Give your clients a six-pack with HIIT

Personal training workouts with HIIT training

As a personal trainer you should concentrate on these two key steps when the client’s goal is achieving a six pack. Firstly, you may need burn the fat away from around the client’s abs with some CV work, and then build them up with some spot exercise.  For the scope of this article the main focus will be the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT) combined with a weight-training, and a plyometric program for the abs. Nutrition and sleep although extremely important in developing/maintaining a six pack for your clients, is beyond the scope of this article and will not be discussed.

The following steps are guidelines to help blast off that stubborn belly fat, and to develop the client’s six-pack in a strategic manner with our personal training tips. A six-pack training program should revolve around the S.P.O.R.T principles of training, and this format can be used as a clear goal setting strategy with your clients, giving you great personal training workouts.


Specificity in terms of achieving a six pack, as mentioned earlier is a double pronged attack with a cardio and a building muscle approach. Burning belly fat has to be a whole body strategy as fat is shifted from all regions of the anatomy and not just the abs; when doing CV exercise. Granted it does differ where in the body fat is distributed between men and women clients, but the overall percentage body fat still has to be between 7%-12% for the abs to show in both genders. Conventional training knowledge directs us to perform 30-50 minutes of moderate intensity cardio on a treadmill, bike or elliptical machine in order to burn the most body fat while retaining muscle. However, numerous current studies have shown that steady state cardio is not an effective approach to burn fat and is very time consuming. Conventional cardio has the following adverse effects for abdominal muscle growth:

  • deteriorates muscle tissue
  • reduces testosterone levels
  • reduces muscle glucose absorption post exercise
  • inhibits the mTOR pathway which a primary regulator in muscle growth

Therefore, a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program is specifically the training method that is recommend to shred fat, improve muscle tone and improve general cardio vascular function.  It is a very demanding, hard core and a super effective workout. It will burn the same amount of calories as running for 30-50 minutes in a fraction of the time, but your client will be working at a much higher intensity and see their abs a lot sooner.  There is evidence to suggest that HIIT training programs have a higher ‘after burn’ than conventional cardio, which is good news for fat stripping and reducing the client’s % body fat.

Basically, this training method consists of a massive blast of cardio work followed by times rest intervals. It is very similar to fartlek training, however due to research; volume, intensity and duration can be tailored for the individual to strip off the fat. HIIT has the opposite effect of steady state cardio and can increase mitochondrial biogenesis, which forms cell energy, increases testosterone and GLUT 4 levels. An additional bonus is that HIIT increases the concentration of myofibrillar cells, which muscles require to grow along with other fibres.

The majority of the weight training program should consist of total body exercises that are going to involve the core like front squats, deadlifts, and standing shoulder presses. However, to spot exercise the abs you should incorporate the following exercises (after completing the weight training session with your client): bicycle manoeuvers, captain’s chair, vertical leg crunches, torso track, long arm crunches, reverse crunches, heel push crunches, ab roller & ab rocker, planks, traditional crunches and exercise ball work. Add additional weights to the routine with a hanging knee lift, cable crunches, weight leg raises, weighted exercise ball crunches, weighted decline sit ups and weighed decline abdominal reaches.

Fundamentally, these exercises will increase muscle size via the process of sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy encompasses an increase in the sarcoplasmic volume within the muscle and it is the main mechanism which bodybuilders use to build muscle mass.  It is a response to high intensity training with higher volumes ranging between 8-12 reps or more, causing sufficient micro-trauma for the muscle. This process causes the plasma volume to fill the muscular cells, and thus increase its size. This is vital for the six pack plan, but is less functional in terms of strength development.

You can use a treadmill as part of your clients HIIT workout


For a baseline measurement and to monitor progress, the client’s % body fat should be assessed. There are numerous % body fat assessment techniques such as anthropometrics, hydrostatic weighing and the use of body fat callipers. Each with its own level of cost, accuracy, ease of administration, repeatability and being user friendly. Using a set of bioelectric impedance analysis (BIA) scales with your clients is recommended; these measure the electrical resistance, or opposition to the flow of an electric current through the body. Hydration levels can have an impact on the accuracy of the results, as muscle has a higher water content and conductivity than fat. These scales are cost effective, user friendly and measure fat free mass and % body fat. The target is between 7%-12% body fat for your clients, and these scales are quite accurate depending on the brand, so do some research before investing in a set.

You can monitor your client’s activity levels, by inputting the data into mobile phone apps or apps for the laptop/tablet. They can download these applications off the internet, many of these apps are ‘free’; which is a real bonus and they also calculate energy expenditure, calories in etc. These are an excellent reflective tool, it can be used to set realistic targets when planning, performing and evaluating your client’s six pack goals. Also, have a time scale for the client’s six-pack, twelve weeks is not unrealistic but this is dependent on the amount of % body fat that the client has to begin with. Be realistic with your client from the start, and the monster abs goal with be achievable. Finally, encourage your client to take some photos of their progress on a monthly basis; this an excellent approach in keeping them motivated and monitoring their progress.

It’s important for the client to remain focused and to revert back to their initial goal…a six pack. It will be a roller coaster of a ride, it will be hard work but worthwhile in the end. Having a training partner can help them to remain focused, avoid training plateaus and use them to bounce ideas off one another!

Overload (F.I.T principles)

Progressive overload is a major component in building abs, reducing % body fat and in shifting that stubborn belly fat.  If the client’s performance is dipping or reaching a stable point, then you may need to adjust one or more of the F.I.T principles to counter act this lull.

Frequency: At least three HIIT sessions per week to burn fat, and three core sessions a week post work out to build abs. Mix and match the client’s weight training and HIIT days, this stops the body from regulating around a set point, it also keeps the metabolism high throughout and post training sessions. Don’t over train the abs, have rest days otherwise the growth will be hindered.

Intensity: Increase or decrease the work load (%1RM), REP numbers and sets. Look at rest patterns between sets as this is important to build the abs muscles. You are looking for high intensity, lots of reps and little rest in between sets or plyometric abdominal work to get your client’s abs showing. You are looking for high intensity, explosive exercises to get those abs pumping!!

HIIT training should be no longer than 12 twelve minutes, for the best fat burning results alter the amount of high intensity, moderate and rest intervals for each of the twelve minutes. You can use this technique on a treadmill, bike, rowing machine or any training mode that you are undertaking with your clients. As the program progresses, look at delegating more time to the higher intensity cardio blast with less moderate and recovery times. This again will stop a plateau in the % body fat loss and keep everything on track.

Time:  Avoid weight training with your client for over an hour; this is classed as over training. Muscle growth hormones peak at about 30 minutes and then dips, so you are placing unwanted stress on the working muscles with little additional benefits.


Too much CV can reduce testosterone in the body, which adversely affects the muscle building capacity. Try to limit the CV routine to less than 15 minutes per session, no more than three times a week of HIIT training and spot abs work. Make sure that you have at least two rest days per week to recover added into the program; rest is extremely important in the whole process!


If the client is getting bored and losing their mojo about the six pack program; encourage them to have an active break. Maybe encourage them to walk the dog, spend time with their family outside or do some yoga.  Refocus/re-evaluating the SPORT goals and FIT principles, a one week rest away from the gym will give the muscles time to recover and help them to refocus back onto the six pack goal. Client management is important when they are losing their motivation during the program, reassure them that they have come this far and not to give up. The hard work will pay off in the end and their dream beach body will become a reality!


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