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HIIT is usually considered the best training to burn fat fast. Here's what science says.
In order to understand how HIIT works, we need to understand how fat works, first. When it comes to belly fat, there are two types: subcutaneous and visceral. And yes, they look and behave differently, so they need to be taken care of differently, too.
Subcutaneous fat, as the name implies, is stored just under the skin, says Tom Holland, Connecticut-based exercise physiologist and fitness consultant. However, it is visceral fat the one that we are most concerned about when we talk about belly fat. Tucked deeper in your abdomen, next to your organs, it’s “almost like an endocrine organ” that poses serious health risks, Holland says.
Visceral fat is “metabolically active,” says endocrinologist Reshmi Srinath, director of the Weight Management and Metabolism Program at Mount Sinai Hospital. It produces molecules called adipokines which can increase inflammation in various organ systems.
According to Srinath, who is board certified in Endocrinology and Obesity, women whose waists are 35 inches or larger and men whose waists are 40 inches or larger are at increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia. and obstructive sleep apnea.
So, how does HIIT help?
According to a 2018 study, “HIIT significantly reduced total (p = 0.003), abdominal (p = 0.007) and visceral (p = 0.018) fat mass,” the authors said. What was not mentioned in the study is that HIIT showed better results than other exercises or training.
“From a clinical standpoint, there is really no difference” between HIIT and moderate exercise, Srinath says. “The real benefit of HIIT,” she adds, is its effectiveness.
Holland agrees. The “real beauty of a HIIT workout,” he says, "is how little time it takes compared to moderate-intensity exercises, like brisk walking, swimming, or biking on a flat surface at a conversational pace. When you look at a lot of studies, you get the same results with high-intensity interval training in half the time.” This is exactly what helps people maintain their routine. He explains, “It’s, ‘Hey, I get the same results – and in half an hour rather than an hour. I am more likely to be consistent.‘"
How to get started?
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, work periods should range from five seconds to eight minutes and be performed at 80% to 95% of your maximum heart rate. The time commitment varies, but it can take as little as 20 minutes.
If you don’t know your maximum heart rate or don’t have a heart rate monitor, Holland suggests tracking sensation or perceived exertion rate (RPE). On a scale of 0 to 10 RPE, shoot eight, nine, or ten during your work intervals. To maintain the intensity throughout the session, it offers shorter intervals, ranging from 20 seconds to one minute. “You are outside your comfort zone, but you don’t stay there very long.”
Holland says a 25-minute HIIT session could include five one-minute sets of high-intensity exercise, each followed by a two-minute cool-down, sandwiched between a five-minute warm-up and a five-minute cool-down.
As these training are quite demanding, you should check with your doctor before you get started!