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"More for less" statements are usually followed by 30 minute infomercials that guarantee you phenomenal results with little work or "no money down". Well, there really is a way to burn more fat in less time, but the key is in defining the more and less variables.
Most people approach fat-burning and cardio workouts the same way. They hop on a treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical machine, or stepper and simply go through the motions for an hour or more. They think, "Look at me! I'm exercising for so long, and I'm sweating so much! I must be burning so much fat!"
Meanwhile, the guy on the next exercise bike has just finished his 15-20 minute cardio session, and he burned more than twice the amount of fat, AND his body will continue to do so for the rest of the day! How did he do it?
What is HIIT?
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. Now, this is where the "more for less" concept comes in, but don't be fooled, you will be making up for that lost time with much higher–you guessed it–intensity!
The question is do you have what it takes to go all out for a short amount of time, rather than mindlessly wander through your current ineffective cardio routine?
In an Australian study, people who cranked out 20 minutes of High Intensity Interval Training 3 days a week dropped 10 percent of their body fat, while those who exercised longer but at a lower intensity didn't lose any!
How Do I Do It?
There are many different variations of HIIT, and you can apply them to nearly all of the common methods of cardio training. Let's say you normally go to the gym and ride an exercise bike for an hour at a steady pace. To incorporate HIIT into your workout, here are your options:
1. 6/9: This is the method used in the Australian study referenced above, and this is what I personally recommend. The numbers stand for seconds, and in this case, "6/9" means you would sprint all out for 6 seconds, then slow to about 50-60% for 9 seconds. Of course, you would continue repeating this cycle for as long as you can (you didn't think you'd be done in 15 seconds did you?!).
For example, hop on the exercise bike and warm up for 2-3 minutes at about 40-50% of your maximum effort. Once you hit the end of your warm-up session, BAM!, launch into a full out sprint for 6 seconds. Then, slow to about 50-60% for 9 seconds, and BAM!, full out sprint for another 6 seconds. So, each full 6/9 interval lasts 15 seconds, or 4 intervals per minute. Keep repeating this cycle for as long as you can, but be sure that you are going as hard as possible for each 6 second sprint interval. It's OK if you can only last a few minutes the first few times. Your endurance will build up, as your waist shrinks down!
As a point of reference, John, our resident Workout Logger, warms up for 3 minutes, goes at 150 RPM (rotations per minute) for 6 seconds and 90 RPM for 9 seconds (repeating this cycle for 10-15 minutes), followed by a 3 minute cool-down for a total workout time of only 15-20 minutes.
2. 30/30: The "half and half" method was one of the first accepted ways of doing HIIT. Since then, we've learned that shorter bursts produce greater results. Reason being, you can't really go absolutely all out for a full 30 seconds. Some practice even higher intervals of 60/60 or more. If you can last for that long, then you aren't really giving your maximum effort the entire time.
That's why short 6 second bursts are better, because you only have to sustain that maximum intensity for a short time. However, longer intervals such as 30/30 and even 30/60 can be useful for beginners. You may want to start here if you're not used to very high intensity in your current cardio training, then you can work your way up to the more efficient 6/9 or 8/12 intervals.
Why Does It Work?
When you are giving your all out maximum effort, your body produces more of a chemical called catecholamine. Can you guess what catecholamine does? That's right: it triggers your body to start burning fat. Even better, the higher your intensity and the more catecholamine your body produces, the longer the fat-burning process will last. This means you will be reaping the benefits of your HIIT session for up to 36 hours after you're done!
Now, get out there, and get on the HIIT wagon! Remember, the first two letters are the most important. HIGH INTENSITY!