What is the best HIIT workout for fat loss? That’s not easy to say because there are so many different types of HIIT workouts and many of them are effective. And while many HIIT workouts been researched, many studies don’t track actual fat loss. Rather, they measured health and cardiovascular benefits. However, there are some HIIT workouts that are not only proven more effective for fat loss, but also, they’re more practical.
One problem with some types of HIIT is that they call for so much intensity – literally all-out sprints – that they’re not even possible for everyone to complete. They’re also potentially unsafe for older or overweight individuals. When the intensity is too high, the workouts are just not practical.
Many of the previous studies on HIIT used all-out intervals on a specialized cycle ergometer, pedaling against a high level of resistance. This type of training takes a high level of commitment and motivation and can result in feelings of severe discomfort and even nausea.
One of my colleagues mentioned in our Burn the Fat Inner Circle Forums that he remembers exercise physiology class in college where they did all out cycle ergometer interval sprint testing and nearly everyone either puked or passed out.
The Tabata protocol for example, is a brief but brutal 4 minute HIIT workout often spoken of by trainers and trainees alike with both appreciation and dread. It’s no walk in the park. Tabata is also quite overrated for fat loss because no matter how high the intensity level, you can only burn so much fat in 4 minutes. Fat loss is also a function of workout duration, not just intensity alone.
The truth is, some HIIT protocols which have been tested in the lab to produce big improvements in cardiovascular function and conditioning in a short period of time, may not be practical or safe, especially for beginners, obese or older adults.
In a recent study out of McMaster University, a HIIT protocol that was more practical and attainable for the general population was tested to see how the results would compare to the more “brutal” very short, but extremely intense types of HIIT.
Here’s what the new HIIT protocol looked like:
Study duration: 2 weeks
Frequency: 3 sessions per week (mon, wed, fri)
Work intervals: 60 seconds @ constant load
Intensity Work intervals: “high intensity cycling at a workload that corresponded to the peak power achieved at the end of the ramp VO2peak test (355 +/- 10W)”
Recovery intervals: 75 seconds
Intensity Recovery Intervals: Low intensity cycling at 30W”
Rounds: 8-12 intervals
Progression: 8 intervals 1st two workouts, 10 intervals second two workouts, 12 intervals last 2 workouts.
Warm up: 3 min:
Duration of work intervals: 8-12 minutes
Total time spent: 21-29 minutes.
Results: In just 2 weeks, there were significant improvements in functional exercise performance and skeletal muscle adaptations (mitochondrial biogenesis). Subjects did not report any dizziness, nausea, light headedness that is often reported with all-out intervals.
They concluded that HIIT does not have to be all-out to produce significant fitness improvements and yet the total weekly time investment could remain under 1 hour.
On a personal note, I really like this kind of interval training: 60 second work intervals repeated 8-12 times. Here’s why:
Body composition was not measured in this study, but if you consider the duration of the entire workout (up to 29 minutes) and the amount of accumulated high intensity work (up to 12 minutes), it appears fairly evident that this style of interval training could give you serious body comp improvements in addition to all the cardiovascular conditioning improvements.
That’s another problem with super-brief and super intense HIIT programs: The cardio and heart benefits are amazing, but you can only burn so many calories per minute, no matter how intensely you work. To call a 4-minute workout a “good fat burner” in the absolute sense is ridiculous.
Somewhere in between long duration slow/moderate steady state cardio and super short super-intense HIIT lies a sweet spot for fat-burning benefits… a place where intensity X duration yield an optimal total calorie expenditure at a reasonable time investment. Perhaps this 20-30 minute HIIT workout is it?
If you’ve read any of my previous posts on cardio, you’ll know that I’m not against steady state cardio, walking or even light recreational exercise and miscellaneous activity as part of a fat loss program. All activity counts towards your total daily energy expenditure, and in fact, the little things often add up during the day more than you would imagine (just look up N.E.A.T. and see what you find).
But for your formal “cardio training” sessions, if you’re going to use traditional cardio modes (stationary cycle, etc) and if your goal includes fat burning and if your time is limited, this type of HIIT is a great choice and you can now say it is research proven…
Not to mention… the excuse, “I don’t have enough time” has been officially busted!
Train hard and expect success,
Author of Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle
Author of The BFFM Guide to Flexible Meal Planning For Fat Loss
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A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. Little JP, Safdar A, Wilkin GP, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ. J Physiol. 588(Pt 6):1011-22. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada [Pub Med]
About Tom Venuto
Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilding and fat loss expert. He is also a recipe creator specializing in fat-burning, muscle-building cooking. Tom is a former competitive bodybuilder and today works as a full-time fitness coach, writer, blogger, and author. In his spare time, he is an avid outdoor enthusiast and backpacker. His book, Burn The Fat, Feed The Muscle is an international bestseller, first as an ebook and now as a hardcover and audiobook. The Body Fat Solution, Tom’s book about emotional eating and long-term weight maintenance, was an Oprah Magazine and Men’s Fitness Magazine pick. Tom is also the founder of Burn The Fat Inner Circle – a fitness support community with over 52,000 members worldwide since 2006. Click here for membership details