If there’s one part of bodybuilding that just about everyone involved would skip if they could, it’s aerobic training. For those who dread long, boring sessions on the treadmill or exercise bike, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT burn fat, has the potential to make things a little more interesting AND yield better results.
Let’s look at what HIIT is and how it can help you build the body you want.
What is High-Intensity Interval Training?
High-intensity interval training consists of short sprints of an activity interspersed with active recovery periods. A certain number of theses “sets” is performed during each workout, depending on the specific protocol you’re following.
As an example, if you were running on a track, you might alternate jogging for a minute with sprinting for 30 seconds.
In fact, HIIT derives from track and field, where this type of interval training has been used for decades. The first publicized use of this this protocol is the one that Peter Coe developed in the 1970s to help his son Sebastian become a gold-medalist Olympian in the middle distances.
More familiar to most fitness enthusiasts is the Tabata Protocol, developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata as part of a 1996 study to examine the effectiveness of interval training.
Tabata’s experiment put seven cyclists through the paces of 7-8 sprints of 20 seconds each with 10 seconds of easier cycling between each burst. That workout was repeated five times per week for six weeks.
Why Can HIIT Do for You?
Even from the description of the Tabata study above, it’s easy to see that HIIT workouts can be more interesting and shorter than traditional cardio training. But does HIIT provide any other benefits?
Tabata compared the HIIT cyclists with a group performing steady-state aerobics for an hour at a time. At the end of the study, the HIIT group showed nearly 50% more improvement in their VO2max than the steady-state group, meaning their aerobic capacity increased to a greater extent.
What’s more, the HIIT cyclists showed a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity, which is the ability to perform short, powerful work, like sprints or weight lifting. The steady-state group showed no improvement in anaerobic capacity.
Since Tabata, several other studies have uncovered more benefits of HIIT.
A 2010 review of the available literature confirmed Tabata’s initial results, namely that HIIT can improve both VO2max and anaerobic capacity. Maybe even more important for bodybuilders, HIIT has been shown to burn more fat than “regular” aerobics and maybe even add muscle!
While steady-state training can burn more calories during the workout, it appears that HIIT burns more of the right kind of calories and may have some carryover effect after you leave the gym.
Heck, a 2002 study even showed that HIIT can raise growth hormone levels, and GH is seen as the fountain of youth by some researchers. It plays a strong role in insulin sensitivity, muscle growth, and tissue repair.
Is HIIT Right for You?
With all of the benefits that scientists have tagged to high-intensity interval training, it seems like a no-brainer to include it in your regimen.
That’s probably true for most people, but you need to be careful with this fat-burning fire.
Because HIIT is so intense, it takes a toll on your recovery ability. If you’re already training hard with weights 3-5 times per week, tacking on a few HIIT sessions can send you spiraling into overtraining.
One option would be to reduce the frequency of both, so that you’re lifting and HIITing twice per week each.
If your weight workouts are short and you limit your HIIT sets, then you might also consider tacking on your interval workout to the end of leg training sessions. That way, you preserve your off days for rest and recovery.
Whichever way you choose to go, you need to have your nutrition and sleep schedules in order if you hope to get the most from HIIT — or from your lifting program.
And, as with any new program, you need to talk with your doctor and get a complete check-up before embarking on an HIIT program.
If you do it right, HIIT can burn body fat like nothing else!