You’re sweating it out at the gym five days a week, working muscles in your body you didn’t even know you had until they hurt the next day. And while you’re exploring the world of high-intensity workouts, jump squats, and burpees, you’re excited for a more-toned version of yourself. Yet day after day, workout after workout, you don’t see the weight falling off like you thought it would.
So, what’s the deal? It turns out working as hard as possible isn’t the answer to fat loss. Here’s the reason you might need to tone down those high-intensity workouts.
1. Why high-intensity workouts are the latest craze
If you hate running on the treadmill but still want to get your cardio in, then high-intensity interval training is likely right up your alley. The appeal of HIIT is you can fit your workout in under 25 minutes. Daily Burn explains you give 100% of your effort for a percentage of your workout, and the rest is spent actively resting to keep your heart pumping at a steady pace.
HIIT typically includes some of the hardest body weight movements out there, such as burpees and jump squats. But many love the fast pace and revved metabolism they get in return.
Next: Why has HIIT maintained such high appeal?
2. Many have thrown steady-state cardio to the wayside
Gym-goers from all over rejoiced at the thought of a 25-minute workout having the same benefits of their 60-minute jog. And the positive effects of HIIT are well-documented, too. Not only does it require no equipment and less time, but the American Council on Exercise notes you also burn calories post-exercise.
HIIT’s also great for those looking to maintain or gain muscle. While traditional cardio can actually deplete mass, HIIT often incorporates muscle-building moves to make you stronger and leaner overall.
Next: There’s a downside to HIIT no one ever talks about.
3. HIIT can make you gain weight in the long-run
High-intensity training is a short duration for a reason: It’s incredibly tough on your body. And if you’re replacing all of your steady-state workouts for HIIT, you might notice weight gain.
Personal trainer Shona Vertue tells Daily Mail she only does HIIT once or twice a week for a reason. “People are doing HIIT every single day and they don’t realize it’s draining on the nervous system,” Vertue says. And because your nervous system is what’s regulating your metabolism, throwing that out of whack can result in more fat storage.
Next: You need to stop believing this common HIIT myth.
4. And the ‘after-burn’ effect isn’t as great as you think
Many believe HIIT revs your metabolism to such a high degree that you burn hundreds of calories for hours post-exercise. But Nerd Fitness notes a single study conducted in 2015 found HIIT to have a higher after-burn than cardio. The study also says it’s the only one that could conclude this, so the difference in cardio and HIIT after-burn probably isn’t as steep as most think.
It’s also worth noting most people spend nearly twice as much time doing steady-state cardio, thus they end up burning more calories during exercise. If the after-burn really is the same, then steady-state wins for fat loss.
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5. Bring more steady-state cardio back into your life
You might not be nearly as out of breath while performing steady-state cardio as you are during an intense HIIT session, but in the end, it’s worth it to work smarter, not harder.
Men’s Health notes slower exercise can give your cardiovascular fitness and stamina a boost overall, which also means your HIIT sessions could benefit. Also, you’ll recover faster from slower workouts. And you’re more likely to feel refreshed and de-stressed after an easy jog than you are after a brutal high-intensity session. As mentioned before, your longer cardio sessions generally burn more calories, too, which is the secret to weight loss.
Next: This is the best type of exercise you can add into your regimen.
6. Adding weights is key for fat loss
Whatever type of cardio you choose — whether HIIT or otherwise — is up to you. But one thing’s for sure: It’s not just your cardio you should be focusing on for fat loss. It’s time to pick up a set of dumbbells if you haven’t already.
Nerd Fitness says strength training requires a much greater amount of oxygen consumption post-exercise. This takes a lot of energy, which is why lifting weights gives your metabolism a serious boost. And the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn when you’re doing absolutely nothing — something cardio alone can’t offer.
Next: You absolutely need to nail this aspect of your daily routine for fat loss.
7. Can’t make it to the gym? Make sure your diet is on point
For those busy weeks when you can’t even fit in a 20-minute HIIT session, you can still make strides for weight loss by taking a look at your diet. You know the rules: Start your day off on the right foot with a high-protein breakfast to keep you full until lunch. Fill your plate with veggies whenever possible, and choose filling snacks, such as nuts, instead of junk food.
While eating high-quality food is important, keeping track of your calories is also key. Cutting 500 calories from your daily expenditure — whether through diet, exercise, or a combination of both — should result in a pound of weight loss per week.
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