You think you’re doing everything that you’re supposed to be doing to lose weight. You’re eating right, and you’ve been diligent with your workout routine — running, jogging, hiking or swimming multiple times a week for hours at a time and yet, you aren’t seeing much difference. That extra fat is sticking around, and you don’t understand why.
There could be multiple reasons why your body is holding on to stubborn fat, including diet and body chemistry, but for some individuals it could be the type of physical activity you’ve been partaking in.
Different workouts or sports fall into different categories. Broadly, aerobic and anaerobic. When practicing aerobic exercises, you will raise your heart and breathing rate to an elevated, yet sustainable level. Think jogging or hiking.
On the other hand, anaerobic exercises are comprised of short, intense bursts of exertion that raise your heart and breathing rates very rapidly and to very high levels. During anaerobic exercises, you exert large amounts of energy for short periods of time. Typical anaerobic exercises include sprinting and weightlifting.
You may have heard the term “HIIT” when referencing a type of workout. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This is an anaerobic style of workout that has taken the exercise world by storm. In its truest form, it is comprised of short bursts of exercise followed by short — and often timed — rest periods. You go all out, rest, then go all out again. Best of all, you don’t need any complicated equipment, and you can typically do these workouts anywhere.
In this type of training, many trainers emphasize the importance of the rest period. This time allows the heart rate to settle and prepare yourself for the next set of high intensity. An example of a HIIT workout would be ten repetitions of a 100-yard sprint with two-minute breaks between. There are many variations available online, like this 10-minute intensive fat burner. The entire exercise may only take around 20 minutes, but the intensity of it will leave most people exhausted. For an advanced challenge, check out this HIIT workout that only takes seven minutes. Here is an example of a 10-minute beginner’s HIIT workout done in three rounds of 20 seconds’ work and 10 seconds’ rest, courtesy of Daily Burn:
Jab, cross, front (right side): Stand with the right foot in front of the left, hips facing to your left side. Bring your arms up into a boxing position. Jab (punch) forward with the right arm, then throw a “cross” punch with the left arm, letting your body rotate as your left arm crosses over your body to the right. Your bodyweight should be over your right foot, with your back heel picking up off the floor slightly. Bring both arms back into the body, shifting your weight back to the starting position and facing front. (This is the “front” move.) Repeat on the left side.
Jumping jacks: Start by standing upright with your feet hip-width apart and your arms at your sides. Jump your feet out while raising your arms. Repeat as fast as possible. If a regular jumping jack is too difficult, step side to side while raising your arms instead.
Sumo squats: Position your feet a little more than hip-width apart and point your toes out at a 45-degree angle. Keeping your weight in your heels, back flat and chest upright, lower yourself until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Engage your glutes and quads and push back to the start position. Repeat.
Cool down with an overhead stretch, reverse lunge and forward fold.
Practicing HIIT or anaerobic workouts are thought to break down fat faster and more effectively than a simpler cardio or endurance-based training program, and many individuals do have success with it. And researchers have found is that simply practicing one type of workout routine can plateau your progress and dampen your enthusiasm. Because aerobic and anaerobic exercises require your body to react in different ways, it could be that the most effective workout routine would be a combination of both.
Aerobic exercise increases cardiorespiratory fitness and efficiency as well as trains the body and respiratory system to be able to last longer in endurance events or exercises. Also, according to the American Council on Exercise, aerobic workouts “enhance [the] ability to use fat as an efficient fuel source, which reserves muscle glycogen to be used for higher intensity exercise.” So, by doing aerobic workouts, you are preparing yourself for greater success in your anaerobic workouts.
What can be challenging with aerobic exercise for weight loss is that because you burn calories more slowly, it can take much longer for you to hit the desired caloric outflow. Conversely, HIIT exercises can be helpful for people attempting to lose fat because the intensity of the workout allows you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time. It can stimulate the production of hormones associated with fat loss. And HIIT is especially appealing to people who get bored with longer workouts.
On the other hand, because HIIT workouts push your body to its limits, it can be rougher on the body and mind than aerobic or endurance workouts. Also, practicing HIIT or purely anaerobic workouts over an extended period can end up making it more challenging for your muscles to recover from each workout.
At the end of the day, the old sayings ring true. Practice everything in moderation. In workouts, creating variety by combining aerobic and anaerobic exercises can help you not only improve your respiratory function, lower overall blood pressure and increase physical fitness, but also help you lose weight and remain engaged in your workouts.
Tailoring your workout to your body is the most effective way to get into the shape you want to be in. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A personalized assessment from your doctor can determine the best fitness routine for you and extend your athletic quest. Find an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist at the Providence Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.