I’m going to be honest with you: I hate cardio. If you gave me the choice between lifting weights and completing a cardio workout, I will bet that I’ll choose weight training 9 times out of 10. Most people gravitate toward cardio workouts because they think it offers the best solution to dropping weight and losing fat, but that is not always the case.
Cardio workouts (when done right), can lead to weight loss, but it can also lead to losing muscle as well. Called muscle atrophy, your body’s percentage of lean muscle mass decreases, which can lead to metabolic challenges when trying to keep the weight off.
So what is the solution if you want to lose weight effectively, but prefer cardio-based workouts?
Say Hello to HIIT
High intensity interval training involves small bursts of all-out effort, with longer rest periods in between sets. Unlike steady-state cardio where you are constantly moving at a moderate intensity, you perform an exercise at max effort for 10 to 20 seconds, then rest for about a minute in between sets; the number of sets performed of each exercise can typically be anywhere from 3 to 6.
As you can imagine, the workout itself isn’t very long. HIIT workouts can last as little as 10 minutes, but likely can’t be sustained at appropriate levels if you are pushing for longer than 30 minutes. They’re quick, intense, and are meant to spike your heart rate at levels you don’t normally reach with low-intensity, steady-state cardio.
This is why it is so effective when it comes to performance, weight loss, and improving body composition.
Let’s go over some HIIT benefits.
Great For Those On a Tight Schedule
As I just mentioned, HIIT workouts are done in a flash. If you have less than 30 minutes to complete a workout, HIIT can be the ideal solution for those who want to get into better shape, but don’t have a huge chunk of time to do an hour-plus workout. In fact, 15 to 20-minute workouts can be considered when programmed appropriately, and at the right intensity.
Obviously, it’s not for the faint of heart. Expect to put everything you have into a HIIT workout; so if you’re someone who doesn’t like to mess around and wants to get after it, this is the workout for you.
If you aren’t getting close to 90% of your max heart rate at some point during your HIIT workout, you can probably work on increasing the intensity, so you can get the most out of your time.
Remember, a HIIT workout is supposed to be short, which means it needs to pack a punch!
Helps Maintain Muscle
Because some of the exercises involved in a HIIT workout can be considered anaerobic, meaning the exercise is short-in-duration with a greater recruitment of Type II muscle fibers being used, you will initiate a similar muscle activation response that you would while lifting weights.
Steady-state cardio is what your typical aerobic-style workout is like, where there is a greater chance of seeing muscle atrophy than if it was more anaerobic. So if the goal is to lose fat and maintain a high amount of lean muscle mass, HIIT should be prioritized over steady-state cardio.
Sheds Excess Fat
To go off my previous point, this form of cardio is way more effective at shedding fat than traditional forms of cardio. Working with clients over the years, one of the main goals people have is to lose fat and see the number on the scale go down.
You can burn just as many calories with a 20 to 30-minute HIIT routine than you can with a 60-minute, low to moderate-intensity cardio session, while also doing a much better job at maintaining lean muscle mass.
We want to maintain (or improve) the percentage of lean muscle mass we have, while decreasing the percentage of fat mass if we are trying to lose weight and keep it off.
You Don’t Need A Ton Of Equipment
Sure, the more equipment at your disposal, the more creative you can get with your workouts, but you can still have a very effective HIIT workout without it. You don’t need a spin bike, row machine, or treadmill; in fact, there are many body weight exercises you can program together to create a successful, fat-burning HIIT workout.
If you need help with programming your HIIT workouts, I’d suggest signing up for MAPS HIIT, which offers an easy-to-follow template and workout videos to help you stay on track.