The best HIIT exercise to lose fat is … drum roll … any HIIT workout! It is truly that simple. Let’s look at the research of HIIT and what HIIT even is to find out why this is true.
High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is typically several rounds of exercises that alternate between high intensity and low intensity. The high intensity exercises are designed to significantly increase your heart rate to 80% or more of your maximum heart rate, while the lower intensity exercises can bring your heart rate back down to a resting heart rate. HIIT shouldn’t be confused with Tabata workouts, circuit training, or moderate intensity continuous training (MICT).
Your Next HIIT Workout
You can find gyms with certified personal trainers offering HIIT cardio, a fat burning HIIT class led by a group fitness instructor, or even a 20 minute HIIT workout video on YouTube to choose from for a variety of HIIT workout routines. One of my favorite YouTube coaches who provides HIIT exercise routines is The Body Coach. I like the variety he offers and the option to use equipment or just your body weight as well as the fact that he really is hurting along with you, ha!
The best HIIT exercise to lose fat doesn’t have to be fancy. Yet, a lot of HIIT workouts encompass several different exercises, equipment, or parts of the body, like a full body workout, squats, jumping jacks, cycling, dumbbells, and more. They will help you lose weight, build muscle mass, lower your resting heart rate, and burn fat.
Research on best HIIT Exercise to Lose Fat
Looking at HIIT research, several studies repeatedly show the healthy individuals in the HIIT group losing significantly more subcutaneous fat, abdominal fat, body mass, and waist circumference while increasing VO2 max and insulin sensitivity compared to a steady-state exercise group. For example, a cycling group of women performed 20 minute HIIT sessions 3 times a week for 15 weeks with an 8-second sprint followed by a 12-second low intensity cycle versus a women’s cycling group performing an aerobic, steady state cycle at 60% VO2 max for 40 minutes. The results were the HIIT group losing significantly more subcutaneous fat.
The studies available show few significant differences between HIIT and MICT workouts, just that the time to perform the exercises was shorter with HIIT. Cardiovascular risk factors were evaluated and were seen to improve in both workout types, such as decreased weight, decreased body fat percentage, decreased total cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, improving aerobic endurance, reducing shortness of breath, and improving use of the body’s oxygen. Furthermore, “In short to medium-term interventions (up to 16 weeks), HIIT has been found more effective than MICT at reducing fasting blood glucose, hemoglobin A1c, fat mass, and insulin resistance in people with type 2 diabetes.” Still, more research is needed for HIIT workouts by individuals who are overweight or obese and by individuals with chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Other Benefits of HIIT Exercise
Other worthy facts to point out from these studies is about 1) the ability to complete the workout and 2) enjoyment. HIIT workouts offer a rest period or low intensity period while continuous training does not, and individuals with heart or lung issues felt they were better able to complete the workout because of those rest periods. HIIT is viewed as more enjoyable and can be done in a shorter amount of time. Enjoyability and less time constraint are two big factors in deciding what workouts to do, for a lot of people.
I recommend HITT sessions to clients for a number of reasons, not just for the fact that it a great way to lose fat. The main reason is because the workouts provide maximum results in a minimum amount of time. You can perform a HIIT session for 20-30 minutes on 3 days out of the week and see improvements in your health, from body re-composition due to fat loss to how well the body utilizes oxygen (i.e. VO2 max).
General Fat Loss
Most research shows that exercise alone will only produce a minimal amount of weight loss, while exercise plus calorie reduction shows greater weight or fat loss. In addition, studies and research show physical activity is a key component for weight maintenance. So, exercise plays a small role in weight loss and a bigger role in keeping the weight off once it has been lost, both with a combination of exercise and dietary changes.
Longer physical activity sessions have shown to have greater weight loss results. However, looking at studies, one would have to take into consideration dietary constraints. Still, weight loss is seen in studies with those exercising more than the recommendations for health.
The current minimum recommendation for exercise is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week plus 2 strength sessions per week. Therefore, one would need to be over the 150 minute mark of moderate exercise to see weight loss; the CDC and ACSM recommend 300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise to exhibit weight loss, which can be broken down to 60 minutes for 5 days a week or about 45 minutes each day of the week.
Considerations to Lose Fat
A combination of cardio and strength training is very common and can produce great results, both in physique and in health. If I had to choose just one of these though, I would choose strength training. The calories consumed for either type of exercises are very similar, per the research, yet one thing about cardio is that it lowers your calorie expenditure after the exercise is complete, so you might not be burning as much as you think after your workout is complete with cardio. Strength training and HIIT exercises, on the other hand, can continue to burn calories well after the workout is over due to excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).
As a Registered Dietitian, I would be remiss not to say that one’s diet plays an essential role in losing weight, an even greater role than exercise. One reason is purely about calories. Let’s say you ate a donut worth 200 calories. You would have to run for about 2 miles to burn off those 200 calories. Wouldn’t it be easier to limit the donuts versus trying to exercise your bad habits away? As the old but correct saying goes, “You can’t out-train a bad diet.”
I would be honored to help you navigate the world of nutrition by providing evidence-based practices, reasonable goals, and a proven pathway to success. You can get more information here.
Another extremely simple practice, along with exercise and proper nutrition, to promote weight loss is to consume enough water each day. Water does a lot of hard work in the body! It helps regulate your body temperature, protect your brain and spinal cord, aids in digestion, helps deliver oxygen all over the body, allows cells to grow and reproduce, rids the body of wastes, prevents dehydration, lubricates joints, helps the brain manufacture hormones, and keeps mucosal membranes moist.
According to a John Hopkins article reviewing studies, water may also suppress one’s appetite, improve and stimulate metabolism, help improve workouts, and aid in reducing liquid calorie intake. For example, those who drank 2 glasses of water right before a meal ate 22% less compared to those who did not drink any water. Plus, muscle is broken down more quickly and builds more slowly when the muscle cells are dehydrated.
The majority of studies point to both HIIT and steady-state cardio having similar, positive health results. This is great news! No matter what you choose to do for exercise, as long as you are consistent and elevating your heart rate, you can see favorable results, like fat loss, improved cardiovascular risk factors, and improved insulin sensitivity.
If you want those benefits in less time per workout and in an enjoyable way, high intensity interval training is for you. And remember, the best HIIT exercise to lose fat is simply doing a HIIT workout.
If you want specific recommendations for exercise or nutrition, set up a FREE 15-minute discovery call with me to see if we’d be a good fit!