If you’re on a weight loss journey especially for the new year, the most common suggestion you will get (on top of a variety of diets) are workouts such as cardio or HIIT.
You would commonly see the word HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) along with the word weight loss in plenty of articles and workout videos. It’s well known as one of the most effective ways to burn calories and hike up your metabolism in a short amount of time!
So if you have been doing HIIT, or at least planning to do HIIT, as part of your weight loss goals, I don’t blame you. I was in the same boat as you. Sort of.
My experience with HIIT
Out of the many exercises I have done in the past few years, I remain the biggest fan of HIIT. The quick burst of exercise, pushing my body to the limit, and the rush I get during and after the workout makes it one of my favourites thus far.
Back when I was stuck in a sedentary rut and having a bad mental health day, I desperately looked for a workout I could try. That was when I read about HIIT and how it was ideal for my body type.
I didn’t do heavy research on the topic, but after realising how I would prefer a HIIT setting compared to being in a gym, and after getting a trial HIIT class, I realised I definitely liked it a lot and stuck to it.
With that said, I am aware that, like me, there are people who will jump into the HIIT bandwagon after reading a few articles or seeing it suggested a lot in your suggestions as you plan to work out more. Everywhere you turn, you see nothing but benefits about HIIT and I promise you some of those benefits hold weight.
But if your goal is losing weight though, it’s a lot more complicated than what many articles state. When I started doing HIIT, I didn’t really want to focus on weight loss. I just wanted to be active and be in a better mental state. Despite achieving those goals, I won’t deny that I was a bit upset that I barely lost any weight. After all, you would think losing weight would be a no brainer when doing HIIT!
But that’s not the case at all. In fact, I only started losing weight recently because I am finally focusing on weight loss and have adjusted my workout and diet accordingly.
So to any of you who want to start doing HIIT for the sole purpose of losing weight, here are five important facts you should consider:
1. HIIT does give you more for less time but…
One of the reasons I love HIIT so much is that in a shorter amount of time, you can get plenty of health benefits that would normally take a lot longer with other workouts. You can get the same effect from a 50 minute bout of continuous exercise in a day with just 20 minutes of HIIT!
This makes this workout ideal for those who are really busy, but want some exercise benefits from a shorter period of time. And there are plenty of benefits as well, which I will touch on at a later point. But here’s where the misunderstanding starts….
2. HIIT doesn’t make you lose weight faster
Don’t let that promise of a high calorie burn during HIIT and the after burn effect promise make you think this is your key to weight loss. There’s more to consider when you’re doing HIIT.
First, it depends on how hard you push yourself during the workout. HIIT requires you to really push yourself with workouts that may hurt you especially if you’re a beginner. Then your heart rate needs to be really high (220 minus your age) for there to be that after burn effect. This won’t be easy, especially if you’re a beginner.
You may even compensate the workouts with easier options, like doing jumping jacks instead of burpees. You may even be doing burpees slowly as you’re worried about hurting your knees. And don’t worry if you do this, I’ve been there!
But this also means you’re not getting the full benefit of what a HIIT workout should do and you’re not going to get that magical after burn effect either. And even if you do get your heart rate high, the data shown on the after burn effect is that it doesn’t always last as long, or even burn as much fat, as you think. In fact, based on the data, it’s about the same as doing cardio anyways. Just that HIIT can achieve those levels much faster when done right.
So depending on your fitness level, you may be better off doing a longer cardio if it means you won’t hurt yourself. Even if you do 20 minutes of HIIT, you may still be better off adding another half hour of cardio for it to really get you geared towards weight loss too.
According to this Vox article where they quoted Jeffrey Horowitz, a kinesiology professor at the University of Michigan; to burn a lot of calories, “you need to exercise [for] a more prolonged period of time. HIIT routines, by definition, tend to be shorter. So if your goal is weight loss, you might consider a longer interval routine, and you definitely want to look at your diet.”
Speaking of which…
3. HIIT won’t offset what you eat
I know it’s easy to think that working out alone is enough to offset all the bad eating habits that led you on this path of weight loss. But it won’t.
I learnt this the hard way myself. It was only when I completed my four weeks challenge where I changed my diet (as part of the challenge) did I learn how much what I ate affected my weight loss.
In fact, plenty of studies and articles confirm that if your goal is weight loss, your eating habits matter. There’s plenty of discussion on what eating habits are best to promote weight loss, thus why so many diets exist. But eating less and making healthier food choices is the common conclusion.
