The Best Exercise for Burning Body Fat, but Won’t Actually Make You Want to Die

For some folks, the thought of going to the gym or even working out can be absolutely dreadful. Perhaps you are one of these people. Or maybe you are the person that’s been working out for months, but haven’t actually seen any changes in your physique. It can be incredibly frustrating and disappointing when you’ve spent hours a week stressing about your workout routine, but don’t see any changes. The solution to your workout problems may be as simple as 15-20 minutes of regular High Intensity Intermittent Training (HIIT workouts) combined with strength training——and of course, some much needed dietary changes.

At first, HIIT workouts may seem extremely exhausting, especially if you are pushing yourself harder than your normal exertion. From personal experience, however, I can tell you that mentally you are able to push harder knowing it’s only a 30 -45 second burst of energy followed by a 1-5 minute low intensity recovery period ( some HIITs may only of a 10 second recovery— it really varies). The almost immediate benefits from HIITs, the short duration spent performing them, and the diversity in the way they can be done make this exercise one you’ll actually enjoy. It’s hard to complain when your workout is ~ 20 minutes, and you feel like a rockstar afterwards! *

It turns out that I may not be the only one that finds HIITs enjoyable. In a recent study, the authors suggest that HIITs should be included as an option in public health interventions since people find them enjoyable and report desire to continue doing them even after completion of the research study. Not only are the short bursts of cardio and the variations in HIITs more enjoyable, but the physiological and physical impacts can further make this activity rewarding.

Research also shows that HIIT training can be more effective for weight loss than steady-paced cardio activity. In fact, a randomized- control study over a 15 week period found that young women performing HIIT workouts 3 times a week lost significantly more fat than women doing regular physical activity or no activity at all. To note, these results occurred without changes in diet. The benefits appeared to be most effective for women that were overweight at the start of the study. Several randomized control trials have also found similar results among study participants engaging in HIIT workouts (123). The American College of Sports Medicine suggests one reason HIITs may work better than other activities is due to more energy being used during and after the workout. Specifically, within the 2 hours after the exercise, the body increases caloric expenditure by 6-15%.

Let’s keep in mind, HIITs may be more effective at burning energy, but this doesn’t mean you can gorge on whatever you want after workouts. Research has shown that some people may eat more when an exercise is called “fat burning” vs “endurance exercise.” Optimal diet goes hand-in-hand with fat burning. Chowing down on large portions of unhealthy foods, especially highly-processed foods, refined grains, and sugar ladened foods/beverages may counter the benefits of any workout. Always opt for more whole fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds, as well as whole grains for balanced meals and snacks to recover quickly and fuel properly for the next bout of activity.

In fact, some research has shown that normal weight people following a strict plant-based diet and not working out have healthier arteries than thin endurance runners that eat the Standard American diet. Even placing overweight people on a low-fat plant-based diet for 18-weeks without altering exercise patterns or restricting calories results in a significant weight reduction. Imagine how your physique and health will transform if you add in some HIITs, continue weight resistance exercise, and eat more plant-based foods!

Check-out the American College of Sports Medicine’s Brochure to learn ways to safely include HIITs into your routine and this Infographic of HIIT Pros and Cons.  As always, consult with your physician before starting any new kind of workout plan.

One of my favorite HIIT workouts is the Core Cardio Class now offered at the Corepower Yoga studios throughout Minnesota. The class offers a combination of both HIIT exercises and strength training. Though you don’t need to belong to a gym or a studio to do these workouts (I find plenty of free, good videos on youtube), I personally enjoy the class because of the community aspect— I push myself harder when I am motivated by the people around me.

*Note: HIIT workouts can vary with the cardio burst lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, and the recovery time involving low or no activity for 1-5 minutes. The duration of the entire exercise may also vary from 20- 60 minutes. Let’s say you are doing a 20 minute workout with 30 second cardio bursts (e.g. mountain climbers, jump squats, butt kicks) followed by 2 minutes of low-intensity exercises, you will only be at your highest intensity state for a total of 4 minutes during that entire exercise! Not so painful, huh?