If you’ve read any fitness magazine in the last 5 or so years, you would see it is pretty well established at this point that the best “bang for your buck” type of cardio to burn fat and sculpt a lean physique is HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training.
This is opposed to the old fashioned thinking of “if I want to lose weight, I should just go for a run”.
Now, the beauty of HIIT, as opposed to LISS (Low Intensity Steady State, like jogging or walking), is that you can achieve greater overall fat loss effects in a much shorter amount of time. But that’s not the purpose of this piece; the debate between HIIT and LISS is pretty much over. In order to see the benefits from HIIT, you must perform these exercises in a certain way.
We can take, for example, the Tabata protocol of training. This is a short, 4 minute session of exercise popularized by Dr. Izumi Tabata using a dynamic movement, where you would perform the movement as fast as possible for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, then repeat for the entire 4 minutes, without resting for more than the allotted 10 seconds.
Now, this is all fine and dandy, and is also the reason you see all those ads telling you you can lose weight in 15 minutes a day. The truth is, you can, but only if you do these exercises right, not just do them.
These HIIT exercises are supposed to be dynamic movements performed as fast as possible. You are supposed to be giving 110% to these movements, not just going through the motions, or even trying slightly harder than normal. For you to see the metabolic (i.e. fat loss) effects of this protocol, these movements should be done as if your life depends on them. Take for example, a kettlebell swing, a common Tabata/HIIT movement.
A Kettlebell swing should be done with controlled violence. It is not a squat into a lazy front raise of the kettle bell. The core should be completely tight, the hips should hinge back as if you were doing a Romanian deadlift, and the knees should slightly unlock. To “swing” the kettlebell up, you want to squeeze the glutes as hard as you can and shoot your hips forward as fast as possible, maintaining a neutral spine, using the shoulders only to raise the Kettlebell to eye level after the initial hip thrust. When the Kettlebell gets to eye level, you forcefully swing the kettlebell back between your legs. This activates the core and momentarily puts you into a standing plank of sorts. This does not sound like your run of the mill exercise, because it is not!
If you are lazily swinging the kettlebell, and are doing a round or two of tabata, than you might as well be going for a slow jog on the treadmill, because you aren’t really doing any HIIT, and most likely won’t see training benefits from that. If you do this movement with good form (if it’s your first time please do not just pick up a kettlebell and try to swing it, get some experienced instruction), and with serious intensity, then you will find yourself out of breath after each 20 second bout (depending on fitness level one can do 10 seconds on, 20 off, 15 seconds on, 15 off, etc.) and at the end of your exercise session, with a metabolism that is ready to burn fat for the next 24-48 hours.
So, the take home message is this: If you set out to do HIIT because you have seen all the success stories and flashy ads, make sure you give everything you have into the exercise, don’t hold anything back. This is why you want to make sure you are doing movements you are comfortable with. If you find yourself lollygagging through a HIIT session (This is where you have to be honest with yourself!) then either ramp it up or find another way to exercise, because you are probably just wasting your time! If you are have been trying to lose weight and are having difficulty, ask your doctor if HIIT is right for you!