Use high-intensity cardio to lose weight for faster fat loss
Slow and steady helped the tortoise beat the hare. But if you’re serious about losing body fat and getting into shape you need to be clever with your cardio. That means focusing on high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio for the fastest-possible fat-loss results, says New Body Plan editorial director Joe Warner
Tried and failed to lose weight through exercise in the past? Chances are you made some of the common workout mistakes. Or maybe you started going jogging.
Steady-state cardio – running, cycling or swimming at a consistent and comfortable intensity for a decent amount of time – has many health benefits. But turning your body into a fat-burning machine isn’t one of them. Especially if you’re making one of these cardio training errors almost everyone makes!
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The reason is endurance cardio exercise doesn’t push your heart, lungs and muscles hard enough. It won’t initiate the process in which your body taps into fat cells to release fuel for energy.
Don’t get us wrong. Cardio can be great for your physical and mental health. But to turn running, cycling, swimming or any other type of cardio into a legitimate fat-torching session you need to get intense.
The power of HIIT for fat loss
That means your cardio sessions, whether in the gym or outside, need to be short and intense. Why? To elevate your heart rate, increase oxygen consumption, and push you out of your comfort zone. That’s how you increase the rate at which your body burns fat. And not just during training, but for hours and hours afterwards. And the smartest way to use cardio to get leaner is by doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
There’s plenty of solid scientific research to back up the benefits HIIT for fat loss. One study, published in the Journal Of Sports Medicine And Physical Fitness, compared HIIT to conventional training. It found that HIIT resulted in a significantly greater reduction in both adipose fat (the fat stored just underneath the skin), and visceral fat (which is stored around the organs). Too much of either type of fat is incredibly bad for your health.
The same study also found that HIIT had a positive impact on total body-fat levels. It also improved hand grip strength, which is a surprising but solid indicator of longevity. Sprint endurance, jumping ability and flexibility were also boosted.
So, do you want to strip away belly fat, shrink your man boobs, lose your love handles, and remove all your stubborn body fat? And do want to look, feel and perform better than ever, while improving the health of your heart and lungs? Then keep reading to discover how HIIT will help you achieve your better-body goal!
What is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio?
HIIT is a form of cardio exercise that is based around short and intense bouts of all-out effort interspersed with brief periods of rest. The aim is to push your heart, lungs and muscles hard, back off, then push on again. That will send your heart rate soaring, increase oxygen expenditure and get a sweat on.
HIIT is on the opposite end of the cardio spectrum to LISS, or low-intensity steady state exercise, such as a long endurance-style run where your pace remains consistent throughout and your heart rate never gets close to its maximum.
Why is HIIT the best cardio for burning fat?
HIIT is the most intense form of cardiovascular training and studies prove it’s far more effective at burning body fat than LISS and other types of cardio. That’s because HIIT has a similar effect on your body as weight training. How? It boosts levels of hormones associated with increased muscle mass and reduced body fat, specifically in that it raises growth hormone levels and improves insulin sensitivity.
HIIT also accelerates fat loss because of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). Intense training creates an oxygen debt and a build-up of lactic acid in your muscles. This oxygen debt and lactic acid must be repaid and removed, respectively, once you’ve finished exercise. Both these processes stoke up your metabolism, which is the rate at which your body burns calories at rest. That’s great news for your leaner-body aspirations because it means you’ll continue to burn fat for fuel long after your workout has ended.
What are the main benefits of HIIT cardio?
The benefits of HIIT over LISS and other forms of steady-state cardio are numerous. It works your cardiovascular system close to its maximum output so it will increase your fitness levels. That has huge crossover benefits to many sports. And it improves the health of your heart, lungs and entire circulatory system.
It also doesn’t take very long to do, which has an obvious time-benefit over LISS. And can be done in many different ways, such as sprints, kettlebell swings, prowler pushes or farmer’s walk. So it never gets boring or repetitive, which can be the case with running.
How do I do a HIIT cardio workout for fat loss?
When lifting weights there is a right way and a wrong way to train for fat loss. But for HIIT you are only limited by your imagination. Just follow these guidelines to make your HIIT sessions fun, challenging and rewarding. That’s important so that every session moves you ever-closer to your better-body goal.
Make HIIT cardio enjoyable
You’re far more likely to start, and complete, a HIIT session if it uses exercises or equipment that you like. Hate running but love rowing? Do your HIIT workout on a rowing machine. Despise all cardio machines? Do kettlebell swings, or carry heavy dumbbells for loaded farmer’s walks.
