NOTE: This is Part 1 of a 2-Part Series.
We all know that cardio can help you reduce body fat. But what kind of cardio works the fastest? How can you avoid throwing away lean muscle with the fat? What supplements should you use to get maximum results? In this two-part series, we’ll reveal the answers to these questions and more.
What is HIIT?
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) (pronounced “hit”) sounds technical, but it doesn’t have to be. If you add HIIT to your workout program, it can help you reduce body fat faster and hold on to more lean muscle than regular cardio.
Simply stated, HIIT involves 3 steps:
(1) Briefly perform exercise at a high intensity.
(2) Briefly exercise at a low intensity or rest.
(3) Repeat several times.
The term “interval” is used because periods of high-intensity exercise are separated by intervals of low-intensity exercise or rest. The latter is sometimes called the “recovery” period.
Think of how little kids sometimes play. They dart across the grass at full speed. Then they slow down to a walk. Then they dart off again in another direction. And so on. They’re doing HIIT, and they don’t even realize it!
The rules of HIIT are pretty flexible. The high-intensity period may last anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds. The recovery period may last the same amount of time.
HIIT vs. CME
The opposite of HIIT is sometimes called “continuous moderate exercise” (CME), or “low intensity steady state” (LISS). If you walk for an hour at a steady pace on the treadmill, for instance, you are doing CME. Some doctors still prescribe CME for fat reduction. However, an increasing number are now telling their patients to “HIIT it up” instead. Why?
- Clinical studies provide compelling evidence that you can reduce body fat faster with HIIT than you can with CME. This is true even when you burn more calories during CME. In one study, subjects who performed CME for several weeks didn’t lose any fat, whereas those who performed HIIT did. This occurred despite the fact that those who performed CME burned 15,000 more calories than subjects in the HIIT group.
- Patient compliance may be higher with HIIT, possibly because it isn’t as boring as CME.
- The number-one excuse often made for not exercising enough is “I don’t have time.” HIIT workouts are much shorter than CME workouts. No more excuses!
- HIIT is associated with improved cardiovascular and metabolic function in people who are currently healthy as well as “at risk” patients.
- HIIT reduces both subcutaneous (“under the skin”) and visceral fat. Subcutaneous fat is the fat that you can see on your body. Visceral fat is stored deep inside your body, around organs. It has been linked to diseases such as diabetes.
- Because your muscles have to work harder during HIIT, it can do a better job of preserving lean muscle than CME. Too much CME can cause lean muscle to shrink (atrophy).
“How can HIIT help me lose fat faster, even if I burn more calories during CME?”
Good question. Scientists are still trying to figure this out. Several factors may be involved. For instance, HIIT workouts may boost your metabolism in the hours or days that follow. Also, there is some evidence that HIIT may suppress appetite.
HIIT isn’t a miracle maker. Keep in mind that the HIIT protocols used in clinical studies have often been pretty exhausting, more intense than you would likely do yourself. Also, individual results can vary, as is the case for any form of exercise.
Whether it’s HIIT or regular cardio, if you want to reduce body fat as quickly as possible, then you need to record your workout accomplishments. Doing so will help you ensure that they are progressive, i.e., your body is challenged to work harder during each workout.
Make it easy for yourself! Duration and calories expended are two of the simplest things to record, and most modern cardio equipment displays both of them. During your next workout, try to burn more calories in the same amount of time. Or, try to burn the same amount of calories in less time. Record your accomplishments and try to beat them at the workout that follows.
It happens to the best of us: We start using a piece of cardio equipment, we become comfortable with it, and then we continue to use it, over and over and over again.
Keep it fresh! Change your choice of cardio weekly, if not more often. This will make your workouts more fresh, fun and challenging. Changing things up may also help you avoid repetitive strain injuries.
A well-equipped gym should have multiple pieces of cardio equipment to choose from: treadmill, elliptical, stationary bike, Stairclimber, Stepmill, Jacob’s Ladder, etc. Use them all. Don’t limit yourself.
There are a ton of HIIT workouts on the Web. Below is just a small collection that you can use to get started.
- Stationary cycle: You can use this basic HIIT workout on a regular cycle or a spinning cycle.
- Warm-up: 5 minutes at low intensity.
- High-intensity spinning: 1 minute.
- Low-intensity spinning: 1 minute.
- Repeat 8 times.
- Cool-down: 5 minutes with gradually decreasing intensity.
- Stepmill workout #1:
- Level 5: 2 minutes.
- Level 12: 2 minutes.
- Repeat 8 times.
- Stepmill workout #2: This HIIT workout comes from a female fitness competitor and cover model:
- Level 8: 3 minutes.
- Level 10: 1 minute.
- Level 12: 1 minute.
- Level 16: 1 minute (or as long as you can).
- Go back to Level 8 and repeat. Beginners can skip Level 16.
- Jacob’s Ladder: Two HIIT workouts are available at this link:
When you do cardio, use the full range of motion, just as you would when lifting weights. Or, as Big Daddy Kane rapped, “Ain’t no half steppin.”
It’s been said that partial reps build a partial muscle. It’s true. This becomes especially apparent when you resume using the full range of motion in your weight room exercises after a period of using partial reps. Within a matter of days, your muscles will appear fuller and more defined throughout their entire length. To the untrained eye (your grandmother, say), the difference may not be noticeable. To the experienced bodybuilder, however, it is like night and day.
The same rule applies to cardio. When you do “mini steps” on the Stairclimber, Stepmill or elliptical machine, for instance, it may feel easier, but you’re only cheating yourself. Using a longer, deeper step or stride will improve the appearance and performance of your muscles.