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High Intensity Interval Training: HIIT for weight loss

Updated: Apr 20

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, has become a popular workout method for people looking to lose weight. HIIT involves short bursts of high intensity activity followed by periods of rest or low intensity activity. Many people use HIIT for weight loss as this type of training has been shown to be more effective at burning fat and calories than traditional steady state cardio workouts (Wewege et al, 2017).

If you’re looking to use HIIT to lose weight, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, HIIT workouts should be relatively short – no more than 30 minutes. This is because HIIT is an intense exercise and can lead to fatigue and burnout if done for too long.

Second, HIIT workouts should be composed of exercises that you are already comfortable with and know how to do properly. Correct form and alignment is important to avoid injury and ensure that you get the most out of your workout.

Finally, HIIT workouts should be progressive, meaning that they should become more difficult as you become more fit. This will help to keep your body challenged and prevent plateaus in your weight loss.

If you’re ready to give HIIT a try, there are a few different ways to incorporate it into your workout routine. One option is to do HIIT workouts as standalone sessions, which can be done 2-3 times per week. Another option is to add HIIT to your regular cardio routine by adding 1 -2 HIIT workouts per week.

Whichever way you choose to do HIIT, make sure to warm up before your workout and cool down afterwards. A proper warm up will help to prevent injury and prepare your body for the intensity of HIIT. A cool down will help to reduce muscle soreness and promote recovery.

HIIT and Weight Loss

There are several reasons why HIIT is so effective for losing weight:

  1. HIIT burns more calories than traditional aerobic exercise. When you do high-intensity exercises, your body has to work harder to produce the energy needed to sustain the activity. This causes your body to burn more calories, even after you finish your workout.

  2. HIIT helps to boost your metabolism, which means you will continue to burn calories long after you’ve finished your workout.

  3. HIIT is a time-efficient way to exercise. A typical HIIT workout only lasts for about 20-30 minutes, compared to the 45-60 minutes that is typically required for a traditional aerobic workout. This means you can get the same or even better results in a fraction of the time.

If you are keen to optimize your weight loss it is ideal to combine exercise with a whole-food diet, which is full of nutrient dense energy and avoids processed foods and refined grains and sugars.

The Health Benefits of High Intensity Training

HIIT burns more calories than traditional aerobic exercise

One study suggested that HIIT participants burned more calories compared to the comparison group which performed a steady-state exercise session. The researchers found that under HIIT, up to 25-30%n more calories can be expended compared to a steady state exercise such as running and biking (Falcone et al, 2015). HIIT is a more efficient workout as it allows you to burn about the same number of calories by spend less time doing it.

Although HIIT can help you burn calories, it is not a lose weight quick method. It’s benefits come with persistence as it is a type of exercise that improves overall cardiovascular health, endurance, metabolism, energy and building lean muscle.

HIIT Exercise Boosts metabolism

Investing 30 minutes into HIIT has other subtle benefits. A number of studies have shown HIIT increases your metabolic rate hours after exercise. In systematic review in 2021, by looking at the post-exercise oxygen consumption as a way of measuring participants metabolism, they found HIIT had higher metabolic rates and maintained these rates for longer (for more than at least 3 hours) compared to people who did moderate intensity continuous exercise such as a cardio workout or aerobic exercise.

HIIT training can help you lose body fat and gain muscles in a short period of time.

Apart from the benefits of HIIT for calorie expenditure and metabolism, HIIT has also been shown to help with changes in body composition, enabling the body to more efficiently build muscle mass and burn fat.

  1. Muscle is most likely to be be gained primarily around the torso and legs (Martins et al, 2015).

  2. Weight training is the gold standard in terms of gaining muscle mass, but HIIT has been shown to be support small amounts of muscle growth because muscle groups are used intensely during HIIT (Damas et al, 2015).

It is important to be realistic with expectations around weight loss when doing high intensity workouts. Don't do HIIT over prolonged amounts of time or even every day. It should be spaced out with active recovery and weight training.

HIIIT training can improve oxygen consumption

When listening to sports commentators make comments such as ‘this person has insane cardio’ or ‘they are upping the pace’, or ‘we are now entering the championship rounds’, they are observing the athlete’s muscles ability to use oxygen in the most efficient way possible.

Getting oxygen from the mouth to the muscle (and maybe the brain) is the name of the game.

There is a common word for this, its called endurance. Typically, endurance training involves long sessions of continuous running or cycling at a steady rate. Some studies have suggested the same benefits can be achieved in a shorter amount of time.

