You know how cardio machines have those pre-programmed workouts to choose from and one is the “fat loss” program at a nice, steady moderate pace? That is so backwards, I’m hoping I just haven’t noticed they’ve done away with it by now. I’ve ignored them too long to know. High intensity intervals is the way to burn fat, folks! And it takes way less time! The confusion came from the fact that our bodies burn a higher percentage of calories from fat at lower intensities, so we’ve associated long cardio sessions with fat loss. But percentage is the key word. The primary source of energy when you’re on the couch is fat (5k to couch program, anyone? … wait, that’s backwards…). The problem is we’re burning so few calories at rest that a large percentage of practically nothing is even closer to nothing. But with high intensity, even with just a few 30-second intense intervals, this starts to happen:
Maintain/build lean muscle without storing fat: Burning more calories and working muscles harder means that the next intake of calories will go to muscle growth and glycogen stores rather than fat. You’ve basically freaked out (stressed) your body during those intense moments and it’s going to need to repair and adapt, using up more fat stores/increasing metabolism to do it. Note that all the metabolism boosting hormones increase in response to an exercise stress on the body. Additionally, more of the structures in our cells that oxidize fat (mitochondria) will be created to help us adapt and deal with future intense bursts of movement (just like muscles adapt and get stronger when we stress them… and another reason weight training is great for fat loss … it’s very similar to high intensity interval training). It was those who could make these adaptations well that survived saber tooth tigers and we’re all those people’s ancestors, after all.
After burn: After a high intensity interval workout or even a moderate workout with some intense intervals thrown in, which already uses more calories than steady state, there’s also something known as EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) and it can add 6-15% more calorie burn over within a few hours after a workout. But even more, the 24 hours after a workout yield a higher burn rate as well. The more intensity, the more after burn. And that really adds up. Study after study comparing regular steady-state cardio to high intensity intervals shows significantly more fat loss from HIIT.
So what’s “intense”? The biggest benefit comes from reaching 85-95% of your max, even if just for 5-seconds! No heart rate monitor needed. Simply get to the point where it feels very hard and you can barely converse. Boom. Fat done.
Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.I.T.) include:
- fat loss while retaining lean mass
- improved cardiovascular fitness
- increased exercise tolerance
- improved fat and carbohydrate oxidation in muscle cells (from those mitochondria)
- improved mental toughness
- challenged fast twitch muscle fibers, great for strength, power, and looking cut
- easier on the joints with less pounding time
- improved blood sugar control
- improved elasticity in arteries
- increased ability to use oxygen and insulin effectively
- improved symptoms for those with diseases such as Parkinson’s, Diabetes, and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
Ok … so how do I actually do HIIT?
Easing into it is best. If you haven’t exercised at all in a lomg time (no one in the challenge meets this!), build up a base level with some steady state workouts first. Start by adding a few hard/very hard (for you) intervals of 5-30 seconds into a workout. An interval can actually be anything from 5 seconds to 8 minutes. The higher the intensity, the shorter you’ll make the interval. A 1:1 ratio of work to rest works well, but starting with a 1:3 ratio might be best – since you’ll need longer recovery from the hard intervals at first. Here’s some examples:
- Going up and down stairs is interval training. The up is the intense interval (assuming you’re not doing it too slowly) and the down is the recovery period.
- Let’s say you’re taking a walk. Speed walk with lots of arm swinging for a minute, then return to normal speed. Or go into a jog for the hard interval. Repeat a few more times (do more intervals and closer to 1:1 ratio, such as a minute hard, a minute moderate, etc, as you get more fit).
- While weight training, throw in 30-60 seconds of jumping jacks, burpees, high knee marching/in place running, or just dance vigorously to some music, between every couple of weight exercises.
- On your run, do a short sprint (something between 5-30 seconds to start) and repeat that every 4-6 minutes. Or start by trying just one sprint during your run, maybe at the very end. Imagine finishing your race strong!
- During any cardio workout, whether it’s elliptical, bike, walk, jog, run, swim, you name it, try adding some descending intervals. After you’re well warmed up, do a 40 second sprint. A bit later, do a 35 second sprint. Then 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, and 5. (That happens to complete the 3-minute total high intensity interval time required for a bonus point, y’all. You can thank me later.)
The possibilities are endless. Have fun with it and share your ideas with the group!
Previous Bonus Point Changes
GRAINS: the same applies as far as 1st ingredient or 2 of the first 3 ingredients needing to be whole grains. The change comes in that there can’t be any sugar (or form of sugar) or vegetable oils (other than palm and coconut) in the top 5 ingredients. There also cannot be any processed soy ingredients at all. If you’ve homemade a grain product, check with me. Please posts pics of grain ingredients again (no need to post Dave’s bread or whole oatmeal or quinoa though) to help me make sure it qualifies.
TIMING: Eating whole grains with your point-earning meals within an hour after working out can now only count after a longer workout (25 or more minutes).
RESISTANCE: This one is being simplified. Short workouts (8-24 minutes) have to be 100% resistance for a bonus point and longer workouts have to be at least 25 minutes of resistance for a bonus point. You can only get 4 resistance bonus points per week since muscle changes only come during the rest days between resistance workouts, not when you’re doing them. Therefor, do non-consecutive days for working the same muscles.
NEW BONUS POINTS!
HIIT: Any time you do 3 total minutes of high intensity cardio intervals in a workout, it’s a bonus point. You can break that down however you like. One 3-min interval all the way to 36, 5-second intervals, as long as you’re getting to a “very hard” level for you, meaning you can barely converse during and just after each interval. This bonus will also have a max of 4 allowed per week in the interest of not overtraining.
DURATION: If you do a 90+ minute workout – AND IT INCLUDES AT LEAST 3-MIN OF HIIT – you get a bonus point. Becuase that’s just badass. And because you’re kicking sedentary behavior in the butt with that length of workout and it should be commended. I won’t put a max on this one, but please don’t overtrain to try to get points!