There was a time when I, like so many others, thought that to get the most benefit from exercise, I had to work out constantly. But as more and more research came out on the relationship between weight loss and exercise, I began to realize that simply wasn’t true.

I see women in my practice all the time who still think they have to spend hours at the gym for exercise to have any impact on their weight. But here’s a funny thing — sometimes, the more they exercise, the less they lose! There are so many reasons why this could happen, but a lot of it relates to weight loss resistance. Something has gone wrong in the messaging system within, and their bodies are receiving a “danger, starvation is coming” signal. The more calories they burn, the more their body holds on tight to stored fat.

If a woman has weight loss resistance, dropping pounds may prove difficult no matter what she tries. And eating less or exercising more only exacerbates the problem. Luckily, there’s a better way! Interval training can kick your metabolism into high gear, and get the numbers on that scale moving again. Let’s take a look at how.

What is Interval Training?

It’s important to remember that there is no one perfect way to exercise. Personally, I adore ballroom dancing. But I have friends who can’t imagine learning all the steps or being in such close contact with another person to get a workout in. That’s okay — there are plenty of other great choices!

Interval training is exactly what it sounds like. While steady state cardio workouts have you moving at a consistent speed throughout, with interval training you’ll go hard in short bursts, and then ease up for a period of time.

Research has found that interval workouts burn more calories over a short period of time. A 2011 review of research concluded that high intensity interval training increases fitness, has a significant impact on insulin sensitivity, and shows promising effects on abdominal fat loss. A more recent review comparing impact of HIIT to moderate intensity continuous training showed similar results, indicating that HIIT can be a great alternative for individuals with limited time to work out.

Interval Training Can Be An Essential Component for Weight Loss

I want to be clear here – I am not suggesting that cardio training or strength (weight) training are not important to a healthy lifestyle. All three types of exercise have pros and cons, and finding the right balance can be essential in meeting your own fitness goals.

What you are eating is even more important than exercise when it comes to losing weight, so it’s crucial that you’re following a healthy diet as you explore the best type of exercise for you. Research has shown that diet plus exercise has a much larger impact than either in isolation.

One of the most frequent excuses I hear from women about why they aren’t exercising is that they simply don’t have the time. But with interval training, you don’t need a lot of time. Just 20 minutes a few times a week can spur your body into fat burning mode. That’s just one reason interval training is so valuable. Let’s take a quick look at some others.

What Are Some Other Benefits of Interval Training?

  • Most exercise can be done in intervals. If you already have a favorite exercise, you can usually adapt it to become interval training. You simply have to work harder for a short burst, followed by a period of lower intensity. So whether you run, row, bike, dance, do aerobics, or something else, the variety of speed is the key to making it an interval workout.
  • Interval training burns more calories. Not only will you burn more calories while you’re participating in the exercise, but interval training keeps your metabolism working more efficiently for several hours afterwards. That means that even after you’ve put your running shoes away and settled down at your desk to work, your body is burning fat.
  • Interval training improves cardiovascular fitness. There’s quite a bit of research that details the cardiovascular benefits of HIIT. A 2016 study showed that HIIT led to the same improvement as continuous cardiovascular exercise with far less time investment. The HIIT consisted of just three ten-minute sessions per week on a stationary bicycle where three 20 second “full on” sprints were followed by two-minute recovery periods, while the continuous sessions were three forty-five minute sessions at moderate intensity. That’s six hours of exercise instead of 27 hours over the course of 12 weeks!
  • Interval training builds strength. While much of the focus on HIIT has centered around cardio exercise, research indicates that interval resistance training can also build strength more effectively than working at a single rate. A new study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise showed that not only was a high intensity resistance training routine more time effective, but it built as much – and sometimes even more – strength than a traditional weight lifting routine.
  • HIIT boosts mood. HIIT has been shown to have a positive impact on mood as well. One review of research indicated that HIIT can have improve the mental health and well-being of people with schizophrenia. Another study showed that high intensity exercise was superior to moderate or no exercise in reducing stress and anxiety.
  • You can do it anywhere – no equipment necessary! One of the great things about interval training is that travelling doesn’t have to interrupt your exercise routine. You can do intervals while swimming, running, walking, biking, even just climbing stairs! And there’s no need to pack heavy weights or other special equipment – your own body is all you need.

Is All Interval Training the Same Intensity?

Interval training is flexible and adaptable to whatever level you are at. If you are just beginning to exercise, your high intensity work won’t – and shouldn’t – be as rigorous as someone who has been working out for years. There are no hard and fast rules about length or speed of the high-intensity intervals. You can even vary them depending on how you feel on a particular day. It’s all up to you!

Of course, if you are working towards a specific goal, you may want a more specific plan. A personal trainer or other expert can help you design the right interval length and intensity based on that goal.

Now That I Understand Interval Training Where Should I Start?

Having so much freedom can make it difficult for some women to get started, so let me give you 3 great ideas for adding interval training to your exercise routine.

1. Alternate Walk/Jog or Run/Sprint

This is one of the easiest ways to get started interval training. If you haven’t been doing any exercise, start with a walk, then do a burst of jogging, before returning to a walk. You can time the intervals, use an app to keep you on task, or simply pick landmarks – walking between two or three telephone poles, then jogging to the next one. If you’ve already been running regularly, you can change up your workout by adding intervals of full out sprints.

2. Skipping Rope

You’ll need to have a jump rope for this one, but they’re small enough to take with you anywhere, and the activity just might have you feeling like a kid again. You can vary the exercise by jumping in different ways – one foot, two feet, or running as the rope turns.

3. Take the Stairs

If you’re struggling to find time to fit in any exercise at all, try using the environment you’re already in. If you work in a multi-level office building, try hitting the stairwell at lunch time — just ten minutes a couple times per week of climbing up or down in short bursts can make a big difference. And you won’t even need to change into workout gear!

Important Things to Remember

Interval training is effective, but it’s not magic. If you don’t have your diet under control, no exercise plan will help you lose the weight you want. As long as you are filling your body with processed foods and sugar, you probably won’t see the change you are hoping for.

You should check with your healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen. And some people with chronic health conditions shouldn’t do interval training, so be sure to talk through any pre-existing conditions with your doctor before you get started.

It’s also important to remember that your body needs plenty of recovery after putting it through a high intensity workout. You should only do HIIT two or three times per week, on non-consecutive days, if you are pushing as hard as you can.

Finding Exercise You Love is the Key to Sticking With It

There’s one last thing you should keep in mind: if you hate the exercise you’re doing, you are far less likely to stick with it. That’s why adapting something you’re already enjoying can be so valuable when it comes to trying interval training. Don’t be afraid to try something new, but if you find it’s not right for you, remember that there are plenty of other options. Grab a friend, get out there, and try just a few short minutes of high intensity training today to jumpstart your weight loss and feel great!