What if you could cut the time you spend at the gym in half, while getting even better results?
No, this isn’t a new workout fad or overpriced supplement.
In fact, it’s completely free. It lets you have your cake and eat it too (although we don’t recommend cake, but you get the idea), and it has the ability to rescue you from hours of mind-numbing treadmill boredom.
It’s high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and it’s here to ratchet up your fat loss to a whole new level.
The beauty of HIIT lies not only in its results, but also in its simplicity. And even though the word “intensity” can be intimidating to newcomers, interval training for beginners can help them get fitter, faster.
Typical HIIT workouts alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of low-intensity exercise, or recovery, for a maximum of 30 to 40 minutes including the warmup and cool down.
You might be thinking this contradicts conventional recommendations regarding cardio, which requires us to spend lengthy amounts of time in the “fat-burning zone” doing low-intensity activities such as walking.
Science now shows this simply isn’t necessary. Read on to discover why interval training exercises are the new (and best form of) cardio you can do and how to start reaping the benefits.
Why Interval Training Rules
It’s the Best Way to Burn Fat
HIIT is the ultimate fat-burning exercise.
To illustrate, a study from Canada’s McMaster University showed that three-minute intervals on a stationary bike (30 seconds of intense pedaling followed by a short rest) repeated five or six times showed the same muscle and cell adaptations as a bike ride lasting between 90 and 120 minutes (1).
A year later the same group showed that HIIT was more efficient at fat-burning than conventional aerobics.
Out of the two groups in the study, the aerobics group burned 48 percent more calories per session than the HIIT group, but get this: the HIIT group burned an amazing 900 percent more fat over the 15 weeks than the first group burned in 20 weeks (2).
As you can see, while HIIT may not burn as many calories initially as low-intensity steady-state cardio, in the long run, it actually burns more fat in less total time.
This is due to what researchers call “afterburn” or “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC) which measures how many calories an individual is burning after they finish a workout.
Calorie burn is heightened by interval training workouts through the body’s attempt to return its oxygen levels to normal, while also working to repair damaged muscle tissue and return body temperature to normal.
This translates into more calories burned over the course of your entire day.
It Changes Your DNA (in a Good Way)
Aside from its effect on metabolism, HIIT also produces an immediate change in DNA that promotes fat loss.
Studies show these chemical and structural changes to DNA are made in response to intense exercise, which increases production of fat-burning proteins (3).
The more fat-burning proteins you have, the more efficient your body becomes in using fat as a fuel source (which equals a leaner you well into the future).
To add another fat-burning boost, HIIT workouts also increase growth hormone levels, which aid in building muscle mass, and catecholamine (adrenaline, norepinephrine) release, which increases fatty acid mobilization (4).
It Saves Time
Remember how we saw that HIIT has the ability to burn more fat over time than steady-state aerobics?
Not only is this accomplished over the entire course of a fat-loss regime, but also in your daily gym sessions. While HIIT workouts can last a maximum of 30-40 minutes, the most popular average only 20 minutes in length.
Heck, some are even as short as seven minutes in total, and still result in metabolic improvement (5).
This means that you can be in and out of the gym in under 20 minutes, while still revving your metabolism and burning fat. It’s a win-win that’s almost too good to be true (but it is!).
It Powers Up Your Cells
While fat loss is a huge motivation to perform HIIT workouts, there are additional benefits at the cellular level as well.
It turns out HIIT has a significant impact on our mitochondria; cellular organelles that can be likened to “power plants” inside our cells.
They are responsible for producing energy from carbohydrates and fatty acids, which then yields ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the cellular form of energy utilized throughout the body.
Interestingly, muscles contain the highest amount of mitochondria in the body in order to provide energy for movement and muscle building. HIIT has been found to greatly increase their mitochondrial function over the course of only two weeks, which translates into more efficient workouts and even anti-aging effects (6).
HIIT also holds amazing promise for diabetics. Studies have shown that healthy yet unfit adults improved their blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity with just three sessions per week of interval training for two weeks (7).
On the heels of that study, another showed that just one interval training session improved blood sugar regulation in Type 2 diabetics for the next 24 hours (6).
Interval Training for Beginners
There are several interval training exercises you can work into your routine. Aim to perform these workouts two to three times a week, on non-consecutive days, as HIIT is especially taxing.
Also, intensity is a huge factor in HIIT training. Even if you’re using a treadmill for your HIIT workout, be sure to reach 75 percent to 85 percent of your maximum effort during each “work” phase.
These phases should last from 20 to 60 seconds, and in essence, should be intense enough that you’re unable to speak in full sentences.
Sprints can be done as part of an outdoor HIIT workout or on a treadmill. Go slow in working up your sprint time.
An example routine:
- Warm up for two to five minutes.
- Sprint for 15 seconds.
- Recover for 60 seconds.
- Repeat 10-12 times
Start slowly if you’re new to sprinting, with 4 to 6 sprints, tops. Why? You likely will feel it in muscles you didn’t know you had the next day.
Tabata allows you to use any exercise for your workout, as long as it follows the 20/10 rule: 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest.
Structure a workout using only one exercise or multiple for six to eight sets of 20 second work periods.
Work up to six sets based on your level of fitness; it’s not uncommon to only complete a couple sets as a beginner.
3. Circuit Training
Circuit training is similar to Tabata, but involves using compound, muscle-building movements. These are one of the best types of training you can perform, since compound weighted movements work major muscle groups simultaneously, which then massively increases your afterburn.
A sample routine:
Exercise 1: Pushups or push press using a barbell (use a challenging weight).
Exercise 2: Deadlifts or dumbbell lunges.
Exercise 3: Squat to overhead press using a barbell.
Exercise 4: Renegade row
Exercise 5: Lateral lunges with dumbbells
Repeat each exercise for one minute, with 90 seconds of rest between exercises, for a total of six rounds.
Cycling is an excellent alternative to a treadmill HIIT workout, with the added bonus of getting your legs burning.
An example routine:
- Warm up with low intensity for 2-3 minutes.
- Pedal at a high-intensity level of resistance for 30-45 seconds.
- Recover at a low-intensity for 45-60 seconds.
- Repeat for 15 to 20 intervals.
How to Take Intervals Up a Level
Once you’re recovering faster during your HIIT workouts, start either increasing your work time or decreasing your recovery time.
This interval training for beginners guide will turn you into a fat burning furnace in no time, and have you in and out of the gym in even less.
Cheers to the miracles of HIIT!
Turn Up the Workout Heat
Want to try even more interval workouts for beginners? Check out my follow-along Interval Speed Burst Workout – which you can get for FREE!
Rev up your metabolism and train your body to burn fat in just five minutes.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.