Along with the beautiful Melbourne weather, January instils a new sense of purpose and vigour to exercisers everywhere. New Year’s resolutions are still fresh and hope is very much alive. And with all this comes the inevitable influx of runners hitting the pavement to work off that excess holiday weight. Head down to the Tan and you’ll see waves and waves of them sweating it out with long gruelling cardio runs, attempting to notch up K’s on the belt. No one really enjoys it, most would prefer to be somewhere else, but it’s the only way right? Cardio training = weight loss?

Before I go ahead and challenge this long held belief, let’s first examine why this training method has been ingrained in exercise folklore. The premise of cardio training is based on two facets of human physiology. Firstly, when working at a moderate pace (slow jog) we tend to utilize a greater percentage of fat for energy (sometimes contentiously labelled as the “fat-burning zone”). And secondly, when doing cardio we’re able to maintain a moderate pace for a longer period of time, therefore burning more calories in total (compared to working at a higher intensity which burns more calories but can only be maintained for a short period). It seems to makes sense.

But if cardio works so well, then why all the fuss? Put simply, it doesn’t work. Sure it can help, but it’s terribly inefficient in both time and effort. It’s true that we burn more calories doing cardio, but the problem is we actually tend to conserve energy post workout whilst also eating more, effectively undoing all of our good work. Add to this an increased release of cortisol which is responsible for storing fat around our belly and you have the perfect recipe for another repeat of failed New Year’s resolutions.  Sounding like a familiar story?

Enter High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The answer to all your problems (almost). HIIT involves working at maximal effort for a brief period followed by a rest to let your body recover before going hell for leather again. Work intervals are short (somewhere between 30 seconds and 3 minutes) and repeated up to 8-10 times. In the past few years a number of studies have looked at comparing HIIT with traditional long duration cardio with HIIT coming up trumps. Benefits are across the board, ranging from improvements in weight loss and body composition, all the way to insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular health. Best of all, not only is it more effective it also takes only a fraction of the time. So how does this ‘too good to be true’ training method work? Most put the benefits down to an upregulation of your metabolism following the workout, which simply means we continue to burn energy for hours after. There is also a likely suppression of appetite involved, so no more undoing your hard fought gains with a post workout binge.

So the natural question to all this is how can you shake up your own exercise regimen and implement this type of training to help lose weight, feel better and get in the best shape of your life? Three steps.

1. Get on down to your KX Pilates studio and book into a class. Along with other training principles, the unique brand of dynamic Pilates we offer at KX was designed around this very idea. Periods of hard work interspersed with lighter ‘rest’ intervals. So when your trainer asks you to hold that squat for 10 more seconds you’ll know that it’s not just his way of inflicting torture but rather scientific craft in action.

2. Along with the body shaping workouts we offer at KX, I also recommend supplementing with some sprint training to really get your heart rate up. Now I know we’re not all built to run (let alone sprint) so the good news is that this can easily be done on a stationary bike, or even a cross trainer. Here’s how: Start with 1:1 intervals of work to rest, this means cycling/running/cross training for a minute followed by resting for a minute. During the work phase you’ll be going at a moderately high pace. As your body gets used to these efforts bump up the intensity and increase the rest, something around 1:3. This will look something like an all-out effort for 30 seconds, followed by a rest for 90 seconds. The total workout time should be somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes.  Confused? Don’t worry, the numbers don’t really matter, this is all about the intensity, so just make sure the sprints actually look like a sprint (bright red face, panting, legs/arms flailing) and not just a walk in the park.

3. Rest and recover. The high intensity nature of these workouts means your body’s going to need a little bit extra love and attention. This means plenty of sleep and adequate nutrition. The normal recommendations of 7-8 hours of sleep bumps up to 8-9 in the face of HIIT. Also, consumption of post workout carbs is a must (help yourself to the fruit bowl after your next class), likewise some protein will help ensure adequate muscle recovery and repair.

Now before I let you go out and do something you’ll regret let me leave you with this disclaimer. Please, please please take it slowly as you start; this is designed to be progressive program. And if you’re unsure about training loads and intensities, book in a session with one of your trainers or even shoot me an email at [email protected]

I hope this has helped and given you another tool to fight the dreaded holiday bulge. If you do give it a go, let us know how you went by leaving a comment below.

Happy training.