Are HIIT workouts good for weight loss?

As we hear more about HIIT workouts lately, the concept may seem like a fad. However, the principles behind HIIT are well known, especially to anyone who has played organized sports or even practiced a martial art like boxing.

HIIT simply stands for High Intensity Interval Training. And that is exactly what it sounds like –intervals. The interval is a key concept of the HIIT regimen. HIIT is sustained high exertion, often called “anerobic” exercise because the key feature is to push past oxygen depletion for a brief time, HIIT allows for the body to create an “afterburn” effect that encourages the cells in your body to rid themselves of excess and toxic products and to replace the oxygen and energy need to initiate the next set.

Because you are pushing beyond your limits, you cannot sustain the effort for an extended period of time. And this is where the anerobic benefits of HIIT come into play. As the body is stressed by exercise and exertion, one’s muscles build up what is known as “Lactic Acid” – a by-product of exertion and accompanying oxygen depletion. Once the HIIT session is over a cascade effect takes place withing the cells of your body. Known as Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC, this process replenishes your cells with extra oxygen while removing Lactic Acid.

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There is some thought that HIIT regimens may even be more effective at burning calories that a jogging session simply because the heart rate and exertion levels are different between the two approaches. While jogging is a great workout, it is of a lower intensity and therefore sustainable over a longer period than a HIIT session. Some quarters thing longer and lower intensity exertion has many benefits and some think that the HIIT method is better for achieving weight loss and cardiovascular health.

But that is one of the great advantages of a HIIT workout, there is no right or wrong way. The workout is flexible enough to accommodate any fitness level and any other ancillary exercises. For instance – a short jog to warm up followed by your own creative HIIT routine may be the approach that you like best. And you are not wrong. The point is to burn calories, tone muscles and sharpen the mind all through an exercise routine that is easily maintained and works to your schedule.

The HIIT routing is not complicated and anyone with a modicum of perseverance can make it a valuable part of their day, with or without a gym membership. However, for those of us needing a bit more encouragement it is often helpful to do High Intensity Interval Training with friends or with a group. Although with COVID and its variants still causing problems, a group may want to consider meeting outside in the fresh air for their training.

Before we get into the health benefits and weight loss potential of HIIT let us consider just some of the exercises that can be included in a HIIT routine as well as what you are likely to encounter when you first start your regimen.

As with starting any new exercise plan, always check with your doctor first. Your doctor can gauge your level of fitness and be a valuable advisor on this adventure. Not only will your doctor be there to monitor your health, but their support will also help encourage you to stay with your program.

As mentioned, your HIIT workout requires no special equipment except maybe some sweatpants, a t-shirt and some athletic shoes. Start your HIIT workout slowly at first and then build as you get more confidence. The chief reason people quit on their regimes is because they try to become in super-shape right out of the gate. They push themselves beyond their limits for a couple days and then decide it is not for them. Do not fall into this trap.

As mentioned, depending on your level of fitness it is advisable that you start SLOWLY. A great starting routine would be amazingly simple and, at first, NOT involve the oxygen depleting workout that characterizes HIIT. For example, a good starting routine might be:

  • Light stretches.
  • 25 sit-ups (more if your fitness level allows).
  • 20-40 push-ups (again, depending on fitness level).
  • More stretching.

Granted, starting slow does not have the glamour of a sweat streaked, ripped out raging exercise routine but give it time. Once you are comfortable with the smaller routine (usually 1-2 weeks) slowly add more reps and exercises.

What you will encounter after each session, even though you may not be engaging in HIIT style depletion, is a soreness the next day and what is called “second day soreness” the day after that. Don’t let this bother you, it is a normal effect of your muscles repairing themselves to be stronger. Continue on with your goal.

Now to weight loss. HIIT is especially good for weight loss and, as mentioned, can be combined with other forms of exercise. Hitting a punching bag is a form of HIIT. Ever slugged a 70-pound bag for 30 seconds? Try it and it will give you a whole new appreciation of those choreographed Hollywood fight scenes that go on forever. Hitting the heavy bag is a workout; but if you want to try it, make sure you have someone to teach you to punch – many people who though it was easy have severely sprained their wrists on their first attempts.

Your HIIT regimen will not produce visible results right away and that is because the body needs to adjust internally at first. That first and second day soreness? That is your body preparing to help you lose weight and build endurance by burning fat and excess calories. So do not get discouraged, if you follow a HIIT regimen you will start seeing results within 6 weeks and more and better results thereafter.

Even better? That first and second day soreness will begin to feel good after the first couple weeks. It is telling you that you worked out and your body is telling you that it appreciates it. If you want to tone, lose weight, gain some muscle or sim ply get into a modicum of shape then starting your HIIT workout routine is a great path to success.

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