by your sides.
  • Keeping your lower back in its natural arch, bend at the hips and knees until the dumbbells make contact with the floor.
  • Jump your feet backward into the plank position.
  • Jump your feet forward to a squat position, then stand upright with dumbbells once again at your sides.
  • Curl the dumbbells to shoulder height, and then press the dumbbells to arm’s length overhead.
  • Lower the dumbbells to your sides and repeat the entire sequence.

Complete as many rounds as possible, aiming for about three, in 20 minutes.
If you finish fewer than three rounds in the allotted time period, pick slightly lighter weights next time.
Completed four or more rounds? Go a little heavier.

See the moves at “The Workout: Rest-Based HIIT (Video)“.







Alternate Moves

Sub in the following exercises whenever you want to change things up.

Squat Jump

Substitute for: Burpee-to-Press. Builds your lower-body explosive power and all-around athleticism.


Repeat for 12 reps.

Full Instructions
  • Assume an athletic stance, feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, and shoulders square. (Do not use dumbbells for this exercise.)
  • Drop your weight into a quarter- to a half-squat and swing your arms behind you.
  • Swing your arms forcefully overhead and extend your legs, hips, and ankles as fast as possible, launching yourself into the air as high as you can.
  • Land softly, find your balance, and repeat for 12 reps.

Dumbbell Step-Up-to-Curl

Substitute for: Lunge-to-Curl. Works your lower body (with particular emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings) and biceps.


Alternate feet for a total of 12 reps per side.

Full Instructions
  • Stand behind a knee-high box, bench, or step, holding the dumbbells by your sides.
  • Keeping your feet parallel and your torso upright, step onto the box, right foot first, then left.
  • Rotate the dumbbells so your palms are facing forward, then curl the dumbbells to shoulder height.
  • Step off the bench, right foot first.
  • Repeat the movement, this time leading with your left foot.

This article originally appeared as “Ready, Set … Rest” in the October 2016 issue of Experience Life.

Photography by: Chad Holder

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