Have you ever picked up a health magazine in the store nowadays and read what’s on the cover?
“Get your SUMMER ABS in 6 WEEKS!” “Lose TEN POUNDS in TEN MINUTES a day!” “How to train and LOOK like an Olympian!”
Any reading material you pick up promises you amazing results in little time.
With that said, high-intensity interval-training, or HIIT, has taken the fitness world by storm over the past decade. The older exercise recommendations of “moderate intensity for 30 minutes, a few days a week” have been replaced by “sprint your ass off for 10 minutes or less, whenever you’ve got time during your work-week”.
For the 9-to-5 guy (or gal), this new method has obvious benefits. In a world where people strive to do things more efficiently with their time, HIIT certainly fits the bill. How ironic is it, though, that with more efficient technology, we have less and less time in our lives. Hmm, maybe I’ll talk about that in another post…
Back to the matter at hand, HIIT is pretty much movement that exhausts your body more quickly than lower-level activity does, thus shortens the length of the workout. It involves of high-intensity exertion with a small amount of rest. Think sprinting, CrossFit, circuit-training, Tabata, and so on. What’s really great about this method of training is that it provides pretty nice results, even with the reduced amount of time. This study shows that fat-oxidation (“fat-burning”) was increased significantly for the participants that used HIIT.
Burn baby burn…
And if you’ve ever seen a dedicated CrossFitter, you know that his or her body shows some amazing results.
All-in-all, HIIT has its merits.
What about the regular Joe Schmoe who’s reached a plateau in his weight loss? Did his levels of fat-oxidation drop? Is his body at its peak body composition? Who the hell knows? Avoiding plateaus is a funky science, but it usually involves taking a few days off and changing up your workout program, or modifying your diet. When you’re at a low body-fat percentage and you can’t go lower, it’s usually not worth the effort or stress to keep up fat loss. At that point, why not just maintain and enjoy your results?
For those who want to break a plateau, maintain their current results, or even begin their fat loss, there’s one simple activity that may aid the process. It doesn’t require any special equipment, either. You can call it an amazing fat burning tool.
That’s right, walking! Simple and low-impact enough that it can be done every day! Check out this graph from Wikipedia.
Take a look at what I circled. Type I muscle fibers, which are used primarily in low-intensity exercise, use triglycerides as their main fuel. In other words, exercises like walking readily burn fat stored for fuel. Walking burns fat. Simple enough now?
Although walking doesn’t burn as many calories in the same time-frame as HIIT would, it’s something you can do for much longer without exhausting your body. Except for the seriously unconditioned, walking doesn’t hold the same risk for injury as other more intense exercises.
Honestly, what’s not to love about walking?
You must be saying “well doesn’t too much cardio make you fatter?” Well, this has been the “new science” that everyone’s claiming – it’s kind of complicated.
Go back to the chart above, and you can see that the muscle fibers used in moderate level activity (type II a and x) use glycogen for fuel. Glycogen is the storage-version of your body’s glucose. So, when you partake in typical “cardio”, such as riding a stationary bike or jogging, you burn off glycogen.
When you ride or run for a quite some time (let’s just say 30 minutes or longer), you deplete your muscles of glycogen, thus your blood-sugar divebombs, signaling your body to eat some carbohydrates (carbs to glucose to glycogen). In that case, some people have a feast due to post-workout hunger, and maybe take it a little too far, defeating the purpose of exercising. This turns into weight-gain.
On top of this is the risk of over-training, injuries, and increased cortisol, which could all wreak havoc on the body. If you want to read more about chronic cardio, check out this article by Mark Sisson, the author of the Primal Blueprint.
With walking, you get none of the crap. Hunger pangs won’t arise from walking and sabotage your diet. You won’t be too tired for the rest of the day after taking a nice stroll in the park. Hell, I’d imagine your HIIT-style workouts could improve from the increased blood-circulation from walking!
Walking, like a boss!
It’s worth a shot to experiment and see if walking works for your situation. But, as always, your mileage may vary.
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed walking “barefoot-style”. I use minimalist shoes that mimic shoeless walking. They’re called Vibram Five Fingers, and they’re fantastic. Check out the two models I wear: the the Vibram FiveFingers KomodoSports and the Vibram FiveFinegrs TrekSports.