When it comes to weight loss there is one tried and true method: burn more calories than you consume. Despite this truism, so many of us look for loopholes in our weight loss contract that will allow us to burn more calories when we’re not exercising.
In an effort to increase resting metabolism thus more calorie burning, many dieters are looking to interval training for a boost. But, does interval training really cause such a huge caloric after burn that it’s better than other forms of fat burning exercise?
Keep reading to find out the truth about this calorie burning myth!
What IS Interval Training?
Although ‘interval training’ sounds complicated it isn’t. The easiest way to understand interval training is that it is bursts of activity with intervals of light activity that allows you to recover slightly before the next high energy activity. Ok so maybe it’s a little more complicated than it sounds, but when put in action its not quite so difficult.
Runners often do interval training to help improve performance and speed, but not so much for calorie burning. Run for a predetermined distance, then jog just long enough to recover, and start running again. See, that isn’t so complicated, is it?
Why Does It Burn MORE?
There are many reasons that interval training is the go-to exercise regimen for athletes and regular fitness buffs alike but there is one main reason: calorie burning. There’s no doubt that interval training burns a lot of calories during exercise, but the question is what effect does it have on a metabolism at rest?
We’ll get to that in a minute, but now let’s talk a little more about why interval training can be beneficial for weight loss. One of the reasons I like interval training is that it keeps me involved—actively involved—in my workout routine. By switching up the exercises and not focusing on one movement at a time I am always paying attention to what I’m doing. Not to mention I look forward (most of the time) to see what exercises I’ll do next!
Interval training burns calories, according to the Mayo Clinic because it improves aerobic activity, which means you can exercise harder and longer. The more intensely you workout the more calories you will burn, which is always a recipe for successful weight loss.
Because of this oft misunderstood aspect of interval training, personal trainers, dieters, bloggers and fitness gurus have turned to high-intensity interval training also known as HIIT.
In order to understand this myth that you burn an insane amount of calories by performing interval training, you have to understand HIIT.
High intensity interval training is an intense form of cardiovascular exercise, so intense in fact that the theory behind it is that your metabolism will be working in overdrive burning calories to recover from the intensity. This in turn is supposed to lead to a massive calorie burn after each workout.
How? Well according to the theory behind HIIT is that you take in far more oxygen by recovering from high intensity interval training than you would by recovering from a traditional workout done at a steady rate for the duration of the workout. This means you could burn some serious calories—nine times more calories according to fitness specialist Jeff Bayer—at rest, than if you’d performed your standard moderate pace running, cycling or swimming exercises.
A study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology however, that excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) that helps boost post-workout calorie burning during rest periods, is very short lived. Although this study was done using women only, the results showed a much higher oxygen uptake in the half hour after the workout but found no significant differences at the 60 minute marker.
The Math Behind the Myth
Ok so now that you know enough about interval training in general and high intensity interval training specifically, it’s time to address why this myth persists.
First the obvious reason is that we’re all looking for a way to boost calorie burning at rest, whether we rely on HIIT or fat burning foods. The truth is that high intensity interval training does help burn tons of calories for weight loss, however the jury is still out on how many additional calories are burned at rest compared to other exercises.
Unfortunately when you look at the science (and math) behind this super calorie burning myth you’ll see that those numbers don’t exactly bear out. According to a 2011 study in the Journal of Obesity, EPOC comprises approximately 6 to 15% of the net total exercise oxygen output. This means that yes HIIT is effective at burning more calories, thus fat, during exercise rather than after exercise.
This doesn’t mean that you won’t experience some additional fat burning while your body is at rest enjoying a little primetime television; it just means that you won’t burn as many calories as HIIT proponents would have you believe. And what’s more; the fitter you are the faster your body will recover, which means less EPOC and fewer calories burned at rest.
So according to those pesky scientists if you burn 850 calories during a high intensity interval training session, the best you can hope for is an additional 128 calories burned. Now that’s nothing to turn your nose up at, but it’s also not a spectacular amount of calories that will truly expedite your weight loss goals.
Interval Training: All Bad?
None of this means that interval training or high intensity interval training is something you should avoid because as we’ve learned it is a massive calorie burner. But if you’re expecting to burn hundreds of additional calories due to EPOC, then you should stick to your traditional workout.
HIIT sessions are incredibly intense, at times, which is part of the reason it is an amazing fat burner. But for those who aren’t normally physically active, the intense sessions may be too much at first. However the periods of moderate activity allow you to recover slightly before the next round of intense exercise.
The fact is that you can burn the same amount of calories by performing an exercise that you can sustain for a long period of time so you can burn as many calories as possible during the exercise session. HIIT can be a grueling way to get fit, which may make you less likely to commit to an exercise regimen compared to an hour on the treadmill or bike or even in the pool.
Don’t succumb to the post-workout pig out that delays weight loss; read our review of Eat Stop Eat to see how intermittent fasting can help you curb your appetite for greater fat loss!