Interval Training for Weight Loss

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Filed Under: Exercise
Last Reviewed 04/15/2014

Interval Training for Weight Loss

Before and after the holidays, there’s always a big push to start an exercise program to work off extra pounds. If you’re headed down that path, you’ll be far more successful if you use what’s called an interval exercise program rather than strictly aerobic exercises.

Aerobic exercise has its place, and I’ve talked about the benefits gained from something as simple as walking three times a week. But for maximum weight loss, and particularly fat loss, you’ll do best incorporating a program whereby you use interval training instead of a constant, lower-intensity exercise like walking, jogging, or biking.

Studies have found, for example, that an interval exercise program, in which individuals exercised for 2 minutes at 97 percent of their maximum heart rate (MHR) followed by a recovery period of 3 minutes of low intensity exercise, burned the same amount of calories as a program of aerobic exercise in which participants maintained 70 percent of MHR for the entire time. The difference in fat-burning, however, was dramatically different with the two forms of exercise.

Most studies have found that the calories burned using the different forms of exercise were about the same, or even less among the interval exercisers. The surprising finding, however, was that interval exercises increased the presence of fat-burning enzymes; fat loss was up to 9 times higher, and the fat-burning effects continued for 24 hours.

It’s really easy to put this research to practical use in your own life.

If your exercise routine consists of walking, jogging, or biking at a steady pace each day, all you need to do is add short intervals of higher-intensity walking, jogging, or biking in your routine. For example, instead of walking at the same pace for 30 minutes, try walking at your normal pace for about 5 or 6 minutes, then speed up your pace to a full-speed walk for 2½ to 3 minutes, then go back to the normal pace. (Whatever exercise you’re doing, the higher-intensity phase should be for about half the time as the normal, slower, “resting” phase.) You’ll be surprised at the difference in fat loss that can occur.

For those individuals who choose walking as their form of exercise, using walking poles can help you increase your heart rate to the desired level. As you push off with the poles, you’re involving upper body muscles as well as those of the lower body.

In addition to improving fat loss, interval exercise is also better for conditioning the heart and improving overall circulation. Lower-intensity, long-duration aerobic exercises like walking and jogging are generally thought to be the best exercise for protecting or rehabilitating the heart and circulation system. A more effective program, however, is interval training and the anaerobic benefits that accompany it.

With interval training you transition back and forth between aerobic and anaerobic states. The research above shows that more fat is used as fuel when you do so.

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Now It's Your Turn: What effects have you seen after a program of interval training?

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