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The Prof Blog: HIIT Vs. CARDIO

Most trainers who are trying to drop body fat usually do two things, reduce food intake and increase cardiovascular exercise. And both of these methods are effective at reducing fat stores. But is there a better way?

High Intensity Interval Training of HIIT has been around for a while now, but most trainers associate it with athletes who are trying to improve performance for a particular sport. Well a review of the research associated with HIIT reveals some interesting results.

In a study conducted at the University of New South Wales and published in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers compared a 15 week program of HIIT against a Steady State Exercise (SSE) program and found HIIT group lost a significant level of body fat compared to the SSE group. The other interesting result was that HIIT was particularly effective at reducing abdominal fat whereas the SSE group had no significant abdominal fat reduction – great if you are after a six pack.

There are numerous other studies that not only support the effectiveness of HIIT for fast fat reduction, but also multiple other health and metabolic benefits including improved insulin sensitivity, fast increases in VO2 Max, dramatic increases in the ability to perform sub maximal exercise, improved carbohydrate and fat utilisation during exercise, increased mitochondrial efficiency……. the list goes on! Simply put, HIIT will improve your overall performance so you can train harder and progress faster.

Another great benefit of HIIT is time efficiency. A full-on HIIT session can be completed in about 10 – 15 minutes including warm up and cool down, and the actual working time, the time when you are actually putting in the hard effort, is only about 1 – 2 minutes per session. Sounds almost too good to be true, but there is a catch. It is pretty intense so requires strong will and determination.

So if you’re inspired to give HIIT training a go instead of the usual boring old cardio, what do you do? First of all, because HIIT is pretty taxing, it’s best to either do your session on its own, of do it at the end of your weight training as you may be too fatigued to train properly if you do your HIIT session before you hit the weights.

There are lots of different ways to get a good HIIT workout, here are a few:

Exercise Bike

Warm up for 5 minutes with some slow and brisk pedalling to get your muscles and joints warm, then do 3 x 20 second all out sprints, as hard and fast as you can. Set a resistance level that makes the effort pretty challenging so that at the end of 20 seconds you are really fatigued and your legs are screaming to stop! Between each set, rest for around 2 – 3 minutes until your heart rate comes back down and you are ready to tackle the next set flat out. That’s it, just 3 sets and you’re done. As you get accustomed to this type of training you can add another one or two sets but much more than this is counterproductive. You can perform this type of HIIT workout on a normal bike outdoors if you have a safe area where you can sprint flat-out for 20 seconds.

Sprinting

Choose a suitable area where you can sprint flat out for about 20 seconds. This can be on the flat, or to make it really hard, sprint up a hill. Use the same principal as above, warm up with some light jogging and build up intensity progressively to get your body ready for all out efforts. A word of warning – intense sprinting is quite a ballistic exercise and has a relatively high risk of injury so most trainers may need to build intensity over several weeks.

You can use this basic approach for many other HIIT programs, such as on steppers, rowing machines, stair climbing, swimming, it can be adapted to lots of different forms of exercise.

So there you go, HIIT could just be that short cut to a 6 pack you’ve been looking for.

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