If you want to build muscle, then you need to cause muscle damage and metabolic stress. By lifting weights, you can cause a build-up of damage and this will provide precisely the stimulation you need to trigger muscle growth during rest.
To lose fat, improve your fitness and get better health though, you need to use cardiovascular training.
Cardiovascular training is any type of training that involves exerting yourself for an extended period of time. Very often this will mean running long distances, with jogging being perhaps the most popular form of cardio training. Not far behind though are swimming, cycling, skipping, rowing and others.
Traditionally, this kind of cardiovascular training has been ‘steady state’. That means that you put on your running shoes, you step out of the door and you run for about 40-60 minutes. It’s steady state because you are maintaining a steady level of exertion throughout the course of the exercise. In this case you are jogging at a set pace and then maintaining that pace.
For a long time, this was thought to be the very best way to burn the maximum number of calories and to improve fitness – and there was good theory behind why this should be the case. Specifically, it was thought that there was an optimal ‘fat burning zone’ and that this could be found at roughly 70% of your maximum heartrate.
This makes sense in theory, seeing as faster than 70% of your MHR would put you past your ‘anaerobic threshold’. In other words, you would be running so fast, that you wouldn’t be able to rely on your aerobic energy system for fuel: you simply couldn’t burn fat quickly enough and so you would be forced to rely on energy stored in your muscles as ATP and glycogen.
It would appear to make sense then, that running at 70% of your MHR and maintaining the maximum pace at which the body burns fat, should result in the maximum weight loss.
But this isn’t what modern research has found.
HIIT stands for ‘High Intensity Interval Training’ and it completely turns this concept on its head. In HIIT you actually alternate between bursts of intense exertion (such as sprinting) and periods of relative low intensity exercise (like jogging or power walking). This way, you are switching from your anaerobic energy system to your aerobic system and back; switching between burning energy stored in your blood and muscles and energy stored as fat.
But what makes this so effective is what happens after the anaerobic training. When you exert yourself maximally by sprinting or exercising otherwise at 100%, you deplete any energy that might have been available from sources other than fat. This then means that following that, your body can only burn fat for energy – there is no other option remaining.
Thus, the you will then burn even more fat during the aerobic portions of the exercise. And when you finish and go home, you will continue to burn fat stores because you’ll still be low on stored glycogen. This is what some people refer to as the ‘after burn effect’ and it means that after an intensive session of HIIT, you can continue to burn more calories for the entire remainder of the day!
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