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Why don't I burn fat despite using HIIT?

Why don't I burn fat despite using HIIT?
In the first part of this article I will refer to few studies questioning the efficiency of interval training. Many of them provoke conclusions, which may be also useful for professional sports people who have significant muscle mass (e.g. powerlifters, bodybuilders). In one of the experiments from 2014 [1], 12 weeks of interval training in the group of 38 adult people did not cause the expected results.

Paradoxically, only the group of constant work (aerobics) reduced their level of body fat by 2.6 +/- 1.1%, whereas, the HIIT group noticed the increase of body fat by 0.3 +/- 0.6%, and the placebo group increased the level of body fat by 0.7 +/- 1.0%. The amount of body fat in trunk decreased by 3.1 +/- 1.6% in the aerobic group, by 1.1 +/- 0.4% in the placebo group and in the HIIT group there was the increase of the level of body fat in trunk by 0.7 +/- 1.0%.

The explanation of the “miracle”?

First of all: the interval group was simply lazy! In the first week its participants did intervals in the following proportions: work for 30 seconds, rest for as much as 180 seconds. At the end, in weeks 5-12, the participants did intervals in the proportion of 60/120 (work/rest) – and there were only 6 of such sets. There were 3 workouts a week. That's way too little.

The aerobic group worked for 30 minutes at the beginning, in weeks 5-12 they worked for 45 minutes with the intensity of 65% of the peak VO2 (it's the level of oxygen consumption measured during particular work, it doesn't have to be relevant to the maximal oxygen consumption [2]).

In my opinion, it's malpractice to call such training HIIT (high intensity interval training). If you are able to work for only 1 minute, then your workout is far from intensity. Just like using training machine (e.g. stationary bike) for intervals is a poor idea – the load is too little. The matter of intervals on a bike with regulated resistance, e.g. spinning one, is different.

The best interval tools are following:

  • sprints for 100-300 m, with the rest of 100-200 m, repeated 5-20 times,

  • stations, circuits with weights (e.g. TABATA, crossfit, TNT-type workouts, dumbbell challenge, grappler),

  • sprints in water, e.g. 50 m of fast crawl, 25 m moderate tempo of breaststroke,

  • mountain bike training in the mountains,

  • pulling the load,

  • hitting with a hammer,

  • jumping over obstacles,

  • obstacle course,

  • shuffle run (e.g. 10 x 10 m).

Second of all – the group of volunteers had averagely 42.5 +/- 1.1% of fat – it explains why the proper interval training was impossible to do! Such fattening excludes from doing training with changing intensity and VO2 max characteristics. That's not all, from other studies we know that obese people (e.g. women weighing 95.2 +/- 15.1 kg, including 43.4 +/- 7.9% of body fat) react differently to the submaximal effort than women with body composition closer to the normal one (59 +/- 7.7 kg, including 22.4 +/- 4.8% of body fat). It turned out that the level of lactates in overweight people increased after physical effort by only 283% and in the group of women with the body fat level of 22.4%, the increase of lactates was 450%. The scientists used a 9-minute attempt: “the effort test on a standing bike, the maximal time of the test was 9 minutes with increasing resistance (0-3 minutes – 50W; 3-6 min – 100W; 6-9 min – 150W) (the Kettler program)”. [3] “The results are coherent with the observations of Ardevol et.al, who concluded, after examining overweight and obese women during intensive physical effort, that the use of energy from anaerobic processes in obese people is significantly lower than in slim people”. [3]

Whereas, in well-trained people (BJJ competitors, wrestlers, rowers, karate competitors) there is the increase of lactates after a 30-second wingate test by ~671%! [4]

Final conclusions:

  • if you have more than 20% of fatty tissue (men) or 30% (women), because of the effort physiology, adaptation and efficiency – you will not benefit properly from the interval training. You should rather choose long-lasting aerobic exercises (30-45 minutes, 3-5 times a week), you may consider interval training after reduction of fat to the level of 12-14% (men) and ~20-22% (women),

  • if you have large muscle mass and low level of fatty tissue, you will benefit best from the high-intensity interval training (e.g. HIIT, TABATA),

  • if you already use intervals, you could use e.g. the stubborn fat protocols (e.g. 5 minutes of warm-up, 15-20 minutes of intervals within 85-92% of maximal heart rate; at the end 30 minutes of cardio – 70-75% of maximal heart rate) to get rid of the remaining fat.

