Christmas is on its way, and its that time of year when food is at the forefront of our minds. But as a personal trainer, I’ve noticed more and more people jumping on board the pre-New Year weight loss train, and starting to act before the festive celebrations rather than afterwards. Some swear by this approach, saying it makes starting back up in the New Year a lot easier and/or limits the ‘damage’ all the eating and drinking can cause over the holidays.
Personally, I don’t think it’s at all a bad idea, I mean why put things off until tomorrow if you’re able to start today? However, one of the concerns with starting an exercise regime pre-Christmas is time – we’re all so busy! With so many social occasions, parties and domestic duties it can be hard to find the time to exercise.
One solution for time-poor people is interval training, or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Could this be the answer for staying in shape over the festive period? After all, a good HIIT session doesn’t require much time at all, as little as 10 minutes is all you need. It’s also the new ‘in’ and ‘trendy’ training method that many in the fitness industry are recommending – you’ll have seen trainers like Joe Wicks shouting about how much more effective it is for “torching body fat” than regular cardio training.
However, we here at Hall Personal Training like to reserve judgment before saying that one type of exercise is better than another. We like to have a look at all the evidence that’s coming out both scientifically and anecdotally.
Over the last few years, interval training has made a sudden appearance and seems to be the most utilised training method if you’re wanting to lose weight. Evidence to date has shown a whole host of benefits that come with interval training, from improved blood pressure, an increase in fitness levels and VO2 Max, a reduced risk of diabetes, increase in muscle mass and of course, greater fat loss.
Now, although I could present you with a whole host of studies to support these claims (and don’t get me wrong, interval training does have health benefits), when it comes to fat loss it may not be delivering the results so many people are promising.
The first analysis looking at HIIT came out in 1994, and found a hugely positive impact on fat loss. This was followed by various other studies finding similar results – hence the craze today. However, we’ve seen quite a lot of scientific advancement since then, and the biggest study to date, reviewing a whopping 28 other studies, found that interval training brought about no differences in either weight loss or fat loss when both energy expenditure and workout time were matched, compared to regular steady state cardio training.
So the claim that HIIT will help you burn more calories in less time isn’t strictly true. But what does this mean practically?
Well for starters, we know from previous research that interval training does not ‘ramp up’ your metabolism for days afterwards, not by any considerable margin anyhow.
Secondly, we now know interval training isn’t necessarily any more ‘time efficient.’ As when energy expenditure and workload are matched, so are the results. Which means you’ll burn close to the same number of calories whether performing 6x 30 second sprints over 15 minutes as you would if you did 15 minutes of continuous moderate intensity work.
In fact, new data suggests continuous moderate intensity work may be slightly superior for fat loss by around a kilo.
Thirdly, interval training has no superiority over traditional steady state with regards to fat loss, but interval training may have an impact on appetite, as there is data showing high intensity work can lead to a suppression in ghrelin (a hormone that helps to regulate appetite) and consequently reduces appetite. This may explain the reasoning behind why earlier studies have reported interval training as being more superior for fat loss.
Nevertheless, whether you decide to join the HIIT supporters or, take things a little easier with some moderate intensity work, neither will bring about any significant changes in body fat without a change in diet! The rule with all exercise is to find out what works for you – if you enjoy it, you’re more likely to stick with it, and that’s what will bring the results you’re looking for.