One study found that participants who underwent a 20-minute HIIT workout 4 days per week for 5 weeks improved there oxygen consumption by 9%. The other group, which were placed on the cycle machine for 40-minutes at a time improve by 10%. The researchers also found that the participants in the HIIT group found their form of exercise to be more enjoyable and time-efficient (Kong et al, 2016).

Another study, that tracked participants for 8 weeks, compared participants who did HIIT training to aerobic fitness done at moderate intensity on a stationary bike. It showed an increase in oxygen consumption by 25% for both forms of exercise (Martins et al, 2015) To think of it another way, getting the same amount of gains in aerobic capacity for half the amount of time.

This makes HIIT that much more appealing to those that have time pressures, those who get bored sitting on a bike in the gym for longer periods of time and those wanting to increase their aerobic capacity faster.

It also showed improvements in insulin sensitivity and reductions in body fat were equivalent between the intense shorter workout and the longer cardio workout.

HIIT can reduce heart rate and blood pressure

Like any exercise, HIIT training is beneficial for high blood pressure. Over time consistent intense workouts can reduce blood pressure. HIIT can also help to reduce your resting heart rate. A lower resting heart rate is a marker of good cardiovascular health and fitness as it indicates the heart muscle is getting stronger and more efficient at pumping blood and doesn’t have to work as hard when you are at rest.

Some research indicates that HIIT may even reduce blood pressure beyond moderate-intensity continuous cardio exercise such as running or cycling (Clark et al, 2020).

High Intensity Training For Diabetes

If you have diabetes, HIIT may be a good option for you. HIIT has been shown in a meta-analysis to improve blood sugar compared to the lower intensity workouts that were completed by the control group (Jellyman et al, 2015). The review concluded that found HIIT was more effective than traditional aerobic exercise in the following ways:

  1. Reducing blood sugar levels.

  2. Reducing insulin resistance

  3. Reducing body weight.

If you are looking for an efficient and effective way to exercise, HIIT is a great option. Not only does HIIT burn more calories than traditional aerobic exercise, but it is also much more time-efficient. Give HIIT a try and see for yourself how much weight you can lose in a short period of time.

How To Do High Intensity Training

There are many different ways to do HIIT and you have to tailor it to your own body and abilities, but here is a basic routine that you can follow:

1. Warm up for 5-10 minutes, by marching on the spot, brisk walking, jogging, skipping, jumping jacks or any combination of these.

2. Perform high-intensity exercises for 20-30 seconds.

3. Rest periods for 20-60 seconds.

4. Repeat for 3-5 sets.

5. Cool down for 5-10 minutes

Here are a few examples of high-intensity exercises that you can do:

  1. Running/jogging

  2. Burpees

  3. Jumping jacks

  4. Squats

  5. Pushups

  6. Lunges

  7. Mountain climbers.

Many people incorporate a number of exercises into their high intensity workout to target different muscle groups in each set. For example squats and lunges to target the lower body, push-ups to target the upper body muscles and jumping jacks to target both upper and lower limbs and core muscles.

Frequently asked Questions about HIIT

Is 20 Minutes of High Intensity Training Enough?

The main advantage if HIIT is that it is a short sharp exercise that allows you to get on to do other activities and not have large time constraints. For most people starting out 20 minutes is more than enough.

If you are completely new to exercise we suggest you start with even less. A routine as short as 7 minutes such as this video by exercise trainer Lucy Wyndham-Read is a good place to start. Begin by doing the beginner version of this video 2-3 times per week for a month. After this try to progress to the advanced version of the video.

If you are a seasoned athlete begin by substituting 20 mins of your continuous cardio exercise 2-3 times per week with 20 mins of HIIT. As your fitness improves keep pushing yourself, but ensure appropriate form during each exercise. Your sessions can include:

  1. 30 to 40 minutes long

  2. Incorporate other exercises that you don’t normally do

  3. Introduce free weights, kettlebells, and body weight

  4. Hill Sprints

Can You Do High Intensity Training Every Day?

High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a type of cardiovascular exercise that alternates between short bursts of high-intensity exercise and brief periods of rest or low-intensity activity. The most obvious risk is injury due to over training.

Trainer Dalton Wong recommends 2 to 3 days per week, with at least two resistance training sessions in the mix.

Provided there is an adequate rest period for recovery of least 24 hours and correct form is used, then the risk of injury is kept to a minimum. Aim to add 5 to 10 minutes of core strengthening work at the end of each session. This helps to maintain a strong core to avoid back injuries, and helps with strength and balance.

