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High intensity interval training HIIT for quick and effective fat loss

Skrevet 21-01-2007 af Alun Biggart - Print - Send til en ven -

High intensity interval training HIIT for quick and effective fat loss

Today more than ever as our waistlines expand we look for ways to loose our unwanted body fat. Many turn to the latest miracle diet or to a new fat loss pill. Unfortunately loosing body fat takes work! There are no short cuts or magical pills, just hard work via a combination of a healthy food plan and the correct training program. The focus of this article is how you should incorporate an aerobic training program (running, sprinting, cycling etc) into your fat loss plan.

But before we get to the specifics of this program to help you understand why this program works we need to look at some basic fat loss concepts.

Notice I use the words fat loss instead of weight loss – there is a big difference. You see you can loose body weight via water, carbohydrate, protein, and fat. But its fat loss that’s important and just measuring your body weight doesn’t tell you anything about what’s happening to your love handles. So throw out the bathroom scales and instead pay more attention to how you look in the mirror, how your cloths fit or even better buy a body fat measurer such as accumeasure.

There is much discussion and controversy about the best way to train if your goal is fat loss. Let’s get one thing straight - doing something is better than nothing! However the best results in a fat loss training program are via a combination of weight training and aerobics. Don’t underestimate the value of weight training its essential due to helping your body hold onto its valuable muscle mass and to give you a shapely well trained athletic body. If you loose muscle your bodies metabolism goes down – exactly what you want to avoid if you are trying to loose fat. A lower metabolism means you need to cut your calories even further or increase your physical activity to keep your fat loss on track. Aim to weight train at least twice per week – the training section of this web site provides you with several excellent weight training programs for your individual level of fitness.

No more go slow Cardio

So now to the aerobics training program - the focus of this article. Are you tired of getting a sore bum via sitting for hours on the exercise bike? Or are you like your fellow stair climer enthusiasts putting in lots of time in stepping up and down, up and down following the traditional go slow cardio and getting little reward in the fat loss department?

Have you ever wondered if there is a more effective way to loosing the spare tire you have accumulated round your waist?

Many of us have got this “more is better” aerobics attitude. But too much cardio burns muscle (protein is used as a fuel) exactly what you want to avoid if you are trying to loose weight – because as I explained above you need to keep your muscle to stop your metabolism from dropping. A more effective way to burn fat and keep the muscle is High intensity interval training or HIIT. This type of training involves alternating intervals of moderate intensity aerobic exercise with periods of near-maximal effort.

The reason slow cardio workouts became popular is a scientific study showed low-intensity aerobic exercise burns a greater percentage of calories from fat than carbohydrates (1). But this is only half the truth. You and I are not interested in percentages we are only interested in total grams of fat burned i.e. what’s happening to our waistlines. The truth is that High intensity interval training is a better solution to fat-loss, because:

1. It is the total amount of energy from fat you burn up and not the percentage of energy from fat that’s important – with a higher intensity you burn more calories per minute. This is sweet music for busy modern exercise enthusiasts – because you get the same results in half the time!

2. High intensity interval training speeds up your metabolism and keeps it revved up for some time after you workout – up to 48 hours something low intensity exercise fails to do (2,4).

In fact scientific studies have conclusively shown that High intensity interval training can burn your adipose tissue more efficiently than low intensity exercise – up to 50% more effectively! (3,5). This results in more fat loss.

One of the great things about High intensity interval training is it can be applied to all sorts of activities. Personally I like running stairs or sprinting, but it can be done on a treadmill, stationary bike, rowing machine, in fact any activity where you can alternate periods of high intensity exercise with periods of low intensity exercise.

The following programs offer general guidelines for boosting fat loss. Of course, you have to develop at your own pace depending on your level of fitness. If you follow the program doing 2-3 sessions per week plus 2 sessions of weight training combined with a healthy food program - you will see significant results in the fat burning department!

THE High intensity interval training PROGRAM
You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get excellent results with short runs, bike rides etc lasting no more than 20-30 mins:

Level 1 Beginner
Warm up Jog 5mins
8 x 30secs sprints
1½mins jog/walk between each sprint
Warm down Jog 5mins

Level 2 intermediate
Warm up Jog 5mins
12 x 30secs sprints
1mins jog between each sprint
Warm down Jog 5mins

Level 3 Athlete
Warm up Jog 5mins
12 x 45secs sprints*
45 secs jog between each sprint
Warm down Jog 5mins

*To make this routine harder do it up stairs or up a hill!

1. You can substitute cycling, rowing, roller skating etc for running to add variety to the program
2. In your sprint periods try to get your heart rate up to 90% of your max heart rate
3. To prevent overtraining, incorporate High intensity interval training on your weight training off days
4. Once you feel ready go to the next level
5. You should see significant results within 6 weeks – but remember to weight train and to eat healthily.

The important thing to remember is sprinting and interval training is a very hard intense exercise. If you haven’t sprinted since you were a child, take it easy in the start and gradually build up. For some people beginning the High intensity interval training program may mean walking for a warm up and then a brisk walk or slow jog during the “sprint” periods. If that’s the case don’t be discouraged. This program is all about improving – moving foreword in a positive way. If you are unsure you are fit enough to undertake High intensity interval training check with your doctor first.