In the first part of this article I described the basic problems connected with interval training, as well as possible reasons of lack of further progress in body fat reduction. Let's focus on the next issues connected with high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The reason of stagnation in reduction number 1: “too low intensity of the interval training”

Just like in the experiment described in the previous part [1], the protocol was called HIIT, but it had nothing to do with high-intensity workout. If you weigh more than 100 kg (with the height of 1.8 m) and have small amount of fat (concerning men) – doing very intensive interval training (e.g. VO2 max interval running, i.e. with maximal intensity) is questionable. Of course, it may happen that you run recreationally, apart from going to the gym, for 5, 10 or 15 years. How can you check if it's not too early for HIIT?

You just need to do a running test:

  • the maximal distance within 12 minutes. If you are able to run 3 km in flat area, without any significant changes in height, in that time, you have sufficient capacity for interval training. As it's easy to count, each kilometre is run in 4 minutes (which is labelled like this: 4 min/km). If your time is closer to 15 minutes, it means it may be too early for you for the VO2max intervals, but it doesn't mean that you cannot introduce lower-intensity intervals (e.g. faster run for 300 m, jogging for 100 m – repeat it 5-10 x).

If you want to do the TABATA-type training, you should also have quite good anaerobic capacity – shortages in the basics will be revealed by one circuit in the proportion of 20-second work and 10-second rest.

The reason of stagnation in reduction number 2: “you use intervals only”

Interval training (even HIIT) doesn't have to be the optimal tool of body fat reduction. Why? The bigger amount of lactates, oxygen absorption threshold, heart rate – the shorter work, in general. What's more – we know from the studies, that body (especially that of a bodybuilder) adapts perfectly to the training load. Along with time, the amount of calorific expenditure during training – the HIIT, resistance or metabolic training, gets smaller (you utilize proportionally less subcutaneous body fat, even after finishing the workout, the pointers of increase for REE – rest energy expenditure, don't have to be big for a body builder!). That's why the best idea are the mixed sessions, described widely under the name of stubborn fat protocols.

The training fighting against the stubborn fat:

  • warm-up,

  • 10-20 minutes of intervals (the most intensive ~10 minutes, lighter ones up to 20 minutes),

  • rest for a few minutes,

  • at the end – 20-30 minutes of aerobics (moderate heart rate).

You may also try this model:

  • resistance training upper body (45 minutes),

  • 5-minute break,

  • intervals, e.g. tabata – 3 circuits, 6-8 exercises,

  • 5-minute break,

  • 15-minute aerobics.

Do similar interval sessions not more often than 2-3 x a week. If you want to work more, add classic aerobics starting with 20-25 minutes of work, e.g. on the days free from the gym.

The reason of stagnation in reduction number 3: “aromatising AAS”

Unfortunately, such products (e.g. testosterone, metanabol, anapolon) may influence the hormonal profile – they strengthen the conversion of testosterone and androstendione into estrogens. Such environment doesn't support body fat reduction (especially when there is no control of the supply of carbohydrates and fats). However, there is the other side of the coin. Blocking the process of aromatisation is painful for the increase of muscle mass, as well as for glucose tolerance, as it turned out recently. Decreasing the level of estogens (especially estradiol) with the use of pharmaceuticals, e.g. anastrazol (in the experiment they used 1 mg a day for 6 weeks) causes the decrease of cells sensitivity to insulin [research from 2016; 2]. Other studies confirm these observations, including those from 2015 [3]. Paradoxically, estradiol in physiological amount protects women from obesity, lowers the risk of cardiovascular system diseases and supports the fight against insulin resistance. To some extent, the same positive influence may also occur in men.

Sources: “Continuous Exercise but Not High Intensity Interval Training Improves Fat Distribution in Overweight Adults” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942093/ 2. J Sports Sci. 2007 Jun;25(8):851-8. Relationship between maximal oxygen uptake and oxygen uptake attained during treadmill middle-distance running. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17474038 3. “Wpływ redukcji masy ciała na zmianę stężenia mleczanów indukowaną krótkotrwałym wysiłkiem” https://journals.viamedica.pl/eoizpm/article/view/26054/20864 4. http://www.wbc.poznan.pl/Content/261888/index.pdf, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3942093/ 2. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2016 Mar 11:jc20154146. Aromatase Inhibition Reduces Insulin Sensitivity in Healthy Men. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26967690 3. Int J Pharm Compd. 2015 Jul-Aug;19(4):289-93. Estradiol: THE EMERGING EVIDENCE FOR A PROTECTIVE ROLE AGAINST INSULIN RESISTANCE AND OBESITY. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26625564

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