When it comes to weight loss, unfortunately, there is no magic potion that gets us in beach shape overnight. We all have to put in the work to get the results we want. When it comes time to sweat it out in the gym, we all want to maximize our workouts to get the most bang for our proverbial workout buck. A HIIT workout is a great way to achieve this.
It’s not a secret that in order to shed the pounds, exercise and proper nutrition are the keys to good health. It’s common knowledge that consistent exercise is a MUST for any healthy weight loss plan. But it may not be common knowledge that some forms of exercise are far superior for achieving that holy trifecta of losing fat, gaining muscle, and boosting metabolism.
Medical and fitness experts have found that high interval intensity or HIIT (pronounced “hit”) workouts can give you the optimal weight loss results in the least amount of time. HIIT is the not-so-hidden secret for killer weight loss in record time. HIIT workouts can supercharge the body’s calorie-burning ability, boost lean muscle volume, and torch fat reserves.
Compelling medical and academic-based sports research demonstrates that incorporating HIIT into a weight loss program can result in greater weight loss than many other types of exercise. Recent studies have found that HIIT is, unequivocally, the superior workout for healthy weight loss and significant fat-burning. Even better, HIIT workouts have been demonstrated to produce measurable weight loss results in less time than traditional cardio workouts.
Read on for 6 riveting facts about why HIIT is the new hot topic in the world of healthy weight loss.
Fact #1 Let’s Talk Fitness Basics: What Are HIIT Workouts All About?
You’re certainly familiar with the tried-and-true traditional cardio workouts: running, biking, speed-walking, swimming, etc. Each one of these aerobic exercises keeps your body moving at one continuous level of cardiac output and at a constant level of required muscle intensity. This type of exercise is often referred to as “continuous cardio” or “static-state.”
HIIT was originally created by exercise physiologists and used by Swedish track coaches. The interval training formula was designed to build speed, endurance, and develop strong muscles in elite sprinters. The English translation of the original Swedish term “fartlek” means “speed play.” Now many pro and competitive athletes from various sports disciplines recognize the documented power of HITT workouts for building cardio output, powerful strength, and unmatched endurance.
In its simplest form, HIIT workouts can be done by anyone using any type of heart-rate-elevating cardio exercise. If you were doing HIIT workouts during a run, you’d run as fast as you could for 30 seconds, then walk for a few seconds, then repeat. The same idea would apply to cycling or rowing or jump-roping—you get the idea.
HIIT workouts combine bursts of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods during the same workout. HIIT workouts are designed to push your body and heart to their physical limits then provide a low-intensity recovery period afterward. The alternating intervals are designed to shift your body from aerobic periods (when your body uses oxygen) to anaerobic periods (when it goes without oxygen).
The anaerobic periods during HIIT workouts boost calorie-burning and promote rapid weight loss. The anaerobic mode of the HIIT workouts helps your body use stored energy—burning fat—and helps it become more efficient at using energy overall. Consistent HIIT workouts lead to increased fat-burning power and killer weight loss in less time than traditional workouts.
Fact #2: What is the Best HIIT Workout for Burning Fat?
A comprehensive study funded by Diabetes Australia and published in The Journal of Obesity claims to have identified the targeted HIIT workout which burns the most amount of fat with the least amount of energy expenditure. Curious which it is? It’s HIIT sprint cycling.
The study’s premise was simple, yet its results presented an exciting breakthrough for the medical weight loss community. “We’ve been searching for about ten years for the minimum amount of exercise you can do with the biggest health impact factor,” said Dr. Boutcher, exercise physiologist and associate professor at the University of NSW.
More than forty clinically overweight males participated in a short, high-intensity training regime of HIIT cycle sprints. The study required participants to cycle on a stationary bike for twenty minutes at a time. During the workout, study participants alternated pedaling sprints for eight-second stretches with slow pedaling for twelve-second stretches.
After a period of only twelve weeks, study participants showed a significant drop in their abdominal fat, as well as a corresponding increase in muscle mass. The researchers were shocked to learn that after only twelve weeks study participants lost as much weight with this single hour of exercise per week as they would have by completing between five and seven hours of jogging.
The study researchers determined that the HIIT workouts caused an important, measurable physiological change in the men’s bodies. They concluded that the high-intensity exercise periods signaled to the body that it was time to release a fat-burning hormone called catecholamine. According to Dr. Boutcher, ”We don’t know why, but moving limbs very fast generates high levels of catecholamine.”
Catecholamine hormones play an important role in the mechanics of weight loss. These hormones promote the release of excess fat, specifically the more “dangerous fat” deposits located in the abdomen and viscera (internal fat around organs). Once the hormones signal that it is time to release this fat, the fat is used by muscles as fuel.
This specific study concluded that HIIT sprint cycling was the best at burning fat.
While this particular study only measured the fat-burning effects of sprinting on an exercise bike, other types of activity, such as running, rowing, or other types of cardio may also be able to generate the release of catecholamines. However, lower impact cardio activities, such as swimming or walking, did not increase the heart rate enough to kickstart the release of the key weight loss hormones.
Fact #3 Studies Show HIIT Burns Fat Much Quicker Than Traditional Cardio
One of the first funded research studies to look at the effects of HIIT on fat-burning and weight loss was conducted in 1994 at Canada’s Laval University.
In this study, one group followed a HIIT workout plan for fifteen weeks. The second group worked out using continuous cardio for twenty weeks.
