As human beings, many of us have a rather bad habit of not listening to advice. Or at least we don’t listen to advice when it doesn’t suit us. This is actually a well-known cognitive bias that’s called ‘confirmation bias’. At the end of the day, we just don’t want to do what we don’t want to do!
And this is probably why so many people still ignore HIIT – high intensity interval training workouts. This is a brutal form of exercise that is incredibly intense and that really doesn’t gel with what most of us think of as ‘a good time’.
But if you take a look at any of the people with the very best physiques – the ripped, muscular physiques that you see on the cover of Men’s Health – then you’ll find that they almost always advocate high intensity training.
Let’s take a look at why that is…
First though, just what is high intensity interval training?
Essentially, this is a type of cardio workout that involves alternating between highly intense periods of exercise and slightly slower periods of active recovery. So for example, if you’re going to use running as your exercise, this might involve sprinting for 30 seconds and then jogging for 2 minutes. You then repeat this cycle 8 or 10 times and finish.
This is high intensity interval training because you’re performing intervals of high intensity… get it? And the great thing is that you can also do an easy HIIT workout at home by using kettlebell swings, skipping or tuck jumps instead of running.
So how does HIIT work and what makes it so effective?
Perhaps the easiest way to understand the benefits of HIIT is to compare it with more traditional forms of cardio exercise – steady state cardio. Steady state cardio means that you’re jogging or running for a set period of time – perhaps 40 minutes – and maintaining a steady speed throughout.
Very often, this steady state will put you at 75% of your MHR (maximum heartrate) which we know as the ‘fat burning zone’. At this speed, the body has time to use its aerobic energy system, which means oxygen will be used to break down fat tissue and then carry the resulting glucose to the muscles, heart and brain.
For a long time, this was thought to be the very best way to burn fat because running any faster would mean your body didn’t have time to use the aerobic energy system and you would instead be forced to use the ATP-CP system and glycogen system – using energy stored in the blood and muscles and produced by the liver instead, which leads to immediate burnout.
HIIT introduced an alternative though. In high intensity interval training workouts, you use high intensity training at 95%-100% of your MHR and this means the body is forced to rely on available energy stores. It then depletes these entirely, leaving you with nothing left in the tank. That then means that when you swap to 75% MHR, the body goes into overdrive finding fat stores to restore those levels.
This makes the body that much more efficient at burning calories and using energy. This increases the efficiency of your mitochondria at producing energy, it improves your ‘VO2 max’ and generally it makes you a more efficient fat-burning machine.
Better yet, it means that once you finish exercising, you’re then left with a massive energy deficit which the body has to fix. That means you’ll be burning a higher level of calories for a long time following your cardio. This is what some people refer to as the ‘afterburn effect’ and it can be very powerful when it comes to helping you burn through excess fat.
Oh and because you’re exerting yourself maximally, you’ll also be training your sprint speed, building calf and leg strength and generally becoming more athletic and powerful. When you take all that into account, it becomes obviously apparent that HIIT has significant advantages over steady state.
Want to use a HIIT workout at home that will help you to build muscle and get ripped?
Another big advantage of high intensity training is that it is less likely to cannibalize muscle – which is why bodybuilders like it so much. But if you really want to protect your muscle and make your body as shredded as possible, then there is more you can do too. Specifically, you should aim to combine your HIIT workout with resistant work.
Resistance cardio is simply cardio exercise that also involves pushing or pulling against a weight. This makes it at once a muscle building workout and a fat burning workout and sends signals to the body to burn fat and keep muscle.
How do you do this at home as a bodybuilder? One option is to get a kettlebell and do kettlebell swings. Find an online interval training timer and then alternate between kettlebell swings and planche/rest. For a serious challenge, look up ‘Tabata Protocol’.
So does that mean that steady state is now obsolete? Should you completely forget it forever? Not at all! Actually, steady state cardio still has some benefits over HIIT. For example, steady state is safer for anyone who is badly out of shape or has a weak heart.
Moreover, steady state is more effective at improving your resting heartrate by training your left ventricle. This actually helps you to relax better and sleep better and means your body will become more anabolic and more effective at building muscle. If you can combine some light steady state – ideally something like walking – along with a HIIT workout routine and regularly weightlifting – then you’ll be able to increase your muscle mass while stripping away fat!