For decades we have been spending hours on the treadmill, jogging for miles and miles, cycling from east to west, or swimming 100 laps in an Olympic sized swimming pool in order to lose weight, gain muscle and get fit. Every morning when I bring my little boy to school I see people jogging mindlessly hoping to shed a few pounds. At the same time gyms are filled with treadmills where people spend their precious time working their way towards a lean body but oftentimes without the desired effect. How come?
Somewhere down the line we have been made to believe that endurance exercise is needed for optimum health and weight loss. However several studies (here, here, here and here) have shown that there is a different type of training, also called anaerobic training, which is much more efficient and effective in toning your body and shedding fat. The term for this type of training is called HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and it is the way forward when you are seriously looking to lose fat and tone your body.
A study done in 2011 by The University of Western Ontario has shown how much more effective it really is. This study let 10 men and 10 women train 3 x per week; one group doing four to six 30-second treadmill sprints (with 4-6 minutes of rest in between each), and the other group doing 30-60 minutes of regular cardio (running on the treadmill at the so-called “magical fat loss zone” of 65% VO2 max). When the results came in it turned out that after 6 weeks of training, the subjects doing the interval training had lost more fat. That’s right, four to six 30-second sprints burn more fat than 60 minutes of treadmill running. How is that possible?
Although the exact mechanism isn’t completely understood yet, researchers have a good idea what causes these big changes in workout style. Hormones…
HIIT workouts create a so-called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption up to 48 hours (this means that up to 48 hours after your workout your body is still burning fat!). HIIT also improves insulin sensitivity in muscles which is a great things since insulin at controlled levels stores amino acids in your muscles, and amino acids are the buildings blocks for muscles. Moreover, elevated human growth hormone and testosterone levels as well as short-term elevated cortisol and (nor)adrenaline levels burn fat and build muscle.
Now, this is the theory. But just like with any theory, how do you know if this type of exercise is working in your favour? Below are a few tips to measure whether you are heading for that healthy and lean body you have always been dreaming of:
- Scale: We all use a scale and it is very tempting to check your weight regularly to see improvements. However, I am not a big fan of scales. Reason being that scales do not show you whether you have lost fat, muscle or water; it just gives you a number. What we all want is to burn our fat and build a lean body. Scales don’t tell us if we are being successful at doing this. A simple example is that if you were to cut off your leg, the scale would tell you would have lost weight…
- Measuring body change: This (in combination with point 3) is probably my favourite way of checking what impact your high intensity interval training is having on your body shape. Use a tailor tape to measure your hips (women), your waist, your chest and your upper arms. Record your measurements today and do it again at the end of each month to see the difference.
- Photos: Another great way of seeing your body change is to take a photo of yourself today and then again one every month. As you see your own body every day, you might not notice changes. But when you compare two photos with a time lapse of several weeks/months you may see that you are in fact getting more toned and becoming leaner.
- HEC (Hunger, Energy and Cravings): A great way of checking in on a daily level if you are doing the right thing and where to make tweaks in your nutrition is to check on your:
- Hunger: Check if you are hungry in between meals. If so, adjust your food intake; up your water intake, and your protein and fiber consumption. When your hormones are balanced you are not hungry in between meals.
- Energy: A healthy body has plenty of natural energy to get you through the day. Having energy dips and unnatural highs may mean that your hormones are out of balance and you need to adjust carb and protein/fiber intake.
- Cravings: The difference between hunger and cravings is that hunger is felt in the stomach and cravings in the head. Cravings mean that your hormones are not balanced. Cravings always happen for fatty, sugary and/or salty foods and rarely for broccoli or carrots 😉
I use the above tools myself when working with clients and have found them to be very reliable and accurate. If you need some help, let me know and I will be happy to work with you.