HIIT Cardio and Circuit Training for Fat Burn!

by Gloria on January 24, 2012

Resistance training is one of the best things you can do in the gym for fat loss.  This applies to both men and women.  I am not saying that cardio is not good for you, because that would be ridiculous.  However, when it comes to cardio for fat loss, less is always more and the bulk of your concentration should be on resistant training.  Many people waste hours a week (sometimes a day!) on doing slow steady-state cardio in hopes to reach their fat loss goals.  Obviously it helps, but the results will not be nearly what they would be if you spent less TIME doing cardio and focused on interval training or HIIT type cardio instead of steady state, and spent more time on resistant training.  First let’s talk about why resistance training is great for overall fat burning.

How does your body burn calories?  Well a calorie is a measurement of energy and every move you make requires some calories or energy to perform.  This includes internal functions, like breathing, or digesting a meal and physical functions like walking, talking, laughing.  Ok so now let’s talk about how this relates to your metabolism.

Your metabolism can be defined as the amount of energy (calories) your body is required to exert to maintain itself and your body composition plays a large role in your resting metabolism.  Well the fact is, muscles require more calories to maintain than fat, so the more muscle you have the higher your metabolism is.  And every year, after the age of 25 we are naturally losing muscle if we are not working to gain or maintain it.  This is why people often complain that it gets harder to lose weight as we age, and one way to keep your metabolism working in your favour is to build muscle.

Here’s another interesting fact about resistance training – while you may burn more calories during a cardio session, you will burn more calories AFTER a high intensity resistance training session.   This is often called the “afterburn effect” and studies have shown that your metabolism can increase for up to 48 hours after an intense resistance type workout.

So why don’t we do a workout where you burn more calories because you elevate your heart rate (aerobic) and combining strength training at the same time (anaerobic)?  This is how I normally train and I find it to be fast, efficient, and it burns lots of calories, not to mention the benefits of the afterburn!  It’s usually referred to as circuit training and it’s my favorite type of training as there are a variety of ways you can design your circuits so it keeps your workouts interesting.

When I design my circuits for this type of training, I like to choose exercises that work your core, use multiple muscle groups, and I like to put a lot of focus on your lower body.  I like working the lower body as it contains so many different muscles and these exercises burn the most calories (think lots of squats and lunges), plus who doesn’t want to work on shaping their ass?  :)

I created a circuit routine last night and did it this morning and in 40 mins I burned 475 calories and had an average heart rate of 145BPM and I only did each circuit twice!   This is a resistance only circuit-training workout, no traditional cardio machines involved.  After my workout I did a cool down and stretch for about 15mins, and my total calorie burn was approximately 590 calories.  I will share this workout with you in a future post because unfortunately my husband, I mean photographer, is out of town :)

For the cardio junkies out there, I want to tell you the truth about long duration, low intensity (60-70% of your max heart rate), steady state cardio.  You are much better off working harder and trying to keep your heart rate elevated as high as you can maintain it (about 70 – 85% of your max heart rate) than spending the same amount of time at a lower heart rate/intensity level.  I know, I know, the cardio machine says to burn fat, keep your heart rate within 60-70% of your max heart rate as that is your “fat burning zone.”  Well the truth is, when your heart rate is in that range (which I consider to be low for cardio) a higher percentage of the calories you burn does come from fat, but without the intensity you are burning less calories overall so why would that be better?    And even better yet, why not work out harder for less time?  It’ll sure stop you from using the excuse that you don’t have time for your workout.  So want to know what’s even better than high intensity steady state cardio?  High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)!

Sample 10 Min Interval Training Workout

HITT has been proven to be the most effective type of cardio training for fat loss and like resistant training, it will give you the afterburn effect where you will burn extra calories at rest after a workout.   HIIT optimizes your workout time by utilizing a series of short, high-intensity intervals, followed up by longer, low-intensity intervals.  Your body is continually guessing and doesn’t have a chance to get used to one setting.    If you use the right intensity and intervals, a 20min workout can burn the same amount of calories as an hour of low intensity steady state cardio.  And you don’t even have to use a cardio machine to do this; you can do this at home just using your body weight…like jumping jacks, burpees, running on the spot, etc.  Please note that HIIT is quite intense so it’s not recommended to do it everyday as it does work your leg muscles pretty hard.  For people new to working out, maybe just try adding one HIIT workout a week to your regular routine.

Here is an example of a beginner HIIT workout using a treadmill, stationary bike or elliptical trainer (levels are for reference only, obviously do what challenges you without over exerting yourself).  You can make this workout more advanced or easier by varying the interval times (e.g. by shortening the moderate intensity recovery intervals you can make this more challenging).   For maximum results, it is important to pick a recovery time/level that allows your heart rate to recover before entering your next high intensity interval.

Minute  Duration Intensity
1-3 3mins Warm up (level 1-3)
3-5 2mins Moderate (level 4-6)
5-6 1min High (level 6-8)
6-8 2mins Moderate (level 4-6)
8-9 1min Very High (level 9-10)
9-12 3mins Moderate (level 4-6)
12-13 1min High (level 6-8)
13-15 2mins Moderate (level 4-6)
15-16 1min Very High (level 9-10)
16-19 3mins Moderate (level 4-6)
19-20 1min High (level 6-8)
20-22 2mins Moderate (level 4-6)
22-25 3mins Cool Down (level 1-3)


Give this a try next time you’re at the gym.  I guarantee you’ll be sweating like crazy and your heart will be racing!!  Thanks for reading, and Keep your eye out for my post on my Full Body Circuit Workout #1!



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