We have assumed in recent decades that to ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’ via exercise you had to put in the ‘hard hours’. We are a nation and population (in the Western World at least) that has taken on the message that we had to ‘exercise’ with vigour! Despite this increase in ‘exercise’ by humans in modern times, we are the most overweight and metabolically unhealthy population we have ever been.

But…according to Michael Mosely in “Fast Exercise, The Simple Secret of High Intensity Training”, traditional ‘exercise’ is not necessarily the answer for losing weight because:

  • Low intensity ‘exercise’ is not a time efficient way to burn fat.
  • Exercise is not enough on its own to ensure healthy weight management (you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet).
  • After exercise there is a tendency to overeat and
  • We are often less active overall when we ‘exercise’ as we expend less energy through the remainder of the day.

Exercise is quite obviously good for us, it is good for our mood, motivation and energy, our metabolic and general health and wellbeing, and our brains. We are quite literally made to move and be active, and every system within the body relies upon doing so. But…more exercise and for longer duration is not necessarily the gold standard for weight management or all humans!

And for those of you who maybe don’t like ‘exercise’ or find no matter what exercise efforts you make you don’t lose weight, perhaps HIIT may be worth exploring. Here’s the dish on HIIT and why you need it in your life:

Studies in recent years have begun to show astounding and outstanding results! Scientists began to look at training interventions in athletes using high intensity interval training (short bursts of intense exercise followed by rest). These studies went on to show that just a few minutes of HIIT performed just 3 x week delivered improvements in line with hours of conventional exercise!

Here’s what they found and continue to find with further research:

  • HIIT gets you aerobically fit much faster.
  • HIIT improves insulin sensitivity faster than standard exercise, which means you need less Insulin to do the same job (the opposite of Insulin Resistance which is the precursor to Diabetes and Metabolic Disease)
  • HIIT is the most time efficient way to build muscle and lose body fat stores.

Check out this Case Study that delivered super interesting results:

An Australian study compared women who did either:

3 sessions of 40 minutes of moderate intensity cycling


3 sessions of 20 minutes of HIIT cycling which looked like 8 seconds hard effort and 12 seconds gentle effort, building up from 5 minutes to 20 minutes.

Both groups did this over 15 weeks.

At the end of the 15 weeks, both groups got fitter, but only the HIIT group lost weight, the more overweight they were, the more weight they lost and most importantly, lost fat from their stomach/belly region – this loss of abdominal fat also resulted in less insulin production (down 31%).

But how about this…the moderate intensity group put on weight!

So why does HIIT help you to lose body fat?

  • HIIT builds muscle which burns energy extremely effectively both during and after exercise.
  • HIIT delivers a natural stressor to the systems of the body, stimulating short term stress hormones which may promote fat burning (and the hormones effects are utilised by physical activity just as they are meant to in the stress response – think fight or flight).
  • Abdominal area has more receptors to these hormones stimulating the release of fat from fat cells.
  • HIIT has an appetite suppressing effect rather than appetite creating effect.

How to get some HIIT in your Life:

Circuit Style HIIT

  • Create or find a circuit style exercise session of 7-14 exercises – body weight or using weights, whatever you are familiar with.
  • If you do 7 exercises you will repeat them twice through. 14 exercises no repeat.
  • Rotate major muscle groups; lower body, then core, then legs…
  • Work for 30 seconds – as many reps as possible done safely.
  • Recover for 10 seconds.
  • Repeat for 7 minutes.

Circuit or Body Strength HIIT Ideas:

  • Sprinting short distances (if outside), skipping, step ups, Skiing, Criss Cross, Shuffles, High Knees, Butt kicks, Burpees, Bear crawls
  • Push Ups, Tricep Dips, Pull Ups, Dumbbell Press, Dumbbell row, Plank on hands, Plank on forearms, Side Plank on hands or forearms
  • Wall sit, Squats, Lunges, Sumo squats, Squat pulses, Dead lifts, Pelvic press (Bridge lifts)
  • Crunches, Criss Cross (abdominal cycling), Mountain climbers and variations, ½ Burpees

Running or Cardio Style HIIT

  • Possible activities: running, cycling, skipping, cross trainers, rowing, stair running, all done either in outdoor or indoor settings including stationary bikes and treadmills.
  • Gentle activity for 2-3 minutes to warm up.
  • Work hard at full effort for 10-30 seconds.
  • Recover for 2-4 minutes (shorter recovery for shorter effort and longer recovery for longer effort)
  • Repeat 2-4 x (seriously)

The 10 minute workout

  • Same activities as above.
  • 1 minute hard work (approx. 90% of best effort).
  • 1.5 minutes recovery.
  • Repeat this 3-10 x depending on fitness level and experience.

The 20 minute workout

  • Best suited to stationary bike.
  • Same resistance level on bike.
  • 8 seconds intense work.
  • 12 seconds recovery.
  • Repeat for 5 minutes and increase over time to 15 or 20 minutes.

The Family Fun versions:

One of my kids favourite games when they were younger was Octopus. I was ‘it’ in the middle of the lawn and they had to get past me!

  • Backyard cricket with tip and run!
  • Chasey with Mum being it (or Octopus)
  • Trampoline bouncing if pelvic floor can handle it!
  • One on one basketball

Key Message:

Historically people did not ‘exercise’. They were physically active all day just to live and survive. HIIT would have come in the form of effort and rest naturally interspersed through the day. Consider children who naturally do HIIT all day – they are fit, lean, and healthy. They run and stop, exert effort, and then relax and they do that through play.

HIIT has been shown to deliver super positive results in terms of fitness and weight management, particularly loss of body fat in the belly region. Rather than long duration moderate exercise, HIIT works on short bursts of intense activity – hard enough to make you puff and muscles burn – for 8-60 seconds followed by rest periods of 12 -90 seconds. These efforts are repeated 2-10 x depending on the activity and work time.

It is a time efficient and effective way to move your body.

So why don’t you get some HIIT into your life? Experiment with a month of doing 2-3 sessions a week of HIIT style training for just 7 minutes, perhaps building to 20 minutes into month two and three. You can even work HIIT into a daily walk!

And as well as HIIT, and perhaps more importantly, we must ensure that we keep active all day as much as possible.

  • Move as much as possible at every opportunity
  • Use a standing desk
  • Walk while talking on the phone
  • Have walking meetings
  • Sit on the floor
  • Avoid chairs for long periods
  • Alternate sitting with movement snacks (push ups or squats…)
  • Increase your steps per day, track how many you do
  • Walk as much as possible when going out, parking further away, using stairs.
  • Incorporate movement into your daily work; cleaning the house yourself, gardening, washing the car.

Good luck with and enjoy your HIIT sessions. They really do make an astounding difference to how you move and how your body responds to exercise. Your health and fitness may improve so dramatically that you will surprise yourself in the best way possible!

If you need help with building a HIIT session, please reach out.