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Why High Intensity Interval Training is Better

By Dr. Kristie

At one time, fitness gurus would tell you to get the benefits of exercise you need to work out for 30 minutes or more. Then studies came along showing you can get a cardiovascular workout in as little as 10 minutes if you work out at a high intensity. That’s when high-intensity interval training entered the scene and brief exercise became popular.

What is Interval Training?

The idea behind interval training is to alternate brief periods of very intense exercise (30 seconds to a minute) with periods of recovery (1 to 3 minutes). During the “active” intervals you give it your all-out effort and then allow yourself to recover so you could increase the intensity again and repeat the cycle.

But how effective is interval training? Studies show that 15 or 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training is more effective for burning fat than an hour of steady state cardio. There’s another bonus too. It works your most important muscle, your heart. So, these days there’s a movement away from long periods of cardio towards shorter, more intense training.

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Brief Exercise: Why High-Intensity Exercise is Better

The reason high-intensity exercise is more effective than steady state cardio for burning calories and fat is because of the after-burn effect. After-burn refers to the extra calories your body has to use after a high-intensity workout to fully recover and return to its normal equilibrium state.

When you plop down into your chair after a steady-state run, your metabolism slows down too. But after a high-intensity workout, it stays elevated for hours and even days after you finish. It feels good to know you’re still burning extra calories even after you’ve recovered and taken your shower!

There’s another problem with prolonged cardio. When you run or do steady-state cardio for an hour or more, it causes levels of the stress hormone cortisol to rise. After all, it IS stressful on your body to run for that long. The problem with cortisol is that is contributes to belly fat, and it breaks down muscle to get amino acids to use as fuel.

That’s why long distance runners usually look so scrawny. They’re in a battle with their cortisol levels to hold on to their muscle. It’s better to hang on to your muscle tissue and lose fat instead. High-intensity interval training helps you do that.

Pick Up the Intensity and Exercise Less

So, if you want to do brief exercise, high-intensity interval training is the way to do it. You can do it on almost any piece of cardio equipment including the elliptical machine, treadmill or cycle.

The key is to work as hard as you can during the working intervals by increasing the speed and resistance, and then slowing down to an easy pace for your chosen recovery period. You can get a great workout in 15 minutes of interval training. It’s brief exercise at its best.

Fifteen minutes of cardio is certainly an improvement over 30 minutes to an hour, which is what most people do. Give high-intensity cardio a try. It’s brief exercise at its best.

About the Author

She is a Medical Doctor with a concentration in Family Practice. She also has an undergraduate degree in both Biology and Psychology and masters in Clinical Pathology.


Exercise Physiology. Seventh Edition. Powers and Howley. 2009.



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Disclaimer: Articles not intended to Diagnose, Treat, Cure or Prevent Diseases.

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