Always do a HIIT cardio warm-up
Doing a standalone HIIT session? Then you’ll need to thoroughly warm-up your central nervous system, cardiovascular system and your major muscles. Why? To prepare for the intense work ahead to push yourself as hard as possible without the risk of injury.
Start with slower, lighter or easier efforts of the main exercise or activity you’ll do in the main session. And throw in some dynamic stretches. Gradually increase the intensity over ten minutes until you feel warmer or slightly sweaty and start to get a little out of breath. If your HIIT work is at the end of a weights session your body will already be warmed up. So all you need to do is spend five or so minutes gradually increasing the intensity of your HIIT activity.
Stretch dynamically for the best HIIT cardio
For years it was thought that static holds, when you stretch a muscle to its limit then hold the position for 30 seconds or longer, were best to prepare muscles for exercise. But forcing them into held stretches when they are still cold, tight and inflexible makes the muscles weaker. That means you can’t perform to your potential. And so increases the risk of pulls and other injuries. Instead do some dynamic stretching. High-knee raises and heel-to-bum kicks, are good examples. And plyometric moves, such as squat jumps or box jumps, can also be part of your warm-up.
Quality HIIT cardio is best for fat loss
There is no perfect time length for a HIIT workout. The duration of the session will be dictated by the activity. For instance, a 1km all-effort on the rowing machine won’t take very long. But it will leave you in a sweaty, breathless heap at the end of it. A 5km run, in which you alternate between 200m sprints and 800m of slower recovery running, will take far longer. The key is to make the bouts of all-out effort as intense as possible to raise your heart rate and create that oxygen debt.
Do different types of HIIT cardio for faster fat loss
As with any form of exercise, if you do the same thing every session your body will quickly adapt. Then you’ll get diminishing returns. It’s important to base your HIIT work around exercises and equipment you prefer. But you still need to shake things up regularly. Why? To keep your body guessing as to what’s coming next so it can’t stay in its comfort zone.
For example, instead of only ever doing 200m sprints and 800m recovery running on the treadmill, play around with the distance splits. Maybe some sessions are 100m work and 200m rest, while others are 400m work and 400m rest. Changing it up keeps HIIT more effective for fat loss. And it also makes each session feel exciting as well as physically challenging.
When should I do a HIIT cardio session for fat loss?
When training to burn fat, lifting weights should take precedent in your exercise schedule. That’s because weight training has the biggest impact on your body composition by building muscle and burning fat. In an ideal world you’ll lift weights four times per week. But that doesn’t mean that HIIT training can’t also have a part to play each week, though there are a couple of caveats.
The best HIIT cardio session for beginners
If you’re new to weight training then focus first only on lifting weights. Why? Because if you do it right it’s going to take a lot out of you. And you don’t want to burn out too soon on your better-body journey by overdoing it.
What’s more, at this stage lifting weights is enough on its own to start making major improvements to your physique. So holding back on HIIT at the staer is a good idea. Why? Because you can then deploy it down the road when your fat-loss results start to slow. And then you’ll re-accelerate your progress.
The best standalone HIIT cardio workout
When you introduce HIIT into your weekly training schedule you have two choices. You can either include some HIIT work at the end of a weights workout. Or you can do it as a standalone session on one of your “rest” days.
However, if you feel tired on a rest day then you must prioritise getting proper rest so you’re fresh and ready for your next weights session. Forcing out a HIIT session that makes you even more tired is counter-productive. That’s because lifting weights as well as you can always comes first in any fat-loss plan.
Also, if you’re doing standalone sessions you don’t want to have too many carbs in your system. If you do your body will prioritise using them for fuel. If it’s been a while since you has some carbs then your body has no choice but to tap into body fat stores for the energy it needs.
Do HIIT cardio fat-loss finishers
If you want to include HIIT in your weights workout then you must do it after the session, never before, like how the “Fat-Loss Finishers” are structured in the New Body Plan training plans.
The reason is simple. HIIT training fatigues your muscles and your central nervous system. That means it makes you weaker. And you don’t want to then go and lift heavy weights when in a fatigued state. You’ll have to select lighter weights. You won’t be able to push as hard to complete those tough sets. And you’ll open yourself up to the risk of injury.
Doing HIIT after weights also ensures that any carbs in your system have already been burned fuelling the weight lifting. So fat cells will be tapped to release extra energy. Always do your weights first when you’re fresh and raring to go. Then finish with HIIT to burn even more calories in the safest and most effective way possible.
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