Q: What’s the best interval training program for fat loss?
The one that gets you the MOST fat loss results in the least amount of exercise time with minimal or NO equipment.
I’ve tried every high intensity interval training (HIIT) program imaginable…
I’ve even used every piece of equipment (from cardio machines to kettlebells, from medicine balls to farmer walks)…
And I’ve trained thousands of men and women with high-intensity interval training and beginner interval training for every type of goal, from fat loss to marathons, and from bodybuilding to basketball, and I’ve found almost every interval training program works as well as the next.
I still remember when it first “clicked” with me that interval training was an incredible way to burn belly fat. I was a graduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, working on a study about androstenedione (the hormone supplement used by slugger Mark McGwire).
At the end of each workday, I changed from mild-mannered graduate student, “Craigory Ballantyne”, into hardcore University Strength Coach, “Craig ‘The Hammer’ Ballantyne”.
(Check out this photo from 1998! It was my “graduate student ID” photo.)
Around 4pm, I’d meet a bunch of athletes out on the “back 40” for speed training or intense interval training. I put those those guys & girls through some tough workouts, and I was right there beside them, training as hard as they were.
We started around this time of year, mid- to late-March, and kept going for 6 weeks until they all had too many exams to study for, or until they were done school for the year.
Now you might think 6 weeks isn’t enough time to get you in shape for any sport, but research agrees with me. In fact, in one study that I reviewed on my website waaaaaaaaaaay back in 2001 about sport specific interval training showed that 18 sessions of sport specific movement reduced injury in NHL players.
But I’m getting off-topic…back to fat loss interval training. In those 6 weeks, the athletes got into “mid-season” condition, and used hard intensity interval training burned off their belly fat that they had built up during the off-season from sports and during the in-season of beer drinking (as almost every Canadian University student does).
These guys and gals were shocked at how fast they lost stomach fat, and heck, even I was too, because up until that time there was really only one fat loss interval training study in the research journals, and no trainer was talking about interval training on the Internet.
So I stumbled across this secret fat burning workout method quite by accident, although it’s still amazing that today, over 11 years later, I’d guess only 5% of the general fitness population has even heard of interval training and how it can burn belly fat. It’s amazing how much long, slow cardio propaganda we still have to fight against.
But lately I’ve also noticed a “dark side” to interval training. Too many people think that if “some” interval training is good, then MORE must be better, right? And the answer of course is, “yes and no”.
You only need to do 3 sessions of interval training per week, and the sessions just need to be short and focused on quality interval training. That’s how the fat loss interval training research studies are structured.
If you do 45 minutes of interval training, you are sacrificing quality for quantity, and that type of interval training is best left to marathon runners.
Even with soccer players, the longest interval training program I would use is 4 intervals of 4 minutes, with 3 minutes of recovery between intervals (for a total of 25 minutes – plus a few minutes warm-up and cool-down).
You simply do NOT need to do 45 minutes of interval training in order to lose fat. After all, folks doing those 4 minute interval training sessions (20 seconds hard followed by 10 seconds rest, repeated 8 times) do pretty darn well in the fat burning category, so why spend 1125% more time exercising when you don’t have to?
We all know, or SHOULD all know by now that diet is the most important aspect of fat loss AND “you can’t out-train a bad diet”, so again, the amount of exercise we need to lose fat is a lot less than what most people think.
I’m still partial to my original fat loss programs that used 30-60 second intervals followed by 60 seconds of rest, repeated 6 times. Those tend to work well on machines (where most people do intervals) and they give great results, and they are over relatively quickly (less than 20 minutes total exercise time).
However, even this old dog needs to learn a few tricks and I’m pushing the envelope to see how LITTLE interval training exercise is need ed to help you burn belly fat. So look for lots of new “in house” interval training experiments to take place in the Turbulence Training world.
You’re already seeing a few of them “come to life”, such as the bodyweight intervals in the Turbulence Training for Buff Dudes and Hot Chicks program.
Keep your eye out for more creative interval programs that follow the #2 rule for fat loss programs:
The best program is the one that gets you the MOST fat loss results in the least amount of exercise time with minimal or NO equipment.
And never forget the #1 rule:
You can’t out-train a bad diet.
Diet is STILL the key to fat loss and I’m just here to make your workouts interesting,
Craig Ballantyne, CSCS, MS