Updated: Feb 22, 2019
There are 2 major ways how we can expend calories through physical activity:
So working out hard is a hit (pun intended) now. I spend a lot of time studying the HIIT concept and experimenting it and started pushing for this style of training since 1998 when everybody else then was still doing the 'slow aerobics for fat burning' (because they said fat burning starts only after 20 mins and fat burns at low-intensity. The theory in itself isn't wrong but the application for effective weight loss is flawed). As a matter of fact, my title for my Master's Thesis was called 'High Intensity Interval Training for Weight Loss in Overweight Women'.
HIIT (not to be confused with the High Intensity Training (HIT) weight method popularised by Dr Ellington Darden in the 90s although the underlying principles are the same: shorter but harder workouts) is so powerful because of its potential to burn maximum calories in a minimum amount of time. In addition to that, the body continues to burn calories via EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption or 'after burn') process. When this happens, your RMR goes up. This is something you can't achieve doing something else (any physical activity that isn't high intensity in nature).
The whole idea of HIIT is that you do short periods of all-out work followed by short periods of active rest/recovery to make the body work harder. To make it easier to understand it is basically an 'easy hard easy hard and so on' workout.
Now that many people are realising the awesome benefits of HIIT, every gym and trainers in every corner are starting implementing it. The problem is, most do not understand the underlying principle behind it, its protocols, applications nor limitations, and as a result, harmful outcome arise when they practice it or from training others.
Many HIIT alike programs are also easily available (some for free) on the internet (including 'insanity', 'p90x', crossfit etc which technically are misrepresenting HIIT or so people think they are) and that's where the problem lies.
Engaging of such cheap/free stuff do come with a hefty price tag in other forms. While these programs are high intensity in nature, fun and effective to do but tend to overwork and under rest the exercisers. Further, they are also not personalized. Many people I know have developed injuries, fallen sick (due to drop in immunity), burned out, extreme soreness and fatigue from following such mindless extreme random routines which do not take into account your personal skill, activities, health/fitness, diet/hydration etc levels.
At our studio, we have integrated the above 2 as part of normal strength training routines so clients get the best of many worlds: burn calories; increased muscle mass that boost RMR, build shape and prevent/rehab from injuries.
Be sane when you exercise. Insanity is for insane people.
For more info on HIIT read:
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1) Levine JA, Schleusner SJ, Jensen MD. Energy expenditure of non exercise activity. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(6):1451–4.