High Intensity Interval Training: Why You Might Be Wasting Your Time Doing Cardio

high intensity interval training

When you think of doing cardio, do you think of long boring jogs or countless hours on the stationary bike/elliptical machine? Do you try to keep your heart rate between the 60-65% of max heart rate “fat burning” zone that you see plastered on posters in your gym or on labels on your cardio machine?

If you’re looking to lose weight and you’re doing monotonous cardio everyday while you watch TV or thumb through a magazine, you could be wasting time. Recent studies have shown that the steady, comfortable cardio done by most people in the gym is actually not the best way to burn fat. In fact, the “fat burning zone” is a complete myth.

What Is High Intensity Interval Training?

It turns out that the best way to burn fat in your cardio workouts is actually to alternate between intense sprints and short rest periods. Doing your cardio in High Intensity Intervals (HIIT), will not only save you time doing mindless cardio, but it may actually be much more effective at burning fat and helping you lose weight.

Unlike traditional cardio workouts, where you run or bike endlessly at the same pace for 30-60 minutes, HIIT involves alternating between intense sprints that pump up your heart and lower intensity periods where you get a chance to recover.

A simple example would be sprinting as hard as you can for 30 seconds, and then walking for 60 seconds. The same principle can apply whether you’re running, biking, using the elliptical machine, or doing any other form of cardiovascular workout.

Why Is HIIT Better Than Traditional “Steady” Cardio?

Simply put – you can burn more total fat in a shorter period of time. By pushing your body to the max for brief periods of intense exercise, you burn more fat overall, and you also trigger an effect known as EPOC (excess-post exercise oxygen consumption) – also known as the “afterburn effect” – which will increase your metabolism for up to 24 hours after your HIIT training.

This means that your body will continue burning extra calories for a full day after your cardio workout! This won’t happen when you jog at a steady pace. Additionally, doing HIIT won’t make you as hungry as running/biking continuously for a longer cardio session, allowing you to better control your diet.

Switching To High Intensity Interval Training

Of course, HIIT isn’t for everyone. If you’re obese or you can’t perform intense cardio due to health reasons, you’re much better off doing cardio the slower, steady way. There is definitely health and weight loss benefits to low intensity cardio activity – even slow walks can be beneficial to weight loss efforts.

However, if you’re able to do cardio at reasonable pace (70-80% of your max heart rate) for 20-30 minutes, High Intensity Interval Training will improve your fat loss dramatically. Below is a sample HIIT workout for you to try:

Sample High Intensity Interval training Workout

  • 3-5 Minutes: Warm up
  • 60 Seconds: Sprint
  • 120 Seconds: Walk
  • Repeat the sprint/walk cycle 5-10 times, depending on your level of fitness
  • 3-5 Minutes: Cooldown

HIIT Workout Tips

  • Although the sample workout uses the terminology “sprinting” and “walking”, the same principle applies to biking, elliptical machine, stair climbing, skipping rope etc. The key is maximizing intensity during the sprint portion, and recovering during the walking portion.
  • You can reduce the sprint portion to 30 seconds, and the walking portion to 60 seconds to make it easier.
  • While a good ratio between high intensity and low intensity is 1:2, you can also add some extra time to the walking portion if you have trouble recovering for the sprint portion. The most important thing is that you’re able to go at a high intensity during the sprint portion of the workout.

It may seem counter-intuitive that you canspend less time doing cardio, yet burn more fat. But the key to burning fat is not how long you spend on the treadmill or elliptical – it’s the intensity of your workout. HIIT is definitely no shortcut to weight loss. In fact, you’ll find that the shorter HIIT workouts are actually more demanding than traditional steady cardio workouts – provided you really push yourself during the sprints.

HIIT allows you to maximize the intensity of your cardio sessions, leading to greater fat loss and less time doing wasted doing mind-numbing cardio. You can still go for long jobs/bikes/elliptical sessions if you enjoy it, but know that HIIT is substantially more effective for burning fat, improving your fitness level, and increasing your metabolism.


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