The Bikini Body; we all want one, but we all have lives and families and jobs or study that prevent us from spending hours in the gym each week, so the time we do spend exercising needs to be super productive and yield maximum results in minimal time. But before we get down to the nitty gritty we need to consider that in order to achieve the ultimate bikini body or rock those Summer festival shorts we're actually wanting to do two things:
a) decrease body fat - not only is this beneficial to our overall health by reducing the risk of chronic disease, heart conditions and high blood pressure, but it will also lead to increased strength, greater cardio conditioning and a host of other benefits that go way beyond the physical (if you'd like to read more about the health benefits of fat loss you can check out this article by Human Kinetics)
b) increase lean muscle mass - I mean, who doesn't want to look more toned and athletic right?
One thing we have to take into account when working towards increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing body fat is nutrition. Have you ever heard the saying 'you can't out train a bad diet?' Think of it like this, even if you worked you ass off in the gym for an hour, you would still not be able to burn off a large Big Mac meal. If you're eating crap, no amount of training will have the effect you want it to.
So what's the fastest, most effective way to burn fat AND increase lean muscle mass? Well, it's not as simple as saying cardio is the answer, or resistance training is the way to go.
One thing we do know however, is when it comes to fat loss, slow and steady loses the race.
"According to American research published in the journal 'Obesity,' men and women who did 300 hours of cardio over the course of a year lost an average of only 10 kilos," Craig Ballantyne, owner of TurbulenceTraining.com, said. "That's 60 hours of cardio to lose 2 kilos!"
More intense training -- in shorter bursts -- burns calories more quickly and burns more fat overall. And unlike long, slow cardio sessions, intense training keeps you melting fat even after your workout is over, says Martin Rooney, director of the Parisi Speed School and author of "Ultimate Warrior Workouts."
One thing it seems the experts are all agreeing on, is that for maximum bang-for-your buck when it comes to burning fat in the SHORTEST amount of time spent exercising and the LONGEST amount of time in a fat-burning state post-exercise, H.I.I.T is your new best friend.
What is H.I.I.T?
High Intensity Interval Training is essentially a form of exercise whereby you work for short periods of time at maximal exertion followed by a period of rest before repeating the circuit again.
A simple example of this would be to run flat out for 30 seconds and then walk for 90 seconds, repeating the circuit 10 times.
Why is it so effective?
The main reason is due to Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC, which is just a fancy way of saying the fat burning party continues looooong after you finish your workout! 16-24 hours after in fact.
During a high intensity training session, your body has to work harder to replace the oxygen stores it has depleted. The result? More calories burned than if you had exercised at a steady state for the same (or even longer) period of time.
Studies show strenuous resistance exercise results in greater post-exercise oxygen consumption compared to steady-state endurance exercise that burns the same number of calories. So while you might burn the same calories during an hour-long jog, shorter, more intense workouts give you more bang for your buck.
It also has a raft of other benefits including increasing your overall cardio-vascular fitness, aerobic capacity and muscular endurance. It also helps suppress the hunger hormone (ghrelin) whilst stimulating appetite suppressing hormones.
How often should you do HIIT?
Bryce Hastings, Group Fitness Research and Operations Manager for Les Mills International says:
"Separating your workouts is key. If you're going all out, two workouts a week seems to be optimal, this allows you to still include strength training along with flexibility and core. The most common mistake I see is HIIT addiction: other training modalities are still really important and they help you recover. Remember every HIIT workout needs to be at max to deliver the effect."
Whilst HIIT sounds like the 'magic pill' to weight loss, in order to get the lean, toned, athletic physique we all desire a mix of resistance training to build muscle, HIIT training to burn fat and a sensible, nutritious diet is your best bet.
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