How To Get Leaner: Activity & Exerise

High intensity interval training (HIIT) for cardio is what we'd recommend over steady-state cardio.

Bold statement, yes...but we've never seen any experiments that proved otherwise.

This guide will focus in on HIIT workouts so you can maximize your fat loss results as efficiently as possible because let's face it, you have a million other things to knock out. 

Cardio is not something all of us look forward to when exercising. It takes a good amount of time to do as you jog mindlessly on that treadmill for thirty minutes while the sweaty guy is spraying his perspiration on everyone within a ten foot radius, and you are just praying that nothing will land on you. Or you can always go for a run outside while being chased by neighborhood dogs. You have to ask yourself if you are getting the most out of it as you can.

If you hit up the gym frequently, you probably see all the regulars constantly running on the treadmills. There is the overweight guy that never seems to lose weight even though he runs every day, the overweight woman who very could well be the overweight guy’s wife because poor eating habits run in the family, and then three or four people that are thin, but appear to have no muscle tone. And then you also always have the ones that just like the social scene of the gym. Walking on a treadmill while watching Fuller House is okay with them.

There are people always doing cardio for long amounts of time, but for some of them, you would never be able to tell. Their physical appearance is a bit underwhelming for how hard they are working. If you are working out consistently, it would be nice to not hear people scoff when you say you hit up the gym frequently. Is there a better alternative to this regular cardio that you have not considered that can produce better results in less time?

Why Cardio Is a MUST for Everybody

Everyone knows that cardio is important. It’s been beat into our brains ever since we started getting yelled at in junior high gym class. But do you know exactly why it is important for all of us? What are the benefits that go hand in hand with completing cardio exercise?

Well, as you probably already know, cardio is short for cardiovascular exercise. This is any type of exercise that increases your heart rate and gets your blood flowing throughout your body. In doing so, cardio actually strengthens your heart and lungs. It reinforces your blood vessels and arteries as well. All of this improves the amount of oxygen that flows in your body. This is why when you neglect cardio for a substantial amount of time, you may get winded just walking out to the mailbox every day. Many people mistakenly believe that this is just a sign of getting old, but it really isn’t. It is a sign you have become lazy and have been neglecting cardio exercise for too long.

Another benefit that people associate strongly with cardio is the way it can burn off excess calories and fat. We are a nation of fat people, and judging by the number of people I see carrying around Big Gulp sodas, this isn’t going to change anytime soon. Gaining a little weight around the midsection? People can just jump on their bicycle and burn it off. If your belly is emerging from your shirt making it appear to be a belly shirt, then cardio exercise may be able to help get rid of this problem. You might also want to invest in larger shirts until it does.

Cardio can also increase bone density. Bone density shows how susceptive you are to breaks and fractures. As we all get older, our bone density lessens to a certain degree. Have you ever had a parent or grandparent fall down and break something? Blame it on bone density. Or perhaps they have taken too much of their medication. However, you can combat against it through proper diet and exercise. There is a reason that 90-year-old down the street can walk circles around you and can shovel his driveway faster than you, too. Heck, he probably is better at lovemaking as well. This man has maintained his cardio through exercise and he has the bone density to back it all up.

There are also advantages to cardio that goes beyond the physical realm. I’m not talking about any Dr. Strange stuff, but doctors will often recommend certain medications when a patient mentions trouble with depression or anxiety, but exercise will improve a person’s mood much better in the long run than medications with countless side effects. In addition, you will feel more confident as your appearance changes for the better. A lot of people get depressed, but it is how you work to get out of it that matters. Eating that box of doughnuts at midnight may seem like a great move to eliminate your blues, but when you look at the scale you will be feeling even more depressed.

The benefits of cardio are immense, so do not shirk your aerobic workouts.

The Problems with Cardio

Now that we know just how important cardio is to leading a productive life, we also have to realize there are some drawbacks to it as well, besides getting overly sweaty and out of breath. Even the most faithful runner will attest that it can all get quite monotonous and boring, leading to them taking a break from exercising for extended periods of time. This is a quite common complaint for those who do cardio. Running in the same place on a treadmill or an elliptical is not all that much fun. After awhile you can start to relate to a hamster running around on that spinning wheel in their cages.

Furthermore, while extended cardio exercise like running and biking is great at burning fat, it will also eventually burn muscle as well. Long duration cardio is a term for any cardio that lasts 30 minutes or longer. The legendary wrestler Ric Flair always likes to proclaim that he is a 60 minute man, in wrestling and in the bedroom. Is he eliminating muscle mass while doing this? Perhaps. But at least he is doing it in an exciting way.

If you take the time to look at long distance runners, the ones that are really committed to it, you will notice that they are mostly skinny without much muscle tone. They may be able to run long distances, but they also resemble a walking skeleton every day of the year. This is because long distance cardio will eat away at muscle once it is done burning through fat. Muscle is hard to come by as it takes a proper diet and training to get it, so don’t give it up so easily if you can.

