Let’s be honest: Weight loss is hard. This is true for everyone, but it’s especially true for women, who typically have more body fat and less muscle mass than men. As a result, we burn fewer calories while at rest. There’s also the matter of aging and fluctuating hormones during menopause, both of which can wreak havoc on fitness goals. Taken together, these make changing our body composition challenging.
There is, however, a trick to burn fat faster. Studies show that HIIT workouts supercharges fat loss and improves everything from sleep quality to heart health. Better still, it’s an expedited version of traditional cardio workouts, so it saves time. Read on for the scoop on these effective at-home workouts.
What is HIIT training?
According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a cardio workout that toggles between intense exercise (think: burpees, mountain climbers, etc.) and a timed cool-down period. There are many types of HIIT workouts: Tabata, for example, follows a “20 seconds on, 10 seconds off” format. The idea behind HIIT is that you push your cardiovascular and metabolic systems to their max in short bursts. When done correctly and in accordance with your fitness level, this triggers the “afterburn effect,” wherein you continue to burn calories even after your anaerobic workout is done.
What is the afterburn effect?
In scientific terms, the afterburn process is known as "excess post-exercise oxygen consumption" (EPOC). Translation: the amount of oxygen required to return the body to its resting metabolic rate.
Your body uses oxygen to produce fuel (also known as adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short), and your muscles use this fuel to fire up during exercise. However, muscles also use stored energy sources that don’t require extra oxygen. High-intensity interval workouts rely on the latter more than steady-state exercises and require more oxygen post-workout, as well. Both of these kickstart the afterburn effect, and are why the American Council on Exercise lists HIIT as the most effective exercise for this coveted afterburn effect.
How long does the afterburn effect last?
Numerous studies have tried to determine how long EPOC — or afterburn — can last during rest periods. The general consensus is that the effect peaks in the first hour following exercise and continues up to 72 hours. This means that your body could keep burning extra calories for as long as three days after a HIIT session.
What are the benefits of HIIT workouts?
In addition to being an excellent way to achieve the afterburn effect, HIIT provides the following benefits.
It can lead to speedy fat loss.
Aiming to burn fat and build muscle quickly, particularly around your midsection? Consider a 10-minute HIIT workout. A study in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that those who participated in a HIIT strength training program achieved similar body composition and aerobic capacity results in about half the time as those who followed a moderate-intensity routine.
It saves time.
Between household chores, caring for family and friends, and responding to emails and texts, finding even short periods of time to work out can be tough. Fortunately, HIIT provides an efficient workout that can be knocked out in a matter of minutes: no personal trainer or gym membership required. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT workouts have benefits comparable to endurance training (think: cycling and jogging), and they can be achieved in a much shorter amount of time.
It boosts cognitive function.
Believe it or not, studies show that regular HIIT exercise can support memory, make you more alert, and sharpen everyday decision-making. This is likely due to the fact that HIIT improves blood flow to both the working muscles and the brain.
It promotes quality sleep.
Struggling to summon the Sandman? Consistent HIIT workouts may be able to help. A 2021 review showed that high-intensity interval training performed for at least eight weeks can “significantly improve sleep quality.” What’s more, completing HIIT at least three times a week was associated with less time spent lying awake in bed. Of course, exercise in general is often associated with improved sleep, but if you’re looking to snooze like a baby, HIIT is the way to go.
It supports a healthy heart.
Another major benefit of HIIT is that it supports a healthy ticker. According to several studies, HIIT workouts are extremely effective in reducing resting heart rate and blood pressure — both of which promote cardiovascular health. Recent research also shows that HIIT can promote healthy glucose control, which is especially good news, as high blood sugar can cause extensive damage to the cardiovascular system if left unchecked.
Which HIIT workouts are best for women?
Ready to hop on the HIIT bandwagon and burn calories like never before? Grab your water and keep reading. These are some of the best HIIT workouts for women.
Dealing with achy-breaky joints? Skip the treadmill and opt for a stationary bike. According to a 2021 review published in Clinical Rehabilitation, exercising on stationary bikes improved function and lessened pain in those with knee osteoarthritis. So if knee pain is making you blue, consider doing your HIIT workout on a stationary bike. Here’s how:
Using a stationary bike, pedal as hard and fast as possible for 30 seconds. Then, pedal at a slow, comfortable pace for two to three minutes. Repeat this pattern for 20 minutes.
New to HIIT? This is a simple but effective lower-body workout that you can do easily from the comfort of your home.
For roughly 60 seconds, perform jump squats as fast as you can. Then, walk it off for 90 seconds as you catch your breath. Repeat this pattern for 10 minutes. (If knees, bones, or joints are an issue, squat without jumping. To increase intensity, assume the squat position while holding a dumbbell or kettlebell.)
To mix things up in your high-intensity, fat-burning workout, hit the pool. Swimming is a fantastic low-impact workout that can burn tons of calories when executed in HIIT format.
Swim at full speed for 30 seconds before adopting an easy pace for three minutes. Repeat the pattern for up to five cycles.
Burpees are a challenging calisthenics exercise that burns fat while working many of the body’s major muscle groups. They’re a hybrid of push-ups, jumping jacks, and holding the plank position, a hard-hitting combination that works triceps, glutes, and more. When incorporated into a HIIT workout, they torch calories and build endurance and muscle strength in both the lower and upper body.
Beginners should complete 20 seconds of burpees followed by 40 seconds of rest. Repeat this pattern for eight to 10 minutes.
Can’t make it to the gym? Running low on time? Want to get in a quick workout on your lunch break? Throw on your sneakers and hit the pavement, no warm-up required.
Sprint as fast as you can for 20 seconds. Then, jog at a slow pace for one minute. Repeat this cycle for 15 minutes.
The Final Word
And there you have it: Five effective HIIT workouts for people looking to burn fat efficiently. Whether you’re new to the gym or a long-time member, high-intensity interval training is a great way to torch calories and improve your overall body composition. Just be sure to drink plenty of water to keep dehydration at bay and stretch before starting your workout to prevent cramps and muscle spasms. It’s also wise to consult with your primary healthcare provider prior to starting a new fitness routine such as HIIT, especially if you have an underlying health condition or existing injury.