This isn’t to dismiss HIIT though. You’ll see under the benefits section that it’s still worth doing for plenty of reasons. But if your fitness goal is purely weight loss, HIIT is not the solution you’re looking for.
With that said, you can be like me; adjust your fitness goal by aiming to be active first for better (physical and mental) health and overall fitness. But if your goal is weight loss, HIIT alone cannot be your only weight loss tool. You need a good diet and an overall sturdy fitness plan to really lose weight.
4. HIIT still offers plenty of noteworthy benefits that can help
So fine, HIIT isn’t the best workout for weight loss in general. But don’t let that discourage you! As I mentioned earlier, HIIT comes with plenty of benefits that may actually help you on your weight loss journey, just not directly.
These benefits include better aerobic fitness thanks to an improved VO2 max (a measure of endurance that calculates the maximum volume of oxygen the body can use).
As doing longer exercise routines offers a stronger impact on weight loss, having a higher V02 can help you in that quest. So doing HIIT can help you develop more strength to do exactly that.
Then there’s the mental health benefit. I suffer from depression and gained a lot of bad eating habits thanks to that. HIIT (and exercise in general) played a big role in improving my mental health! I even managed to cut off my antidepressants because of it!
Studies have revealed that HIIT can help your mental health by boosting a protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This protein is involved in regulating brain function and mood. Low levels of BDNF are associated with a number of mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Other health benefits of HIIT include reducing blood sugar levels. Based on this study, HIIT improves insulin resistance more than traditional continuous exercise. This means it can help those suffering with Type 2 Diabetes!
All in all, the benefits of HIIT cannot be overlooked even if its impact on weight loss is minimal. So don’t be discouraged to do HIIT just because it won’t give you a straight road to weight loss. In fact, all the goodness HIIT brings may influence you to make better health decisions overall.
5. It’s best to pair HIIT and Cardio with Strength Training
Even with that all said, I recommend adding on another workout to really help with your weight loss goals; strength training. OMG, I know right? More exercise?! Who has time for that!
Well, this is about facts you should consider for weight loss. So if you want to take your weight loss plan to the next level, I recommend working out those muscles. In fact, doing strength training helps build muscles that can actually be helpful for that “after burn effect” for weight loss.
This is because muscle mass is one of the many factors that affect your resting metabolic rate. So the more muscle on your body, the higher your metabolic rate. That’s because muscle uses a lot more energy than fat while at rest. Which means if you have more muscles, that HIIT and cardio workout will have a bigger impact for weight loss.
I also want to point out that if you do strength training, don’t be discouraged if your weight gets higher. Two things are at play here in your muscles: micro tears and inflammation. This will cause water retention as your body needs water and protein to heal, so you will gain some weight. It’s okay! Once you’re healed up, it will have a positive effect on your body in the long run.
Aim for weight loss with the right mindset
I know that weight loss is important for health, especially if you’re overweight or obese. But the tools to achieve weight loss aren’t as simple as going on a diet and doing more cardio. (Okay yeah, that works for some people but not all!)
Which is why even though I do HIIT, I know it isn’t enough for weight loss. I am controlling my diet, doing more cardio, and making sure I don’t miss classes on strength training.
A lot of other factors need to be considered for weight loss; Do you still practice unhealthy eating habits or a generally unhealthy lifestyle? Are you willing to spend the time and money to invest in your health and fitness (which I highly recommend, cause no money can ever give you a clean bill of health)? Are you even in the right mindset for weight loss (as you may be too hard on yourself if you do it, or may give yourself too much leeway too)?
Like for me, I know I find working out frustrating at times and sometimes I question why I do it. But I push on, because despite the downsides, the benefits and the joy of pushing myself (within limits of course) keeps me going.
I struggled a lot with my weight gain, which came from a place of bad mental health and environmental influence. So I took stock of my past eating habits and worked on it accordingly.
As such, your weight loss journey needs to cover a lot more areas than just HIIT alone. It’s okay to start with one step at a time though! Do what works for you, but always aim to improve yourself.
Just don’t be discouraged if you do HIIT and you’re not seeing significant changes on your weight. Don’t be so hard on yourself! Failures often mean you need to fix something to reach success, and you’ll get there as long as you’re determined and have the right mind set.