Lastly, long distance cardio tends to injure the participants that do it often. “Congratulations! You ran a marathon. And now take the next month to bounce back from it.” The lower body continually takes a beating when you run, and soon your knees, ankles, and hips will be hurting you. In fact, it is quite easy to attain stress fractures from long distance running. The feet and shins are very susceptible to stress fractures from long distance cardio. But did you also know it can cause stress fractures in your upper part of the legs and hips? Your legs take a pounding, and over time, the injuries will start to add up.

Slow to moderate cardio definitely has its drawbacks.

Not All Cardio Is Created Equal

You may be scratching your head at this moment and wondering should you even go on in life. You know why you need cardio in your life, but you also recognize that long distance cardio puts your body through the ringer. You need to find a type of cardio that will burn fat and calories, but leave your muscle alone. It would be good if this cardio did not take up as much time, but still provided the same benefits. Plus, reducing your chance of injuries would be ideal. All these reasons are why you should give high intensity interval training (HIIT) a try.

High intensity interval training provides more bang for your buck.

What Is High Intensity Interval Training

For those that are new to HIIT, I assure you that there is no black magic going on with this alternative way to do cardio. Just old fashion science. The old saying that if it seems too good to be true then it probably is, is a wise one. HIIT is hard work and it is not always for everyone, but if you make a commitment to it, then you will be pleased with the results. The key is to make that commitment. And that’s a problem with many of us. We don’t like commitments. That is why there are single 40 year olds still living with their parents right now, or as they like to call them, roommates.

HIIT basically means that a person goes all out on high intensity cardio for a short amount of time. It is full blast cardio for seconds instead of minutes. Think of the sprinters that you have seen during the Olympics or even a college event. These sprinters always appear to be pretty muscular and jacked with extremely low body fat. Sprinters only run for a very short amount of time, so fat is the only thing burned. HIIT generally leaves the muscle alone. With HIIT, the intensity that these sprinters attack this running with sets it apart from the more recognized long distance cardio that you find most adults doing.

HIIT burns fat 3-4 times faster and retains muscle mass as well.

The History of HIIT

HIIT is not new. It was originally developed as a way to increase running performance. Early 20th century runners and trainers would incorporate HIIT into their training regimen as a way to further their development. In the early 1900s, the Finnish gold medalist Hannes Kolehmainen prepped for his chance at Olympic gold through using interval training.

These early innovators would alternate between fast and slow runs during training. Some of the runners would even decrease the amount they usually ran so they could go all out with high intensity. They estimated that this would give them an advantage over others during the actual race because they were not just doing the slow to moderate speed cardio that everyone else was doing.

Ever since then, trainers have designed various HIIT programs for their runners in an effort to improve their performance. Whether they are biking, running, doing jumping jacks, or any sort of cardio, each exercise could be modified so it would be a HIIT workout.

HITT has literally been around for about a century.

Benefits to Switching to HIIT Cardio

While these early pioneers used HIIT to improve their achievements, they also were quickly able to determine something else. They figured out there were certain health benefits to performing HIIT cardio instead of the regular, drawn out cardio that took forever.

HIIT is all about intense cardio training with low intensity recovery periods placed strategically throughout. These rest periods are needed because when you are completing cardio at a manic pace like you are being pursued by a horde of bees, you can only last so long. That is why professional athlete sprinters mainly run 100 meter to 400 meter races all out. There is no pacing for these. It is tie on your shoes and hope they stay on cardio.

A HIIT workout usually will last only between 10 and 20 minutes. Now and then, it might even stretch up to 30 minutes, but not really anything longer than that. Despite how short the workout is, it can produce calorie burning results that is superior to other forms of exercise.

HIIT stacks up very favorably up against long endurance cardio.

Burned Calories During Training

One recent study compared the amount of calories burned during 30 minutes of HIIT to 30 minutes of weight training, 30 minutes of moderate speed running, and 30 minutes of biking. HIIT burned 25 to 30 percent more calories than any other form of exercise listed. Plus, they did so in less time because their HIIT training consisted of 20 seconds of maximum effort followed by 40 seconds of rest. So they were actually only exercising one-third amount of time. They burned more calories through ten minutes of HIIT training than the bikers and the runners did in their 30 minute constant exercise sessions.

HIIT provides amazing fat burning ability.

Still Burning Calories After Training

Every workout will provide a bit of calorie burning effects after the person is done training. But a HIIT workout increases a person’s metabolism for hours after they are finished training. In addition, it was known to quickly convert your body into using fat for energy instead of carbs. An extremely interesting study conducted detailed that participants who did just two minutes of HIIT sprinting increased their metabolism so much that over the next 24 hours, it produced similar fat burning capabilities to those that ran for 30 minutes.

Even after your training, calories are still being burned. 

Better Oxygen Consumption

We all know that our bodies need oxygen, unless you are a plant. And then you can just survive off of carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight. Or maybe you are a smoker and really don’t care when your lungs finally give out. Humans need our bodies to have optimum oxygen consumption, and cardio training will improve this. You can do this one of two ways. You can do the long sessions of running or cycling, or you can get these same benefits through HIIT in a much shorter amount of time. One study showed that 20 minutes of HIIT training (with only about 7 minutes of those being performed at maximum effort) four times a week improved oxygen consumption by 9 percent. The same results were achieved by those going the long distance route, but they trained for 40 consistent minutes for four workouts a week.

