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The Facts on Why Burst Training Beats Steady State Cardio


In a previous blog post Why Your Workout Could Be Making You Fat, LIVESTRONG.COM readers left more than 40 comments. I loved reading every single one. (Yes, even the comments from those of you who disagreed with me!) I heard you loud and clear when you asked for the studies proving that burst training is superior to steady state cardio. I will gladly share the details.

Why I'm Not a Fan of Endurance Exercise
According to Jim LaValle, RPh, CCN, long-term consequences for endurance athletes include increased cardiovascular risk, kidney damage, and profoundly altered endocrine systems.

Just as disturbing, a study in the journal Clinical Science found 93 percent of long-term endurance athletes had severe gut-related problems.

Endurance exercise also chronically elevates your stress hormone cortisol, which stores fat and breaks down muscle. Now, all exercise raises cortisol. But burst training also raises your anabolic (building) hormones like growth hormone (GH) to balance those cortisol levels.

Most people don't have enough spare hours in the day to run 10 miles or attend lengthy exercise classes. Burst training can provide impressive results without long-term damage in just minutes a day. Many studies I'll discuss praise the time-efficiency of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and find HIIT/burst training superior to endurance training.

What is Burst Training?
A study in Australian Family Physician defines burst training, also known as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), as "repeatedly exercising at a high intensity for 30 seconds to several minutes, separated by 1-5 minutes of recovery (either no or low-intensity exercise)."

If you don't own an X-iser, you can also get burst-training benefits on a hill, at your local park, in a mall or by climbing stairs in your office, hotel, or school. And yes, technology fans: you can even do burst training on a treadmill or elliptical machine.

Burst Training Makes You a Better Fat Burner
I tell clients "burst to blast fat." A study in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found HIIT an effective strategy for overweight women to burn fat more effectively because it demands post-exercise recovery. In other words, the more intense your exercise, the bigger metabolic cost you create when you're done. The metabolic recovery burst training demands burns more calories, particularly fat calories, post-exercise than low- or moderate-intensity exercise requires.

A study in the journal Metabolism assigned young adults to either a 20-week endurance training or 15-week HIIT program.

Guess who the "significantly greater" fat burners were?

Yep: Those who did HIIT.

Likewise, a study in the International Journal of Obesity found that young women doing HIIT three times a week over 15 weeks created "significant reductions in total body fat, subcutaneous leg and trunk fat, and insulin resistance" compared to steady state exercise.

You want results fast, right?

What's more, a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology showed moderately active women got impressive fat-burning benefits doing HIIT for just seven sessions over two weeks!

Burst Training Benefits Blood Sugar Issues
Impaired glucose metabolism can lead to insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. HIIT provides an efficient, effective way to control blood sugar levels.

A study in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders, looked at how HIIT could improve glycemic control and therefore blood sugar levels in young males. "The efficacy of a high-intensity exercise protocol, involving only a 250 calorie burn per week substantially improves insulin action in young sedentary subjects" researchers concluded.

A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that burst training could improve glucose control and metabolic function for people with Type 2 diabetes.

Other studies, like those in Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism and Diabetes Care, praised HIIT's time efficiency and effectiveness for people with Type 2 diabetes.

Burst Training Benefits Heart Health
HIIT improves cardiovascular health. A study in the American Journal of Human Biology found that compared with endurance training, HIIT proved a time-efficient way to boost cardiovascular health in adolescents.

Another study in the Journal of Strength Conditioning and Research found that HIIT "significantly enhanced VO2max and O2 pulse and power output in active men and women."

Other studies, such as one in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, also concluded that HIIT benefits heart health.

During my 25 years in the health and fitness fields, I've worked with numerous clients who struggled with weight-loss resistance. Burst training improved fat burning, reduced risk for diabetes and heart disease, and helped these clients get lean and toned in just minutes a day.

Many people express initial doubt. "Really?" they ask incredulously, "Could I really get results in just minutes a day?!?"

Yes, and I have the science to prove it.

I should add HIIT isn't easy. You really go all-out here. Bursting should leave you breathless and feeling the burn. If you're looking for fast and lasting fat loss without sacrificing hours of your day at the gym or running for miles, look for the nearest hill or stairs and literally step up your workout intensity.


Readers — Have you ever done burst training? What were your results? Do you prefer HIIT or doing steady-state cardio? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

Celebrity Nutrition & Fitness expert JJ Virgin is author of NY Times bestseller The Virgin Diet and the bestselling Six Weeks to Sleeveless and Sexy. She was also co-host of TLC's Freaky Eaters. JJ frequently blogs for The Huffington Post, LIVESTRONG.COM, and other prominent media outlets. She created the 4 x 4 Burst Training Workout and regularly appears on TV shows like Rachel Ray and The Today Show to discuss topics such as fast fat loss, weight loss, and food sensitivities.

Astorino TA, et al. Effect of high-intensity interval training on cardiovascular function, VO2max, and muscular force. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Jan;26(1):138-45. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318218dd77.

Babraj JA, et al. Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males. BMC Endocrine Disorders 2009, 9:3.

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Talanian JL, et al. Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. J Appl Physiol. 2007 Apr;102(4):1439-47.

Trapp EG, et al. The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Apr;32(4):684-91. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803781. Epub 2008 Jan 15.

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Van Dijk JW, et al. Exercise therapy in type 2 diabetes: is daily exercise required to optimize glycemic control? Diabetes Care. 2012 May;35(5):948-54. doi: 10.2337/dc11-2112. Epub 2012 Mar 7.

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