Really, who has the time for longer workouts? When it comes to fitting exercise into your regular, everyday busy life the most important thing is that you actually make it happen. And, make it happen often! Unless you are training for an endurance event, the intensity of your workout counts more than the length of time you spend exercising. Learn exactly why longer workouts are NOT going to benefit you in the long run (pun intended)!
Let’s be clear – Longer workouts DO NOT mean better workouts
Long, boring workouts of never-ending treadmill sessions is what gives exercise a bad reputation! The low intensity or extended steady state cardio workout has long been considered the only way to burn fat and lose weight. There is truth to the fact that this type of exercise burns fat, but it is not the only or most effective, especially with time, way to burn fat. In truth, it could be your longer workouts that are the reason you are not in the shape you want to be in, or why you keep failing to stick to a consistent workout schedule!
What happens during longer workouts?
At lower cardio intensity levels for longer workouts you call on your fat reserves as energy, so your body effectively starts to burn fat. This is because your body uses the “aerobic” manner in which to produce energy – it uses oxygen in the process. This means that a higher percentage of your energy comes from fat during this type of training.
However, whilst a higher percentage of fat is burned during the longer workouts, this does not equate to as much total fat burned compared to higher intensity exercise. This is because higher intensity workouts can help you burn more total calories over the day because of the “afterburn” effect. In this way, the total calories expended are not just time dependent but intensity dependent. This is why high intensity interval training, or HIIT based workouts have gained so much notoriety in recent times.
So, HIIT me with it – If longer workouts aren’t best, what is the most effective workout?
High intensity interval training focuses on numerous quick bursts of hard output followed by rest periods. You rapidly increase your heart rate and allow it to somewhat (but not fully) decline during the rest period between sets. What gets confusing is the diverse types of HIIT workouts.
Weights based workouts tend to be the most common form of HIIT training we read about. Crossfit and F45 workouts have made this popular in recent times. But, it is worth remembering that these circuit and interval based workouts have been around for a long time.
A HIIT workout is nothing new – it is more that the term ‘HIIT’ has become trendy in recent times. The term HIIT doesn’t just refer to gym-based workouts, they come in a variety of forms. It could be a sprint running workout; a cycling based HIIT workout involving sprints; a rowing based HIIT workout with intervals. Paddling, swimming, rowing, running – they can all be HIIT based workouts. What’s common is the intensity and varying heart-rate structure of the workouts.
The afterburn effect – The part that’s missing in longer workouts
Studies suggest that you burn a lot of calories both during and long after your HIIT workout has completed. So, during your short, intense burst of HIIT exercise you may use the stored glycogen (sugar in your cells), but significantly, you also continue to burn calories (from a variety of sources) after you have completed your workout.
This physiological process is referred to as EPOC (Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) or better known as “afterburn”. It is where your body is forced to expend more energy to make up for the metabolic deficit (by replacing energy) and return to its pre-exercise condition. This means that you can burn more total calories overall. This is the main reason that HIIT based workouts have become so popular in recent times. HIIT workouts are quick, convenient and effective workouts for weight loss and fitness.
Time – a precious commodity and no longer a good excuse
How often have you used time as an excuse to skip a workout? We are all guilty of it, but that’s even more reason that longer workouts won’t benefit you. We all have the same 24hours, so the likelihood of ‘finding time’ for longer workouts means that you are less likely to do ANY workout.
Doing a HIIT workout three to four times per week is a much more appealing use of time compared to longer workouts. A word of warning though… HIIT workouts are high intensity in more ways than one. While they save on time, HIIT workouts are both physically and psychologically demanding. This means it can be taxing on your muscular system (be warned, you will feel sore!) as well as feeling drained from mentally having to push through your workout. Of course, this may also have positive impacts in building mental resilience and associated self-confidence in knowing you will transform your body.
Less is more – physically and productively
When you exercise for longer than two hours continuously your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol signals your body to ‘store fat’ and retain water as an evolutionary self- protection mechanism. This is not exactly the effect you want from all that exercise effort! Modifying your exercise routines to include more high-intensity exercise can help prevent this.
Myth busted -Longer workouts are NOT better, now what?
While the benefits for HIIT are clear, that doesn’t mean you should completely ditch your low intensity cardio workout all together. But low intensity doesn’t need to equate to longer workouts. HIIT workouts are effective and we like them, but not every workout can or should be high intensity. They form an essential component of an overall balanced program.
Mix it up!
You should incorporate both low and high intensity training, without the long hours of effort, and reap the benefits of both. Low intensity workouts are an enjoyable way to ease into exercise, especially if you are a beginner. They are great for slowly building endurance and can be utilised effectively as active recovery from harder workout days. Plus, they are important for maintaining an overall balanced program over the long term. You needn’t be locked into one type of workout, you can mix it up if and when you need to, this will also help you beat any exercise plateau.
Most importantly, you should remember that exercise should be enjoyable. Even the most dedicated fitness freaks can sometimes find a workout a chore, but the difference is they know and understand the benefits beyond pure fitness. Incorporating regular exercise into your lifestyle does not have to take up long periods of time to be beneficial. What you do benefit from is improved weight loss, better sleep, appetite control, cardiovascular health, mental health, and of course, your fitness!
So, the idea is to make exercise as effective, efficient and enjoyable as possible! If you want more guidance on specific exercises and a fun range of workouts, check out the Active8me programs!