Breathe a bit easier when incorporating HIIT cardio into your fitness routine.

Maintain Muscle Mass with HIIT

As discussed earlier, HIIT focuses on burning through fat and calories. It leaves your muscles alone and even strengthens your legs a bit. Low to moderate cardio performed for lengthy amounts of time will attack your fat as well, but it does not discriminate and also starts eliminating your muscle mass. Muscle is something to be preserved. Muscle burns calories even while resting, so if you are concerned about your weight, you definitely don’t want to sacrifice any of your muscle mass. 

Muscle mass is retained much better with HIIT.

How to Incorporate HIIT into Your Workouts

You might be thinking that all of this sounds great, but how can you include HIIT into your workouts without the benefit of a personal trainer. Most personal trainers are garbage anyway as they spend more time looking at their phones than actually coaching you through your workout. You don’t need them. It’s not rocket science and it will be simple to incorporate HIIT into a cardio routine if you would like to give it a try.

The first step is to choose the activity you are going to do the HIIT training with. It can be just about any aerobic exercise you can think of. Quite a few choose running, others go with biking, but you could also pick jumping jacks or something similar.

Your next step would be to experiment and figure out the durations of your intense exercise rate and then your recovery period. Depending upon your current condition and the activity you choose, you might start off with 20 seconds of maximum effort during your exercise, and then follow it with 40 seconds of rest of cool down. Doing this type of program for ten sets should only take you ten minutes. A ten minute workout that will give you benefits equal to 30 minutes of training at moderate speeds.

It is simpler than you might think to incorporate HIIT into your workouts.

Examples of a HIIT Workout Routine

In case you are still puzzled on choosing the right HIIT routine, use these examples as a way to build yours. All of these can be done in the privacy of your own home or simply in your neighborhood. Be careful about sprinting down the sidewalk like a lunatic though. People will think that you stole something or is being chased by bees.

These are just some examples for creating a HIIT workout routine.

Stationary Bike or Actual Bicycle

Biking at high intensity is a bit easier than running at full intensity, so shoot for 30 seconds of fast pedaling followed by a minute and a half of slow down. Keep on repeating this pattern for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending upon your level of fitness. Using a stationary bike is an excellent way to get used to this HIIT exercise. It really is suitable for all fitness levels. To get yourself motivated, go dig up that movie Breaking Away from 1979. If this doesn’t make you want to pedal harder, then nothing will.

Biking is an easy exercise to do HIIT with.

Treadmill or Actual Sprinting

Be careful while trying to sprint on a treadmill. Things can quickly spiral out of control until you end up having an embarrassing video of you posted on YouTube. You might want to just choose a nice and quiet spot outside and do your sprinting this way.

Before you start, complete some stretching so you can get a bit loose. Even do a little bit of slow jogging to get the blood flowing. When you are ready, sprint as fast as you can for 15 to 20 seconds. Walk or jog for the next minute and a half as you catch your breath. Repeat this pattern for 20 minutes if you can. Think of Prefontaine as he was trying to go for the gold in Munich and duplicate his efforts.

Sprinting can be done almost anywhere and is perfect for HIIT. 

Jumping Jacks

After a few jumping jacks, you will feel like you are back in your elementary gym class. But the great thing about jumping jacks is they work well to burn off those calories and get rid of fat. Pick a place in your home where your hands won’t be smashing into anything while doing this exercise. Do the jumping jacks as quickly as you can for 20 to 30 seconds. Take a minute and a half to rest right after. Continue this pattern for 10 to 20 minutes.

Go back to your old school days and create a HIIT workout with using jumping jacks.

Our HIIT Workout Routine

The HIIT workout we like to do a couple times a week is a bit different than the ones listed as examples, but it has taken us a long time to work our way up to this. Usually we like to do this HIIT routine after we have completed our strength training, but there are many people out there that do HIIT cardio training on one day and strength training the next. Alternating days like that is a great way to keep fresh and use maximum effort during your workouts. Here is a HIIT workout routine that we like to do outside and have achieved very favorable results with. You do not need any equipment at all to complete our HIIT workout. 

  • First, do a little bit of light jogging for a minute just to loosen everything up and get the blood flowing. Having a stopwatch to time yourself would be ideal and add more to the workout.

  • Next, pick an area where you will be able to sprint for 30 seconds without having to take any sharp turns. Keeping the path flat and straight will allow you to sprint as fast as you can.

  • Sprint for 30 seconds and mark the area that you stopped at so you can try achieving a little bit better each time.

  • For your cooldown, walk back to the beginning from where you first started your sprint. This should allow you to catch your breath. If it took you 30 seconds to sprint that far, it should probably take you about a minute and a half to walk back to the beginning.

  • Repeat this routine all over again as you sprint for 30 seconds and be sure to mark where you finish each time. You are competing against yourself and want to improve the distance little by little.

  • We like to do this routine 10 to 15 times at maximum effort. This means the longest the workout lasts is 30 minutes.

  • Each HIIT sprinting workout, try to do a bit better than the previous one. Adding some competition into the running is a good way to keep it fresh and interesting!