The study found that participants who completed just fifteen weeks of HIIT workouts lost significantly more body fat than the group that performed continuous cardio. The results were surprising because the second group had exercised for five weeks longer—for a total of twenty weeks rather than fifteen. Even more interesting is that the continuous cardio group ultimately burned 15,000 more calories than the HIIT group but they still lost less weight. The HIIT group also lost more body fat than the continuous cardio group.
A 2001 study at East Tennessee State University later confirmed the findings of the earlier HIIT study from Canada. Researchers at East Tennessee State University found that obese participants who followed an eight-week HIIT program lost a significantly higher percentage of body fat than those study participants who only performed traditional cardio exercise.
According to this 2001 study, HIIT study participants reduced their overall body fat by 2% in just eight weeks. The data also showed that participants who followed the HIIT program burned a greater number of calories after the exercise period was over.
One of the conclusions of the study was that “in terms of exercise as a means of weight control, it appears evident that high intensity interval training may produce a change in fat weight and body composition not found in low intensity interval training, especially when a longer training period is used.”
Researchers stated that future research was warranted, stating “The addition of caloric restriction appears to be necessary in order to decrease total body weight in addition to fat weight. The addition of resistance training may also help increase fat loss along with increased fat free weight, but this is an area where further research is needed.”
Another study showed that HIIT workouts resulted in a loss of up to six times more body fat than continuous cardio. The bulk of this research seems to indicate that HIIT is a more effective way to burn fat quickly than continuous cardio over a longer duration. The studies comparing HIIT to continuous steady-state exercise all conclude that HIIT is far superior for fat loss, despite requiring less time to complete.
Fact #4 HIIT Workouts Ramp up Metabolism to Promote Faster Weight Loss
HIIT workouts are designed to burn a large number of calories, and they do. But it’s not just the calorie-burning effect that leads to rapid and continuous weight loss. It appears that HITT workouts actually trigger certain biological processes in the body that result in a faster metabolism. These physiological changes take place both during the HIIT workout and for a set period of time afterwards.
HIIT workouts have been shown to show to boost levels of Human Growth Hormone and other fat-burning hormones. When a person’s natural HGH hormone levels are increased by intense exercise, the body will then burn fat at an increased rate.
One significant study demonstrated a huge increase in natural HGH levels after a HIIT workout. HGH levels were elevated immediately after the workout and stayed elevated for up to a full day later. This study determined that HIIT boosts the production of HGH to 450% its normal amount for up to 24 hours following the workout.
The American Journal of Physiology examined why HIIT boosts metabolism and burns fat. Its data concluded that HIIT workouts can also boost one’s metabolic rate on a microscopic, cellular level. The published data showed that after just six weeks of HIIT, proteins that carry fat into the cells’ mitochondria increased by up to 50%. It appears that HIIT workouts can actually help transform muscle cells into fat-burning machines.
Fact #5 HIIT Workouts Torch Fat While Building Lean Muscle
Some workouts will help you lose weight by burning fat, but do nothing to preserve or build lean muscle volume. Just take the shape of elite long-distance runners as an example. It is obvious that the bodies of elite long-distance runners are in excellent condition, but they are as light and lean as possible. These runners’ continuous cardio workouts burn fat at a rapid rate but don’t allow the body to build or preserve strong muscle.
Strong, lean muscle is what gives fit bodies that characteristically sleek, defined appearance. Not only is lean muscle visually pleasing, but it serves an important metabolic purpose. Greater muscle volume requires the body to use more energy during daily activities. Increased lean muscle turns the body into a living, breathing fat-burning furnace.
HIIT workouts serve a dual purpose for overall conditioning and fitness: 1) HIIT burns excess fat deposits, and 2) HIIT builds lean muscle tissue. The combination of fat-burning and muscle-building is a unique component of HIIT workouts. It’s this dynamic combination which improves both strength and endurance, while promoting a healthy weight. Research supports the idea that HIIT’s short bursts of cardio help support healthy muscle development while maximizing fat-burning.
Fact #6 HIIT Workouts Dramatically Boost Resting Metabolism (Even a Day Later)
HIIT workouts keep your metabolism charged so that you burn more calories even after your workout is over. A study presented at the 2007 Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) “reported that subjects who performed HIIT cardio burned almost 10% more calories during the 24 hours following exercise than a steady-state group, despite the fact that the total calories burned during each workout were the same.”
Why does HIIT boost resting metabolism? It’s because your body needs more oxygen to recover from its intense workout. When you work out as hard as you do during HIIT, your body needs to increase its oxygen levels in order to repair its injured muscle tissue and replenish glucose stores.
Want to know another metabolic perk of your post-HIIT workout? Your intense intervals actually break down fat deposits within your body. Your body then uses this “released” fat as energy to fuel itself as it returns to homeostasis. As your body demands more oxygen, your body burns more calories, and, as a result, more fat.
This process is known as EPOC, although some fitness pros call it “the afterburn effect.” Once you’ve boosted your resting metabolism with HIIT, your body will continue to burn calories even after the workout. The bottom line: since you’re working out at max capacity, you’re going to burn extra calories during all other activities—even during that Netflix marathon—which will make it easier to lose weight.
The Killer Weight Loss Conclusion
HIIT workouts are hot in the fitness industry for a reason; the workouts lead to visible, measurable results. Academic studies and medical research show that HIIT is the best workout for rapid weight loss, increased metabolism, and super-charged fat-burning. Even more exciting is that HITT workouts have been shown to result in better weight loss outcomes compared to traditional continuous cardio, even though they require far less time to complete.
Better results in less time, that’s a definite fitness win-win. Are you interested in burning fat and building lean muscle? Check out SweatBox’s pulse-pounding HIIT classes. You have nothing to lose—except maybe those few extra pounds!
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