If you’ve been trying to lose weight, you’ve likely been doing plenty of “cardio” or aerobic activity to burn calories and drop pounds. But did you know a popular training technique used by track stars utilizes “anaerobic” training that might be a far more effective way to burn fat? Instead of slow and steady, you engage in high intensity interval training (HIIT) by adding short bursts of intensive anaerobic activity throughout your workout as track stars do. This technique has already gained popularity outside of sprinters and long-distance runners, as many bodybuilders swear by HIIT to get rid of excess fat.
Anaerobic exercise simply means exercise that gets its energy and fuel “without oxygen,” as opposed to aerobic exercise that is at a slower pace and with oxygen. It’s sort of the difference between being a little out of breath during low intensity aerobic workouts, and huffing and puffing because you’re exercising so hard you can’t even talk. Muscle for Life offers a great tip for differentiating between aerobic and anaerobic to gauge if your intervals are intense enough, where your goal is to reach about 90 percent of your “Vmax.” Your Vmax is a fancy term that boils down to the maximum intensity zone you can push your body, so you want to push pretty close to the edge.
“Simply stated, you’ve reached a Vmax level of exertion when you feel you can’t bring in as much air as your body wants (if you can comfortably hold a conversation, you’re not there).”
So, just as all the experts say, you should be able to carry on a conversation when you’re doing aerobic exercise, but not be able to when you’ve gone anaerobic. The more time you spend in your anaerobic zone, the more effective HIIT will be for fitness and weight loss. (By the way, this is a good place to remind everyone that before engaging in this kind of intense exercise, or any kind, you should always consult your physician.)
So, how does it work? According to Body Building, the conventional wisdom of recommending slow and steady aerobic activity for extended periods of time meant trying to keep your heart rate in the zone of about 50-65 percent of your maximum capacity. After 20 minutes at this rate, you start to burn fat at a higher level than glycogen, your usual go-to body source of energy. But interval training alternates between this slow pace with low intensity and brief bursts of maximum effort,usually lasting 60-90 seconds.
Track athletes have long used the high intensity interval training principle as a training technique, doing interval sprints where they go into the anaerobic zone: an all-out sprint for 100 m, then walk for 100 m; then sprint for 200 m, and walk for 200 m, and so on. High intensity interval training has been proven to help them build speed and endurance regardless of whether they’re sprinters or long-distance runners. But more and more people who aren’t track stars are discovering this as an excellent way to burn more fat without losing lean muscle, and alternating anaerobic and aerobic training has become very popular with bodybuilders.
You can either engage in this training the way athletes do at the track, by alternating sprints and walking for increasing distances, or you can simply add short bursts of 60-90 seconds of all out activity periodically throughout your workouts.
Multiple studies have shown that the conventional wisdom that “low and slow” aerobic training burning more fat is simply not the case, including this study by Laval University. The study measured how the two forms of training impacted fat loss in young adults who either did 20 weeks of traditional aerobic endurance training (ET), or 15 weeks of HIIT. The results showed that despite a lower overall energy expenditure in the HIIT group, they had better results.
“Despite its lower energy cost, the HIIT program induced a more pronounced reduction in subcutaneous adiposity compared with the ET program. When corrected for the energy cost of training, the decrease in the sum of six subcutaneous skinfolds induced by the HIIT program was ninefold greater than by the ET program.”
In other words, the HIIT group worked smarter, not harder, and had nine times the fat loss and the best results. Is this sounding like something that might appeal to you for your everyday training? That doesn’t mean you train 10 minutes a week and get results, but Muscle for Life claims you can get great results with three 45-minute sessions weekly, as opposed to aerobic training 5-6 days a week for the same duration or longer. Some other benefits of HIIT, according to Muscle for Life, are as follows.
- Increasing your metabolism for up to 24 hours after workouts
- Appetite suppression
- Higher levels of fat oxidation in your muscles
If you’ve been using traditional aerobics to lose weight and have reached a plateau, or just want to try an alternative training method, high intensity interval training might be the key to kickstarting your weight loss and fitness program. There are some exercise videos out there that incorporate high-intensity intervals already such as P90X, INSANITY, or TurboFire, and some of the videos by The Firm also incorporate interval training as well as many others. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way like Olympic athletes and hit the local track.
[Photo by AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth]