A daily workout that’s simple and works: HIIT The Deck


There are doubtless other posts about similar workouts, but as I learned this through oral tradition (passed on to me by a footy team, no less) and I've definitely developed my own way of making it work for me, I figured I'd write it down anyway.  

Also yes, I'm responsible for the terrible name, as far as I know.  Sue me, per usual. :D 

For background, I've done weightlifting and strength training as well as swimming and kungfu, and currently my life is pretty bereft of fun ways to stay in shape — so I started to notice that I was getting out of it, like, puffing if I had to bike more than 5 miles kind of thing.  So I went digging through my piles of previous workouts for something that's

  • EASY,
  • NOT BORING, and
  • WORKS.  

Of all the training workouts I've done, HIIT — High Intensity Interval Training — is a type that just works.  There are other kinds of training that work, obviously, but this one's effective and flexible, so I like it. 

A workout of this kind isn't much fun by itself, but it does the trick — like making sure you get good nutrition even if it doesn't taste great.  It's simple and portable enough that I can do it every day, and it not only keeps me fit, but also lets me make progress and train, even if life isn't providing me much to train for at the moment.  Training has plenty of its own rewards, and I never want to be someone who doesn't consciously grow and develop myself physically — and I can't always rely on life to provide enough exercise and time for fun!  

I think it takes me roughly half an hour to do, but I never look at a watch while doing it, so I'm not sure.  HIIT almost always invovles timers, but in this version, we're outsourcing all the rep-counts and rest-durations to a simple tool:  the deck of cards.


Any cards will work; you just need A) numbers and B) suits.  Grab a tarot deck if it makes you happy.  Don't worry if it's ratty or missing cards (just replace them with slips of paper).


I usually shake the list up by one or two items every day, both to keep from getting bored and to accomodate my body that day.  (i.e. today I could NOT do squats, thanks to yesterday!)  …I also often use weird workouts I've learned from kungfu or whatever; but it doesn't matter; pick what you like.  

Let's say you're on the AFL team that taught me to use a deck this way.  Their typical choices looked like this:

Hearts = pushups
Diamonds = burpees
Spades = jumping rope

Clubs = squats

If you have weights or equipment on hand, you can use it, obviously.  My chinup bar is damn handy, as is a simple kettlebell or weights.  But really, anything works.  Planks for X seconds is a great beginner one that takes no equipment, for example.  And I've recently fallen in love with doing deck-workouts with my punching bag, where practicing strikes and combos take the place of pushup-type exercises.  It's SO fun, it works the whole body, and for me it just flies by compared to most raw/boring exercise.

To make an exercise harder, or to add more cardio, just add "2x" to an exercise and do double the number of reps that come up.  

For a good deck, I try to balance upper/lower body workouts, and include something that's definitely cardio and definitely core-muscles.  I also have a "backup" for exercises that are particularly difficult — for example, I can't do a zillion pullups (yet), so if I'm doing pullups, it will be "pullups to failure and then X seconds of half-pullup hanging after that".  Similarly, you could use "seconds of horse-stance" for when you run out of ability to squat.  It's nice to have that in place so that the thing you're worst at doesn't force you to quit too early.


Flip over a card.  It's the eight of clubs?  Ok, eight squats, fast as you can.  (All of this is done "fast as you can"!  You don't want to cool off too much in the middle.)

Flip another card.  Queen of diamonds?  Yikes — that's twelve (Jack=11, Queen=12, King=13, Ace=14, and yes you'll learn to hhhhhaaate aces) burpees.

Flip another card.

And another.

DON'T STOP for longer than a sip of water in between cards, and don't slow down any more than you absolutely have to.

Keep going until you can't.  One trick I use to make sure I don't wimp out is that if I flip a card, I have to do it — so if I want to know what the next card is, I'm stuck doing it.  It's amazing how many times I can't stomach not knowing what the next card is, and that'll get me several farther than I would have if I'd been able to flip it and then decide to stop.


You have a lot of options to make progress with this one:  You can fight to finish the deck (which totals up to 104 reps of each of the four exercises, complete with the HIIT ideal of tiny randomized breaks between sets).  Then you can fight to finish it faster; then to do a double deck.  You can swap in harder exercises, or do decks that focus on a specific area you're trying to train.  If you pick up a physical hobby, you can swap in drills from that, and wham, your usual daily workout is also a training tool for more complicated goals.  It's really easy to do with friends if they're roughly on your page, fitness-wise; and if not, you can still do separate decks at the same time, if the motivation helps.  (It helps me!)

And that's all wonderful, because things that keep a workout fresh keep it happening; but for me, the killer feature here is that it's EASY to do this one, and to KEEP doing it, even if life gets in the way.  It's flexible in all the important ways, from accommodating beginners to working around injuries and travel to staying fresh and challenging after you've been doing it every day for months.  

Enj–well, maybe not enjoy, per se, but get off the couch and enjoy the results, at least!  :D


About puredoxyk

Word addict, kungfu/taiji nut, and life-partner to polyphasic sleep. Rabid fan of as many hobbies as the world will let me pry into its piddly fourth dimension (it helps to have knocked out the fourth wall).
This entry was posted in kungfu yay, mad exercise, psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A daily workout that’s simple and works: HIIT The Deck

  1. Michal I. says:

    This is reportedly popular in jails (I've read it this weekend):
    Search for "Deck of death"
    warning: slightly nsfw.

    • puredoxyk says:

      That was a bit of a painful website, but thanks for the link — and yeah, “Deck of death” sounds familiar.  I’m also 100% behind the assertions of the importance of bodyweight stuff!

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