Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday Weight Gain Takes a HITT

by Carmin Iadonisi, N.D, E.P.
Adjunct Professor, School of Health Sciences 
I don't think anyone can argue that most people gain weight between Thanksgiving and New Years.  It used to be assumed that the average holiday weight gain was between 5-10 pounds. This estimate was a little high as newer research has found that the amount of weight gained is probably closer to 1- 2 pounds.  Either way, I want to talk about an exercise technique that involves exercising "less" to help you lose more.  

The technique I am talking about is called High Intensity Interval Training or "HITT" for short.  It involves high intensity intervals of cardiovascular exercise interspersed between sets of moderate intensity rest periods. Why change your cardio workout in the first place?  Go to any gym and you will see most people doing the same steady state cardiovascular workouts week after week.  An example of steady state training is when someone does the same intensity or heart rate percentage for example 4.0 mph on a treadmill for a set time such as 30 minutes with no change in speed or incline. 

The benefit to this type of training is that it burns calories while you are working out and it improves heart health. (It also feels good to do any type of sustained movement.)  The calorie burn is actually smaller than most people guess for the amount of time and work put into it.  For example, walking for 30 minutes can burn a miniscule 150 calories depending on your body weight. (To give you an idea what 150 calories equates to in food- one large bagel is almost 350 calories.)  So why do HITT training?
HITT training involves training at  a much higher intensity for a shorter duration.  A sample HITT workout may include  a 5 minute warm-up followed by eight 30 second intervals at 90-95% of your max heart rate with rest intervals between each interval where you train at approximately 50% of max heart rate. This is followed by a 5 minute cool-down. Total workout time is 18 minutes. So is there a major difference in the amount of calories burned when you do HITT training vs steady state training?   Interestingly, because HITT training is of shorter duration, the answer is "not really".  You may burn 200-250 calories depending on the intensity levels, so you have to ask yourself is 100 calories really worth the increaed workload?  Well, the story gets a little more complicated...
It turns out that HITT training creates something called EPOC which stands for Excess Post Exercise Consumption which basically means that you burn extra calories for up to 24 hours post HITT training. This is a major difference between the two types of training. When you stop steady state training- you stop burning calories. HITT creates this afterburn effect and it has been found to increase VO2 max, which means it makes your body more efficient at using oxygen.  (Another great benefit- since it builds a better athlete.) Finally, studies have found that  HITT training helps the body burn fat better than steady state training.  So if you only have limited time and you want to fight that holiday weight gain- why not give HITT training a try?


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