With High intensity interval training you’ll be surprised how quickly you can get excellent results with short runs, bike rides etc lasting no more than 20-30 mins:

Drop the stairmaster

With some people I am going to be unpopular with this piece of advice. However facts are facts. The stair master is not very effective when compared to running or rowing when it comes to fat loss. Why? Because the more muscle mass you activate when you exercise the more calories you burn. Compare a 2 ton truck to a Beetle car which uses the most fuel? You activate fewer muscles when on the stairmaster compared to other forms of aerobic activity. What makes things even worse is most of the people using the stairmaster hold onto the machines handles further reducing its effectiveness. No wonder people who exercise on the stair master have to stay on the machine for hours to get any results. If you don’t believe me the next time you go to the gym have a look around! Again something is better than nothing but if you want the best results choose exercises such as sprinting or rowing that activate more of your muscle mass and will therefore burn calories and fat faster!

Fitness promoting

Another benefit of High intensity interval training is its ability to rapidly increase your level of fitness. Peak fitness is usually defined as having both a high aerobic AND anaerobic capacity. Your maximum oxygen capacity (VO2 max – how much oxygen you can extract from the air per minute) is the best measure of your aerobic fitness. As the exercise intensity increases beyond your VO2 max, your body produces energy without oxygen (anaerobic). Its at this point lactic acid levels build up in your muscles. Your ability to continue beyond this point is called your anaerobic capacity.

Japanese scientists found that High intensity interval training (8 sets of 20 second maximal sprints with 10 seconds rest 5 days per week) was far superior in boosting both aerobic (14%) and anaerobic (28%) capacity compared to slower moderate intensity exercise (1 hour bike ride at 70% of VO2 max 5 days per week) which showed NO increase in anaerobic and only a 10% increase in aerobic capacity. What’s really amazing is that these massive improvements came about after only 6 weeks training. (5) They are some of the highest increases ever recorded in exercise science! So if you want to get fitter fast pump up the intensity of your cardio workouts by following the program above.

Fat burning Zone doesn’t exist

Scientists have known for years that the so called ”Fat burning zone” doesn’t exist. Even though at a lower intensity you do burn a higher percentage of calories form fat, at a higher intensity you burn more calories per minute and therefore more TOTAL fat. Your body is not interested in percentages; it’s only interested in the total number of fat grams burned during and after training. In addition there are other advantages with High Intensity Interval Training:

• More effective – the higher the intensity the shorter the time you need to use training to get results.

• Trainings effect – the higher the intensity the faster you increase your fitness

• Calorie burning – the higher the intensity the more calories you burn per minute

• Metabolism – the higher the intensity the more you will increase your metabolism

• After training fat burning effect– the higher the intensity the more fat your body will burn after training, plus the carbohydrate you eat will be used to fill up your bodies carbohydrate stores and not used to make fat!

• Muscle mass - – the higher the intensity the, the bigger the positive effect on your muscle mass. The more muscle you have the larger your metabolism and the more fat you burn every second of the day.

It’s fine to exercise at a moderate heart rate in the so called Fat burning zone because it’s important to exercise and enjoy it. But don’t get fooled into thinking at exercising a lower intensity is more effective than a higher intensity. If you want to loose fat there is no reason to keep your heart rate down, instead train at the highest intensity you can with in the time frame you have allotted to your training session.

To maximize High intensity interval training do it first thing in the morning

To optimize you fat burning training do it early in the morning on an empty stomach. Just drink a glass of water and go for it. First thing in the morning your body’s carbohydrate stores are low due to sleeping and fasting for 8 hours, this may result in more effective fat burning compared to other times of the day.

In addition your metabolism will be raised for the rest of the day giving an even bigger after exercise fat burning effect. Plus the feel good factor must not be underestimated - Hey once you have done your training you can enjoy the rest of your day!

After each High intensity interval training session to immediately start the recovery process consider consuming a meal high in protein. A protein rich drink will help you recover faster and supply you with the necessary building blocks to maintain your muscle mass. But only use an organic whey protein!


In today’s world we are all short of time. It therefore makes sense to get the most out of the time we spend exercising. Doing something is better than nothing, but if you are looking for fast effective way to burn fat fast combine weight training with High intensity interval training. Don’t listen to the so called experts who advocate the best way is to sit on the exercise bike doing hours of go slow cardio – they are wrong. The “fat burning zone” doesn’t exist. The next time you are in the gym look around at the people exercising the traditional go slow cardio method, are they getting results? Scientists have conclusively shown High intensity interval training to be more effective way of burning fat because you not only burn a lot of calories during training but the after training fat burning effect is also significant. The bottom line is with High intensity interval training you burn more fat and as an added bonus rapidly improve your fitness in training sessions lasting less than 30 mins – saving time in your busy daily schedule!

Work up the intensity slowly depending on your level of fitness. Be creative with the type of aerobic exercise you participate in this will help keep things interesting and motivation high. If you follow a healthy food plan and combine it with High intensity interval training and weight training you can look forewords to taking your shirt off with pride on the beach this summer!


1. SM Phillips, “Effect of training duration on substrate turnover and oxidation during exercise,” J Appl. Physiol. 81.5 (1996): 2182-2191
2. A. Tremblay, et al., “Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism,” Metabolism 43 (1994): 814-818
3. J. Smith and L McNaughton, “ The effects of intensity of exercise and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption and energy expenditure in moderately trained men and women,” Eur. J. Appl. Physiol. 67 (1993): 420-425
4. R. Bahr and O.M. Sejerste, “Effect of intensity on excess post exercise oxygen consumption,” Metabolism 40.8 (1991) : 836-841.
5. I. Tabata et al., “Effects of moderate intensity endurance and High intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2 max,” Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 28. 10 (1996) : 1327-1330
6. I. Tabata et al., “Metabolic profile of High intensity intermittent exercises ,” Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 29. 3 (1997) : 390-395

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