HIIT workouts: what are they – and are they the best for fat burning and stress management?

Working out has benefits for stress-relief and your waistline. I see many of my clients push their limits at work and then go push themselves some more in the gym. Doubling up like this is not as beneficial as you’d think. So as you read about the benefits of HITT in this post, know that you’ll need to cater your workouts to your stress level and the amount of energy you have on any particular day.

When you’re under a lot of stress, you’re not doing yourself any favours by taking on an intense workout. The truth is, your body doesn’t know the difference between eustress (the good stress you’re under while in a workout) and the chronic stress that can contribute to lifestyle diseases because it’s the same nervous system state. But what HITT training can help you do (over time) is train your body to calm down from intense stress more quickly.

With any exercise program, it’s important to listen to your body and obey your energy level. For women, if you’re in the first 5 days of your cycle, when your energy is directed toward internal processes, it’s not a good idea to do an intense workout. During day 8-24 (assuming you’re on a 28 day cycle) your body naturally has more energy to put into a workout. Listening to your body is the most beneficial way to get the most out of any workout plan.

If you follow the fitness industry, you’ve probably heard of the benefits of HIIT (or High Intensity Interval Training).

The short, yet powerful workouts are touted as the best way to improve your overall conditioning, burn fat, and even balance hormones! (but that’s another article!)

So, what is HIIT anyway?

HIIT workouts involve working at an intense effort level for a short period of time followed by short recovery periods.

Tabata workouts are one great example of a HIIT style workout.

A Tabata session involves 20 seconds of intense all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of recovery. This is repeated 8 times through for a workout total of 4 minutes only and is said to promote fat loss and increase aerobic power - all in a very short period of time.

Seems like it might be too good to be true...

But, is HIIT really all it’s cracked up to be? And does it actually burn fat?

When it comes to the research, the answer is YES!

One study compared MICT (Moderate Intensity Continuous Training) vs. HIIT and the effects that it had on visceral abdominal fat. The study found that both types of training reduced overall body fat; however HIIT did this in half the time. Half the time!!

Another study from the International Journal of Obesity compared 2 groups of exercisers to determine the benefits of HIIT for women.

The women were divided into two groups: the first group did 40 minutes of steady state aerobic exercise for 15 weeks. The second group did 8 second sprints followed by 12 seconds of recovery for 20 minutes.

The results of the HIIT study?

HIIT participants lost up to 7.3lbs and the steady state exercisers gained up to 2.7lbs. HIIT participants also saw significant reduction in overall body fat as well as subcutaneous abdominal fat - the is the fat just beneath your skin.

Other key benefits of HIIT

  • Reduces fasting insulin levels and decreases risk for Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease
  • It significantly improves your cardiovascular fitness. The International Journal of Obesity Study also found that HIIT participants improved their VO2 max (aerobic power) by up to 23%
  • It balances your hormones! Research shows that high intensity exercise boosts Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which is a powerful anti-aging hormone that helps us maintain lean muscle mass (think revved up metabolism!) AND bone density, which reduces risk of osteoporosis. This can also help your body manage stress, but only if you’re not in a state of exhaustion when you’re working out.
  • It’s easy to fit into a busy lifestyle since it doesn’t take a lot of time.
  • They’re portable. You can get an effective HIIT workout using minimal or no equipment whatsoever which makes it great for staying in shape while you’re on the road.

How often should you do HIIT workouts to achieve these results?

HIIT workouts do have a lot of benefits, and it has been documented that they only need to be done 2-3 times a week.

But, because they require such a high level of effort, they can put more strain on your joints, thus increasing your risk of injury if done too frequently.

This 15-minute bodyweight HIIT workout “recipe” is a great way to burn fat and stay fit when you’re tight for time and space.

The Workout “Recipe”:

Ingredients

  • Jump Squats (beginners can do a regular bodyweight squat without the jump)
  • Push-ups (beginners can start from their knees)
  • Jumping Jacks
  • Burpees

How to perform

Beginners: Do 30 seconds of each exercise followed by 30 seconds of rest. If needed, modify the jump squat to a basic body weight squat (no jump). Pushups can also be modified by performing from knees rather than toes.

Once you’ve completed all 4 exercises, rest for 1-2 minutes.  Repeat for 2-3 sets total.

Intermediate:  Do 40 seconds of each exercise followed by 20 seconds of rest. Once you’ve completed all 4 exercises, rest for 1 minute to 90 seconds. Then repeat for 3 sets total.

Advanced: Do 50 seconds of each exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest. Once you’ve completed all 4 exercises, rest for 1 minute and repeat for 3 sets total.

Selina Rose
A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).
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Author: Selina Rose

A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).