Can you do HIIT with resistance training?

You can mix it up with resistance training by incorporating free weights that are lighter than body weights and resistance bands. The key is to give enough variety to keep your body guessing and the mind engaged with HIIT. Some examples of resistance training are:

  1. Bent over rows

  2. Deadlifts

  3. Squats

  4. Kettlebell swings.

How long should I do HIIT to lose weight?

High intensity interval exercise has so many more benefits beyond weight. Ideally this type of exercise can be incorporated into your lifestyle for improved overall health and wellbeing.

As previously stated, you will notice body composition changes and increased strength, energy and endurance more than weight loss as your body will be inducing fat loss and increasing lean muscle. Studies of HIIT and weight loss typically are conducted over 6 to 12 weeks. This is a good starting point to begin with.

Where can I do HIIT training?

You can do HIIT anywhere. You can do HIIT at home, at the park or the beach. You can do it in your office. You can do it in the morning before kids wake up or in the evenings when they are asleep. You can do HIIT with a baby alongside you.

How do I get started?

There are significant real benefits from regular exercise that goes beyond weight loss. The best way to start is to set an achievable goal regarding what you do not how you look or weight.

Try setting a SMART goal for your HIIT workout program.

A SMART goal consists of 5 parts:

  1. Specific

  2. Measurable

  3. Attainable

  4. Relevant

  5. Time-based

An example is: ‘I will do 24 minutes of HIIT training on Monday, Wednesday and Friday each week for the next 4 weeks.’

The training consists of;

  1. 60 seconds of lunges followed by a 1 min rest,

  2. 60 seconds of jumping jacks followed by a 1 min rest,

  3. 60 secs of squats followed by a 1 min rest

  4. 60 secs of burpees, followed by a 1 min rest

  5. Repeat the set 3 times (24 mins).

  6. This goal can be revised at the 4 week mark.

Being consistent, having a plan and being disciplined while not having seeing any immediate results can be somewhat frustrating. However, marking off your progress, teaming up with a buddy for support, or participating in a workplace challenge are all ways to help motivate you to stay on track.

If you are new to exercise or have any health conditions the first step is to talk to your healthcare provider. This is of utmost importance when starting to undertake strenuous activities, so it can be done safely.

Whether you are wanting to use HIIT for weight loss or just an improvement in overall health, HIIT training is a great way to improve your physical activity, build muscle mass, and boost metabolism. We hope you feel motivated to give HIIT a go!

As a menopause and women's health doctor, Dr Deb Brunt @ Ōtepoti Integrative Health would love to support in all aspects of your health and wellbeing.

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Clark T, Morey R, Jones MD, et al. High-intensity interval training for reducing blood pressure: a randomized trial vs. moderate-intensity continuous training in males with overweight or obesity. Hypertens Res. 2020;43(5):396-403. doi:10.1038/s41440-019-0392-6

Damas F, Phillips S, Vechin FC, et al. A review of resistance training-induced changes in skeletal muscle protein synthesis and their contribution to hypertrophy. Sports Med. 2015;45(6):801-807. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0320-0

Falcone PH, Tai CY, Carson LR, et al. Caloric expenditure of aerobic, resistance, or combined high-intensity interval training using a hydraulic resistance system in healthy men. J Strength Cond Res. 2015;29(3):779-785. doi:10.1519/JSC.0000000000000661

Kong Z, Fan X, Sun S, et al. Comparison of High-Intensity Interval Training and Moderate-to-Vigorous Continuous Training for Cardiometabolic Health and Exercise Enjoyment in Obese Young Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PLoS One. 2016;11(7):e0158589. Published 2016 Jul 1. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158589

Jelleyman C, Yates T, O’Donovan G, et al. The effects of high-intensity interval training on glucose regulation and insulin resistance: a meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2015;16(11):942-961. doi:10.1111/obr.12317

Martins C, Kazakova I, Ludviksen M, et al. High-Intensity Interval Training and Isocaloric Moderate-Intensity Continuous Training Result in Similar Improvements in Body Composition and Fitness in Obese Individuals. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2016;26(3):197-204. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2015-0078

Panissa VLG, Fukuda DH, Staibano V, et al. Magnitude and duration of excess of post-exercise oxygen consumption between high-intensity interval and moderate-intensity continuous exercise: A systematic review. Obes Rev. 2021;22(1):e13099. doi:10.1111/obr.13099



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