HIT The Deck

A High Intensity Card Game For One or More Players

Hit the Deck

Awesome, intense full-body workout in 30 minutes or less!

Looking for a fantastic, full-body workout in half an hour?  If the answer is “yes”, then simply grab a deck of 52 playing cards and get ready for a workout out that will kick your ass.    Work your chest, legs, arms back and core….as well as cardio with nothing but a deck of cards….weights can also be used if you really want to crank the intensity.

Who Can Do It?

My first exposure to a Hit The Deck (HTD) workout was when one of my partners at the fire department decided we should do it for our workout that day.  It put me in the ground and I loved every minute of it!  HTD became a regular in our workout rotations. Since becoming a trainer, I’ve introduced it to my bootcamp classes and the participants ask when we can do it again.

Not everybody who does the Hit The Deck workout can finish in the time allotted.  That is perfectly fine.  At the end of the session, if there are cards left, simply count them up and your goal for your next HTD session is to have fewer cards left.

I am all about progression in the workouts that I create and use.  Hit The Deck is a workout that allows for progression and measurable improvement.   Go at your own pace and set your intensity based on your fitness level.

The Exercises

I like to use four basic exercises when doing the HTD workout. They are as follows:

  • Hearts = Push Ups (doing them from the knees is ok.   It’s all about progression)
  • Diamonds = Sit Ups (or crunches)
  • Spades = Squats (Can be bodyweight squats or with a weight 
  • Clubs = Burpees 
Jokers=?? (If you choose to use jokers, you can select a very challenging activity that you really only want to do a couple times….maybe a run, some pull-ups, wall sit, etc.   You are only limited by your imagination)

So, what is the HTD workout?

It’s very simple.  Take a deck of playing cards (sans Jokers) and shuffle them. Each of the four suites (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) is assigned a particular exercise.  The number of each exercise you do is the face value of the cards with 2-10 equal to the number, jacks = 11, queens = 12, kings = 13 and aces = 14.   The timer begins when you flip the very first card.  Ideally the next card on the pile is flipped immediately at the completion of the exercise set.  You go right into the next one.  You can take rest breaks to catch your breath and get a drink of water.  But… the clock keeps running.

Room Set-Up

For my clients, I like to take them into a cool room because they will sweat their butts off.  If you have them available, exercise mats would be nice to have some padding for sit-ups.

Resist Temptation to Switch Cards

Everyone knows that even when shuffling cards, there will always be times that there are several of the same suit right in a row.  I’ve had times where I’ve had to do 38 pull-ups in a row because four clubs (we were using pull-ups for that suit that day) were drawn (4, 9, J, A; that’s 4+9+11+14=38).  It’s all part of the process and is what makes every workout different.

The Toll

When you complete the deck, you will have done 104 of each exercise.  That’s a lot in 30 minutes or less!

In a Group or On Your Own

The beauty of this workout is that you can do this on your own, either at the fire station, at home, or in a hotel room.  You just need the deck of cards.  Remember, the weights are optional.  Or you can do it in a group.  I use it with my bootcamp classes.  I have the class select small groups of other members that are close to their fitness level and each group has a deck of cards.  When I give the command, the timer starts and the cards are flipping.   The fun thing about the group sessions is the friendly competition that naturally comes out.

Also, the bootcampers have developed their own sadistic tendencies and have added an additional element of competition.  The jokers are left in the deck.  When a team draws a joker, the other teams have a menu of activities and they choose the activity for the group that drew the joker.   Choose wisely because your friends will be choosing for you before the day is done.

Variety Is the Spice of Life, Right?

You can design your own HTD workout with different exercises.  You can, for example, design an upper body, dumbbell workout using bent-over rows, biceps curls, shoulder presses and chest presses.  Keep the load reasonable since there will be 104 reps.  But, it will be challenging.


I have an extreme love/hate relationship with this workout, as do my clients.  Even the ones that have blasted through it, hate it.  But, when it’s over, you know you’ve been through a workout and have a huge sense of accomplishment.  And… if you don’t make it through the deck in 30 minutes or less, then keep track of how many cards you did go through and then try to beat that number the next time.  But, because of its intensity, I only use this workout once a month.  It’s a great workout to shake things up, but it would be easy to get burned out on it if it is used too often.

© 2018 Tim Hennigan

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Tim Hennigan