Although gaining size and strength is typically the goal for any serious weightlifter, there comes a time when the bulking process results in an inevitable padding around the waist. For anyone who has just spent long months dedicated to packing on muscle, nothing can be more frustrating than to see that very same muscle being stripped away in their efforts to reduce body fat. If that isn’t reason enough, then consider this- as thrilling as it may be to pace back and forth on a treadmill for an hour, a mere thirty minutes of conditioning can yield far greater results – with far less cost to your muscle mass.
What Is HIIT?
High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) is the weightlifter’s sanctuary when it comes to cardio. It is short, effective, and keeps you lean and healthy. Although it has long been utilized, it is a still not widely practiced amongst the general public. In effect, it attacks the prospect of aerobic exercise with the same principles behind weightlifting to achieve rapid weight loss as well as greatly-heightened conditioning. In doing so, the focus of HIIT is unlike traditional cardio, as the act of exercising itself only burns a fraction of the overall calories- the rest are achieved in the 24 hours that follow it. (Resistance Training operates in a similar way, for it burns numerous calories in the few days following the exercise as the body requires additional energy to repair its torn muscles.)
As stated in the name, HIIT is characterized by its intensity- you will sweat much more than you would have thought possible, but the results are far more noticeable as well. HIIT is a combination if low intensity steady-state aerobics (like a brisk jog on a treadmill) and intense performance conditioning (like a full out sprint). They key is the timing (and thus the interval aspect of HIIT). HIIT utilizes a few minutes of low- mid effort cardio that is immediately followed by a bout of full intensity exercise. This is repeated numerous times without break with the low intensity cardio serving as a rest and recovery period. By constantly shifting the intensity of the workout you will keep your heart-rate fluctuating and burn far more calories in the process.
How Does It Work?
There is a reason that endurance runners and bodybuilders (or even sprinters) look worlds apart, though neither can be questioned for their athletic abilities or strength. Long bouts of cardio tend to place your body in a catabolic state, which simply put means that it is muscle-wasting. When the body is placed under extreme pressure (like intense exercise) it tends to derive energy from wherever available- when the food you eat is insufficient it strips the body of other potential sources like stored fat and muscle. While this is a major concept behind losing body fat, it is not so great when it costs you the last month in the weight room. When doing cardio at a consistent rate (either low or high) the body is able to adapt to the demands placed on it very quickly and is relatively unwilling to give up body fat as a source of energy. By consistently alternating the intensity of the workout the body is unable to predict how much energy is needed, resulting in a large part of the calories burned being derived from body fat. In addition, it also significantly raises your metabolic rate, meaning that in the hours that follow you will burn far more calories than you would normally expend.
Benefits of HIIT
- Greatly accelerated rate of fat loss
- Spares/ increases muscle mass (HIIT trains the fast twitch muscles unlike steady-state aerobics and can actually lead to additional muscular development)
- Increase in VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen that can be taken in during exercise) which can lead to overall improvements in endurance and athletics
- Requires far less time to perform