Is HIIT the Best Option When It Comes to Workouts for Weight Loss
So when people think of doing a workout for weight loss, most turn straight to high intensity interval training (HIIT) as their go-to plan. A lot of people believe that this is indeed the best way to lose weight, but let’s see what the research says.
You might also wonder what does HIIT actually involve? I’ll tell you my experience of what’s it’s not, what I recommend and what researchers use as their method.
So first off, let’s look at traning frequency. Training frequency is literally how often you do a training session, so let’s say once a week vs. multiple times a week.
Based on overall activity levels it’s likely that an individual would be better results with more training frequency of 3 sessions per week. This would give greater benefits for weight loss and cardiometabolic risk factor improvement than just training once per week (1).
However improvements to your health can be made with less that the recommended 30 minutes a day of vigorous (cardio) activity combined with 2-3 resistance training sessions per week. This has been trialed on women with insulin resistance, both HIIT sessions and resistance training alone were effective in improving glycemic control over a 12 week period (2). Both groups did 3 sessions per week of just one type of training and still benefited from it from a health perspective.
Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss & Health
I’m sure many people are familiar with regular cardio workouts where you would do more of a ‘steady state’ or continuous style cardio session, rather than intervals. But what gives the best result for weight loss?
Well in one study, there was no significant difference in terms of body composition, but due to the style of training, HIIT sessions required around 40% less time (3). HIIT sessions have also been shown to be more enjoyable and easier to adhere to than regular cardio sessions as well as improving health factors, even without a change in body mass (4).
But HIIT can be a significant impact to recovery ability, particular in overweight individuals, as it’s more stress to the body. I must note that these studies are often done on treadmills (for a total of less than 20 minutes) but running on a treadmill is not the sort of exercise I would ever give a client looking to lose a considerable amount of weight. A low impact alternative such as a bike or crosstrainer is much more ideal for less stress to the knees and hips.
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What about other types of training?
Given that they’re are general health benefits to every sort of activity, we can’t ignore the mass amount of benefits that you’d get from resistance training.
Resistance training is highly effective in improving many aspects of physical and mental health. Studies have also consistently shown significant increases in lean body mass and increased metabolic rate.
Plus it’s defnitely not lacking benefits when it comes to comparing it with HIIT sessions.
Regluar resistance training sessions have been associated with…
- reduced low back pain
- reduced arthritic discomfort
- enhanced movement control
- improved glucose and insulin homeostasis
- a reduction in resting blood pressure
- greater impact on bone density than other types of physical activity
- significant increase in bone mineral density
- decreased symptoms of depression
- increased self-esteem and physical self-concept
- improved cognitive ability
Finally and fundamentally, resistance training has been shown to reverse aging factors in skeletal muscle.” (5) How incredible is that?
My take on this
If you’ve ever worked with me, you’d know that I don’t have a personal vendetta against HIIT, I have an issue with classes and training sessions that are classed as HIIT when they’re not. They’re just long exhausting sessions!
If you go to a gym, and they have an hour-long HIIT class, you know that the training style is not HIIT. A proper session should be around 20 minutes or less, and combine a difficult working period following by a very low intensity rest. This is then repeated multiple times.
I often like to include these at the end of clients sessions as because I go for low impact options, it’s doesn’t require you to be fresh and there’s room for error in case you feel a bit tired.
You may want to try bursts of 10 seconds on, 20 seconds off and repeat, or you could choose a different time scale to suit you! But you do need adequate recovery time.
Key Takeaways & Actionable Steps
- The best method of weightloss is going to be the one you’re going to be most ready and willing to do.
- Pick a workout routine that’s going to benefit you physically and mentally.
- Find something you relatively enjoy and that you’re likely to stick to.
- Don’t worry if you can’t do multiple sessions per week because one session is better than nothing!
- If you’re going to do HIIT sessions, pick equipment or exercises that you’re confident with.
- Remember that you can never outtrain a ‘poor’ diet – meaning if you’re eating more than the energy you’re using, you can’t lose weight.
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1 – Campa F, Maietta Latessa P, Greco G, Mauro M, Mazzuca P, Spiga F, Toselli S. Effects of Different Resistance Training Frequencies on Body Composition, Cardiometabolic Risk Factors, and Handgrip Strength in Overweight and Obese Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. 2020 Jul
2 – Álvarez C, Ramírez-Campillo R, Ramírez-Vélez R, Izquierdo M. Effects and prevalence of nonresponders after 12 weeks of high-intensity interval or resistance training in women with insulin resistance: a randomized trial. J Appl Physiol (1985)
3 – Wewege M, van den Berg R, Ward RE, Keech A. The effects of high-intensity interval training vs. moderate-intensity continuous training on body composition in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Rev. 2017 Jun
4 – Vella CA, Taylor K, Drummer D. High-intensity interval and moderate-intensity continuous training elicit similar enjoyment and adherence levels in overweight and obese adults. Eur J Sport Sci. 2017 Oct
5 – Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug