Is Your Workout Sabotaging Your Weight Loss?
It is fairly common knowledge that exercise is beneficial to our health as human beings. Exercise is shown to improve your mood, decrease stress, improve body system functions, and decrease your risk of certain diseases. Along with all of that, the primary reason people begin to exercise is weight loss. Losing an extra few pounds is the driver behind many of the health benefits of exercise because it alleviates stress from your body systems, allowing them to function properly.
Traditionally, cardiorespiratory (cardio) exercise–exercises like walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, etc.–are the go-to programs for people who are trying to lose weight. It is true that these exercises have benefits (they’re the go-to for a reason), but the nature of these exercises requires a good bit of time, which is one of the biggest obstacles people struggle to overcome when starting a weight loss journey. But what if I told you there was a different way to meet your weight loss goals? A more efficient way that would give you all the benefit (and more) of a 30-45 minute cardio session, but only in 10-15 minutes? That’s exactly what studies have shown you can find in High-Intensity Interval Training.
High-Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) is a type of exercise that requires you to work as hard as you can for a short period of time, alternating work periods with set rest periods. For example: instead of a set number of repetitions and sets for a given exercise (say, 5 sets of 10 push-ups) you would do the same exercise at high intensity for a specified time (say, maximum effort push-ups for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, repeat the interval 5 times).
According to a study, a HIIT exercise program is preferable to medium-long duration cardio programs for maximizing health benefits. Another study, comparing the number of calories burned during a 30 minute HIIT workout to those of a 30-minute cardio and a 30-minute weight lifting workout, found that the HIIT workout burned 20-25% more calories than either of the other workout types. And the kicker is, the study used a 20-second exercise, 40-second rest interval; which means those 20-25% more calories were burned in 10 minutes vs. 30 minutes. HIIT also gives your metabolism a boost for hours after you exercise, which helps your body burn fat after your workout. Researchers even found that 2 minutes of sprint intervals (HIIT) gave as much of a metabolic boost for 24 hours after working out as a 30-minute jog. You read that right. Your metabolism would burn as much with a 2-minute sprint interval as it does with a 30-minute jog.
That is a lot of numbers and scientific studies, so here is the point: HIIT is a better exercise option for weight loss than either cardio or weight training. It is more efficient for your energy and your time. Sometimes it can be overwhelming trying to put together a HIIT workout on your own, and a lot of the workouts you can find online may not necessarily be something you feel comfortable doing. Not to worry, below you will find a guide for how to adjust any HIIT workouts you find to fit your fitness level.
Step 1: Start small. Rome wasn’t built in a day and unless you’ve been training for years, HIIT will be an adjustment for your mind and body. If you like the exercises on a workout you find, but feel like the intervals will be too difficult, adjust them. Start with an interval that is heavy on the rest cycle; try either 15/45 (15 seconds of work, 45 seconds of rest) or 20/40 (20 seconds of work, 40 seconds of rest). It can seem like you’re not doing much work, but you will definitely feel it as your sets progress.
Step 2: Pick your exercises. Exercise is not one size fits all, and just because a workout you find lists certain exercises, that doesn’t mean you have to do those exact exercises. No one knows your body like you do when it comes to pain and physical ability, so you don’t necessarily have to start with advanced exercises. Remember, the form is key. You want to work hard, but you don’t want to be out of control. You want to maintain proper form so you don’t put your body at risk for injury. There are plenty of online progressions of exercises you can find. Take push-ups for example. If a standard push-up is too difficult, work up to it with the push-up progressions. Start with your hands elevated on a chair or an exercise box (if you have one). If a standard push-up is too simple for you, elevate your feet. Pick 2-3 exercises per body part. If you are working on your legs, pick 2-3 exercises to perform intervals. HIIT training focuses on movements you can do with minimal equipment, which will give you the freedom to adjust the exercises however you need to.
Step 3: Pick your sets. This is one of the most important factors in a HIIT workout. You may only be working for 10 seconds at a time, but you don’t want to overload yourself by trying to do too many sets. If you find a workout you like, but you think they have too many sets, then adjust the number. Once again, start small and work your way up. You can always add more sets at the end of your workout if you still have energy left. But you want to make sure you can get through the workout to the end, which will help you get after it the next time you work out.
Step 4: Don’t skip the rest. Use your rest period in order to let your body recover. If you can make it through a HIIT workout while skipping rest periods, you need to switch your interval. Add more time to your work intervals and less to your rest intervals. Skipping rest intervals may make you feel like you’re working harder, but maintaining the rise and fall of your heart rate is key to HIIT.
Whether you’re starting a weight loss journey, or you are trying to shed a few pounds for your family vacation this summer, you got this. HIIT will help you achieve those goals.