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High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT); the Descending Staircase

When the pandemic first hit, one of the many sources of anxiety for fitness-minded individuals was gym closures. Many of us wondered how we were going to maintain fitness when we weren’t able to leave our houses. And if you’re a busy working parent like me, you cherished your gym time as a sacred hour of “alone time.”

Necessity is the mother of invention; that is a fact proven more and more as 2020 passes us by. Being cooped up in the house forced me and many others to work out in the only space we had available: our homes. 

One type of workout I like to do with limited time and space is a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). These workouts generally take about 45 minutes and utilize combination moves that allow you to work more muscles in less time. There are lots of ways you can modify the workout to meet your spatial or physical needs. As always, consult with your doctor if you are planning on beginning an exercise routine. 

There are many different HIIT workouts you can do. Today we’ll talk about the workout I like to call the descending staircase. It’s a circuit consisting of five sets of eight strength-training exercises and a cardio set in between each set. 


What you’ll need:

2-3 sets of weights (light-approximately 3 pounds; medium-approximately 5 pounds; heavy-approximately 7-10 pounds)

A ball (doesn’t have to be a workout ball; you can borrow one from your child!)

A mat

A chair


The Timing

For each set, you choose an exercise from the list, and decrease the amount of time you perform each exercise, as follows:

Set 1: 60 Seconds

Set 2: 45 Seconds

Set 3: 30 Seconds

Set 4: 20 Seconds

Set 5: 20 Seconds


You may want to up the weights as you “descend” the staircase. For example, for the 60-second set you might use 5 pound weights but bump them up to 10 pounds for the 30- and 20-second sets. You can do the same exercise for each round, or you can mix it up!


The Workout

Warm-Up (60 Seconds Each):

Choose any 5:

Jumping Jacks–Beginner

Skater Jumps–Beginner

Kick Butt Run-in-Place–Beginner

Jump Rope (if you don’t have a rope you can mime)–Beginner

High Knee Run-in-Place–Intermediate

Mountain Climbers–Intermediate


Star Jumping Jacks–Advanced 


Exercise 1 (Full Body Combo):

Squat Press


Forward Lunge Overhead Press


Backward Lunge Bicep Curl


Exercise 2 (Full Body Combo):

Squat Press


Forward Lunge Overhead Press


Backward Lunge Bicep Curl


Exercise 3 (Triceps):

Tricep Kickbacks


Skull Crusher


Chair Dips


Exercise 4 (Obliques):

Standing Oblique Crunches (Alternate Sides)


Floor Oblique Crunches


Cross-Body Mountain Climbers


Exercise 5 (Chest):

Chest Flies on Floor


Standing Chest Flies


Chest Press


Exercise 6 (Full Body Combo):

Plie Squat with Punch


Forward Lunge and Twist with Weight


Dead Lift with Upright Row


Exercise 7 (Plank):

Plank Up/Down


Plank Salute


Plank Hold (Hands or Forearms)


Exercise 8 (Abdominals):

Bicycle Crunch


V-Sit w/Ball


Windshield Wipers w/Ball


After you complete all eight exercises, choose one of the cardio moves from the warm-up list for 90 seconds. Repeat a second set with the new time limit. At the conclusion of the workout, make sure to rehydrate and give your body the nutrients it needs.


HIIT exercises are demonstrated in the short video below:

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Elizabeth DiPietro

Liz DiPietro has been a staff writer for In The Zone since 2011. She is a New York City public school teacher working at a middle school in Brooklyn, NY. Liz has a Master's of Creative Writing from Queens College and a Master's of Special Education from the College of Staten Island. She is a diehard Yankees, Knicks, and Jets fan and exercise enthusiast. Liz lives in Staten Island, NY with her husband Dave and 2-year-old son Christopher.
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