Exercise is undoubtedly healthy for us, but according to global estimates around a third of the world’s population don’t get enough of it.
And it’s not difficult to see why – we all have so much going on elsewhere in our lives juggling jobs, families, social events etc, that trying to fit an hour or so of physical activity into our daily routines can often be a tall order.
But it need not be this way. Enter High Intensity Interval Training or ‘HIIT’ – an umbrella term that describes short, intense periods of exercise combined with periods of rest or lower intensity exercise.
So if your time is precious, but you’re intent on shifting some pounds, then High Intensity Interval Training for fat loss could be your answer. Want to find out more? Read on.
What is High Intensity Interval Training And How Does It Work?
As I mentioned, HIIT workouts typically combine intense periods of exercise with periods of lower intensity exercise or rest and come in many forms. In gyms and any exercise videos you watch these will usually be a mix of cardio and resistance training, but HIIT can actually be applied to most exercises including running, cycling, swimming, boxing and many more.
HIIT routines will generally last between 10 to 30 minutes duration. So, for example, if you’re on an exercise bike you might choose to do 20 minutes of exercise where you go all out cycling for 30 seconds followed by a minute or two of slower cycling before repeating. During the harder part of the exercise your heart rate reaches about 80% of its maximum capacity – it’s not always easy to track this but if you’re exercising on a machine at the gym with contact points it will show your stats on the screen in front of you, or you may own a fitbit, apple watch or other fitness device that also measures your heart rate.
The point of HIIT and the reason why it’s advantageous compared to longer, steady state cardio is that it’s more effective at burning calories in a shorter amount of time. So you could choose to spend an hour on the treadmill at a steady pace and burn 300-400 calories, or burn the same amount doing 20-30 minutes of HIIT.
Another plus is that your metabolic rate (the speed at which your body converts calories to energy) remains high long after you’ve finished exercising – so you continue to burn calories for hours afterwards. This is also known as the ‘afterburn effect’. In fact some research has found that HIIT increases the afterburn effect after exercise more than weight training and jogging. It’s easy therefore to see why many people would choose to perform High Intensity Interval Training over more common forms of cardio, and why not? Less time spent for the same or better result – no brainer!
The Added Benefits: It’s Not Just About Calorie Burning
As well as making your body more effective and efficient at burning calories, and subsequently fat, HIIT improves cardio health, oxygen consumption (your muscles’ ability to use oxygen) and reduces your blood pressure and blood sugar too.
The exact reason why HIIT is effective at improving cardio health hasn’t quite yet been nailed on the head but scientists believe it has something to do with the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body. A measure used for pumping blood is called stroke volume – the volume of blood that is released when the heart contracts – and this is improved by exercise. There’s some evidence that when you do interval training in intense bouts, the stroke volume increases.
HIIT may have other positive effects on your overall health too. Studies have shown that it can decrease heart rate and blood pressure in overweight people, with some research suggesting that it may even reduce it more than frequent, steady state cardio. As far as blood sugar levels go, HIIT has also been found to reduce sugar levels and improve insulin resistance more than traditional exercise – so especially beneficial for people at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
And if you’re worried about sacrificing hard-earned muscle for losing fat then you may be pleasantly surprised. It’s often hard not to lose muscle mass when trying to shift fat if you’re adding steady state or moderate intensity cardio over longer periods into your routine. But a combination of weight training and HIIT allows you to reserve your hard-earned muscle, ensuring most of the weight you lose is fat!
Is High Intensity Interval Training Best For Weight And Fat Loss?
HIIT is absolutely a time-efficient way of burning calories and the research proves that people undertaking twenty minutes of HIIT can burn the same as those who choose to workout for twice as long. This is because it takes more energy and oxygen to return the body to normal levels (remember the afterburn effect I mentioned above?)
However, the calorie burn you experience when undertaking HIIT doesn’t necessarily translate into weight and fat loss. Trials comparing HIIT with moderate intensity exercise show that fat loss across both methods is relatively the same. When it comes to burning fat and losing weight you need to combine it with good nutrition and cutting calories in your diet to see tangible results – it is after all much easier to lose weight by cutting calories than trying to burn off excess calories. So if you’re only working out for twenty minutes doing a HIIT session, to burn more calories you’ll need to exercise for a longer period of time whilst consuming less.
The takeaway here is that to get the full effect of HIIT training on weight and fat loss, you need to watch what you’re eating. But if you add HIIT into your weekly exercise routine, you won’t need to spend as long on the treadmill to burn the same amount of calories and therefore you won’t need to put aside as much time to hit the gym as before – so no excuses!
How To Get Started
One of the great things about HIIT is that you can literally do it anywhere, and with no equipment – so it’s perfect to do at home! Because it’s such a broad type of exercise – go at maximum effort for a short time and then a slower pace for a minute or two and then repeat – you can adapt it to your time, space and schedule constraints and still reap the rewards.
Why not experiment? Choose your activity, whatever that may be – running, cycling, rowing etc – and try out different durations flipping between exercise and recovery. Some examples could be:
- A five-minute warm-up jog, followed by 20 seconds of sprinting as fast as you can and then 40 seconds at a slower pace repeated for between 10-15 minutes. If this is too much then increase the less intense periods to allow yourself more time to recover (anything up to two minutes).
- A five-minute warm-up cycle on an exercise bike, followed by a 30-second sprint and then a slower pedal for two minutes before repeating the pattern for between 10 to 20 minutes.
- A five-minute warm up jogging on the spot, followed by performing burpees as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Jog or walk on the spot for up to a minute and then repeat the process for between 10-15 minutes.
These are just some starters, you can modify these or apply HIIT to your favourite exercises – the choices are endless!
For more ideas, check out this video for 18 hybrid HIIT exercises that need no equipment and you can do anywhere.
I hope this article has been useful in introducing you to the concept of High Intensity Interval Training for fat loss, heart health and more. If you haven’t tried HIIT then give it a go – at your own pace and duration – and work up to more as you increase your stamina and endurance.
Do you incorporate HIIT into your workouts already? If so what results have you seen and do you prefer it to more traditional, steady state cardio? Let me know in the comments.