When you want to get in shape and not waste time, high-intensity workouts are the ticket. Heart-pumping workouts like Tabata training and fat-blasting cardio workouts where you do short bursts of intense activity have reshaped the way people look at getting fit. No wonder it was one of the hottest health trends of the year. As if you need to be reminded, here are five reasons high-intensity workouts rock.
They’re Time Efficient
You can get a cardiovascular workout in as little as ten minutes if you push hard enough. In fact, with Tabata intervals (20 seconds of intense exercise with 10 seconds of rest x 8) you can get a workout in as little as 4 minutes! Of course, you’ll want to include a 5 warm-up and cool-down. It was Dr. Izumi Tabata, the head coach of a speed skating team that developed this workout and it doesn’t waste a second.
How effective can a 4-minute workout be? A groundbreaking study compared moderate-intensity cardio to a Tabata workout. One group did 60 minutes of cardio 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Another did a 4-minute Tabata cycle only 4 days a week. Not only did the Tabata group show a greater improvement in aerobic capacity – but they also boosted their anaerobic fitness. The take-home message? Focus more on the intensity and less on time and reap the benefits.
High-Intensity Workouts Burns More Fat
High-intensity training forces your body to tap into anaerobic energy systems during the intense intervals. This leads to build up of lactic acid. It’s actually the accumulation of hydrogen ions that causes the burning in your muscles and the feeling that you have to stop. During the rest or recovery interval, your liver and kidneys clear some of the lactic acid and hydrogen ions so you can tackle another intense interval.
The rest intervals during high-intensity interval training aren’t enough for complete recovery. It’s after finishing your workout that your body goes to work to clear away the remaining lactic acid and hydrogen ions. Plus, it has to lower your core body temperature and return your breathing to normal. That takes energy! It can take up to 12 hours to completely recover from a high-intensity workout. During that time your resting metabolic rate is increased by up to 13% higher. This is EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) or the after-burn you hear so much about. Who doesn’t want to burn more fat even after a workout is over?
It’s Better for Preserving Lean Body Mass
Chances are you want to lose fat but hang onto your muscle. One of the problems with long, steady-state cardio workouts is they can make it harder to build lean body mass. This means some of the work you’re doing with weights could be for naught.
Why does steady-state cardio make it harder to keep muscle definition? It reduces the activity of mTOR, a key protein involved in building and maintaining muscle. In addition, long periods of steady-state exercise combined with a diet low in carbs increases cortisol levels. That’s not what you want. Cortisol cannibalizes muscle tissue so the liver can use the amino acids to make glucose. With high-intensity cardio training, you can keep your cardio sessions short and intense. This helps to preserve muscle.
With High-Intensity Workouts, You’re Less Likely to Reach a Plateau
Your body adapts rather quickly to steady-state cardio. You become more efficient at doing whatever type of cardio you’re doing and you burn fewer calories doing it. This is less likely to happen when you’re doing high-intensity workouts that create an after-burn.
They’re Never Boring
With steady-state cardio, there’s the boredom factor. It’s not very exciting to exercise at a steady rate for 45 minutes or an hour. Time seems to stand still and the clock doesn’t seem to move, even though you keep staring at it. High-intensity training is anything but boring. It challenges you to work your hardest – and time goes by quickly. There are so many ways to do high-intensity interval training that boredom isn’t an issue. Plus, you don’t have to exercise as long to get the benefits.
The Bottom Line?
There you have it – five reasons to try high-intensity interval training. Invest in a few DVDs that lead you through a high-intensity workout and get the benefits of exercise in less time. If you’re very short on time, a Tabata workout will work your body in the shortest time period possible. Don’t do a high-intensity workout every day. Give your body a chance to rest and recover. High-intensity exercise is very demanding – but very rewarding too.
Med Sci Sports Exerc 28 (10): 1327-30. doi:10.1097/00005768-199610000-00018.
Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 29 (3): 390-5. (1997)
Journal of Physiology, 575, 901-911. (2006)
J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Feb;21(1):188-92.
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