A common reason for not exercising is a hectic schedule and lack of time. And that’s completely understandable. Work keeps us busy, family keeps us busy, and life in general keeps us busy. But is that a reason to ignore our health? We find time for other pursuits that are important to us. Why not our health?
No one can say that exercise isn’t important and actually mean it. The real issue is that we think exercise has to take a lot of time to be effective. And because it requires a fair amount of effort too, we’d rather not put in the time.
What if I told you that there’s a form of exercise for losing fat that’s been scientifically proven to be:
- More effective than long bouts on the treadmill or hour long cardio classes
- Extremely short in duration
- Will raise your heart rate and your metabolism
- Continues to burn calories long after you’ve stopped exercising
- Guarantees you the maximum benefit in the least amount of time
What Is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?
Very simply put, HIIT is alternating short intervals of high intensity exercise with short intervals of rest.
As mentioned in my post, Aerobic Or Anaerobic Exercise- Which Will Burn More Fat, More Quickly?, study after study has proven that anaerobic exercise (high intensity, short duration) is far more efficient at burning fat than aerobic or cardio exercise (low to moderate intensity, long duration).
A New Study
As I was writing this post, I received an email about a new study published yesterday in the Public Library of Science. The purpose of the study was to “investigate whether sprint interval training (SIT) was a time-efficient exercise strategy to improve insulin sensitivity and other indices of cardiometabolic health to the same extent as traditional moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT). SIT involved 1 minute of intense exercise within a 10-minute time commitment, whereas MICT involved 50 minutes of continuous exercise per session.
Essentially, they compared short duration HIIT to long duration moderate intensity cardio while cycling on stationary bicycles.
The study involved 27 sedentary men divided into 3 groups- Sprint Interval Training (SIT), Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training (MICT), and a control group.
SIT group exercised for 10 minutes, 3 x’s per week for 12 weeks-
After warming-up for two minutes, they pedaled as fast as they could for 20 seconds, pedaled slowly for 2 minutes, pedaled again as fast as they could for 20 seconds, pedaled slowly again for 2 minutes, pedaled as quickly as they could for 20 seconds, and then cooled down for 3 minutes. This represented a total of 6 hours with only 36 minutes of intense exercise over the twelve weeks.
MICT group exercised for 50 minutes, 3 x’s per week for 12 weeks-
After warming up for two minutes, they pedaled at a moderate pace for 45 minutes with a 3 minute cool down. This represented a total of 27 hours over the twelve weeks.
After 12 weeks of exercise, the study concluded that three minutes of intense intermittent exercise per week for a total time commitment of 30 minutes per week is just as effective as 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity continuous training for increasing insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content in previously inactive men.
Does this mean that you only need to exercise for 3 intense minutes per week?
No. The study did not include any measurement of body fat loss and but it does further prove the point that HIIT is beneficial to your health.
Why Is HIIT More Efficient?
One reason it’s more efficient is because you continue to burn calories even after you’ve stopped exercising. Your basal metabolic rate, the amount of calories you burn at rest, becomes elevated and that higher rate can last up to 48 hours.
Another reason that it’s more efficient is that with HIIT you can continue to build muscle while losing body fat. While you’ll burn calories during long cardio sessions, you’ll also lose muscle mass. And the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you’ll burn even when you’re just sitting and watching TV. The reason for that is simply that it takes more energy (more calories burned) for your body to maintain that muscle mass than it takes to maintain your body fat.
Most of us think that losing weight is the measure of success for fitness and health.
The measure of success for fitness and health is losing body fat, a big difference.
How To Perform HIIT or “You Mean I’m Finished Working Out Already?”
There are many different protocols or variations of HIIT:
- Different lengths of time for the high intensity and rest intervals.
- Different levels of intensity for both the high intensity and rest intervals
- Different types of exercises
One of the simplest was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata of The National Institute of Fitness and Sports, in Japan, in 1996. It calls for 20 seconds of high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of 8 cycles or four minutes. An example: warm-up for a few minutes, and then sprint for 20 seconds, walk for 10 seconds and repeat for 8 cycles or 4 minutes. This can also be done on a stationary bike.
There are many variations of the high intensity interval training workout and the types of exercises you can do is really unlimited. You can do pushups, squats, jumping jacks, wall sits, step-ups, crunches, tricep dips, lunges, burpees, mountain climbers, and planks as well as others. You can also use free weights, medicine balls, or kettlebells.
You can also increase the number of cycles or the interval lengths or the intensity. If you find that 4 minutes is too difficult, start with 2 minutes. If you find that 4 minutes is too easy, try to increase the time or increase the intensity.
There are several free apps available that have the words “7 Minute” or “8 Minute” workout in their title. Most of these apps will display a timer with each exercise, an audio “trainer” telling you what to do next, and show you how to do the exercises.
If this is going to be your only form of exercise I would recommend using one of the apps because it’ll give you a full body workout and use more of your muscles than just sprinting or cycling.
Let me make an important caveat here. If you’re a beginner, just starting to exercise or you’ve only been at a little while, high intensity exercise is something you have to build up to. The last thing you want to do is possibly injure yourself. Start out slowly. Give your body time to adapt.
Also, if you’re really just starting out, I suggest walking as a form of exercise. Walk everywhere you can. Take stairs instead of elevators or escalators. This is a practice you should continue to do even after you’re in shape
We all have different starting points. For some of you, walking at a quicker pace than normal may be high intensity. That’s fine. As your body adapts, you’ll find that you’ll be able to increase your level of intensity as time goes on. The key to the benefits is intensity and effort, whatever that may be for you.
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