If you could spend half the time and get triple the results would you do it?
If you could melt fat, build muscle, increase your energy and look younger in just a few minutes would you do it?
If you said “no” to either question STOP READING NOW!
Whilst those people get back on their treadmills and spend hours pounding away we’ll do something smarter…
Cardio is dead.
It’s just not effective. It takes ages and the results are poor.
In fact, one study1 showed that people who did 40 minutes of cardio 3 times per week for 15 weeks actually gained 0.5kg (1lb) of fat!
So, they spent a total of 30 hours grinding away and cardio made them fatter!
There has to be a better way…
There is. Actually, science has proven that there are two better ways:
High intensity interval training (shortened to HIIT) and weight lifting.
Not only are they (MUCH) more effective, they take a lot less time and you’ll find them more enjoyable2.
Now you may have heard this already but what we’ll look at in this article are simple, proven hacks that will get you results much quicker.
And we’ll show you the EXACT formula to design your own effective workouts in less than 60 seconds.
No need for expensive personal trainers or gym memberships.
There are also some supercharged workout programmes (including simple HIIT workouts at home) you can download free to get you started.
Science has proven that being active keeps us healthy, fights disease and makes us younger. Exercise or any form of activity is better than any drug.
On the flip side, a sedentary (exercise-free) lifestyle has been shown to be seriously damaging to our health.
For example, a massive study3 of over one million adults carried out by the University of Cambridge and published in the prestigious journal The Lancet showed just how harmful it is.
It found that people in typical desk jobs that don’t do much exercise are 59% more likely to die early than people in desk jobs who are physically active.
“It’s all you bro, push, push… feel the pain…”
If you’ve ever been to a gym you’ll have heard something similar. Sure, to get fitter you need to push yourself to do a bit more than you’re used to but that’s all.
There’s no need to burst blood vessels!
Finding the right balance is key.
To achieve the right balance it’s not just the amount and intensity of the exercise that we need to consider, it’s our ability to recover from each session.
You may be aware that exercising actually stresses our body. In response it repairs itself and also prepares to deal with the new levels of activity.
Homeotasis – WTF?!
This is part of our body’s survival mechanism.
It knows that if it is subjected to continued exercise stress it needs to be ready to deal with it.
Each time we exercise we get a little bit fitter because our body (assuming adequate rest and nutrition) repairs and prepares itself.
Once it has done this, we are then able to exercise harder which then means the body needs to repair and prepare again.
This is a virtuous circle and over time leads to significant improvements in health and fitness.
The amount of rest we need depends on a number of things including our current fitness levels – generally the fitter we are the more quickly our body recovers – the volume, intensity (how hard we push ourselves), type of exercise, how busy/stressful our lifestyle is and how much sleep we get.
For those who already exercise you may have a reasonable feel for how much you can do, of which type and how much rest you need.
The right balance is critical – here’s how to find it
Whatever your current fitness level, here’s how to find the right balance:
How much exercise should you do in each exercise session and in each week?
The answer to this is linked to the type of exercise you do.
For example, 45 minutes of yoga is very different to a 20 minute HIIT workout.
You could probably do yoga every day (if you had the time and inclination!) but doing HIIT every day would lead to overtraining (the cumulative result of your body not having the time to repair itself before the next session).
And overtraining will cause health problems.
In terms of the duration of each session 20 minutes for HIIT workouts and 20-30 minutes for weight lifting (excluding warm-up and warm-down) is about right for the typical person.
It provides enough time for a decent session and is short enough to incorporate into your life.
But, it does require focus. No messing around on your phone, no chatting, just action!
For the number of sessions per week, a maximum of 3 is a good rule of thumb, leaving a day in between each session for recovery.
We’ll talk about what you do during these sessions later but alternating between high intensity interval training and weight lifting helps keep things fresh and allows you to get the benefits of both.
How hard should you push yourself during each workout?
To get fit, or fitter, we need to push ourselves to do something that is a bit harder than what we are used to.
This is what triggers our body’s adaptation mechanism.
Assuming that you are healthy and your doctor has given the ok, whatever level of fitness you start from you should strive to do a little bit more each time you exercise.
That may be running a bit further in the same timeframe or using a slightly heavier weight.
Continually making small improvements over time adds up to make dramatic changes.
If you are just starting out with exercise then take things slowly at first. Most people find that starting out is the hardest time because your body simply isn’t used to exercising.
The same is true if you have had a long lay-off.
I remember the first session my wife did after a long break. It was New Year’s Eve and I took her along to my gym to show her some exercises.
By the end of the session she was crawling on her hands and knees to get to her water bottle!
We clearly pushed things too hard that day but she is the sort of person that likes to give it everything.
After throttling back, two weeks and 5 sessions later she was doing the same exercises using the same weights with ease.
Which type of exercise should you choose?
This decision is a balance between choosing something that is effective and something that you enjoy.
Of course, the more you enjoy something the more likely you are to stick with it.
As we’ve already mentioned, the most effective forms of exercise to improve health generally, lose fat and build muscle are HIIT and weight lifting.
Many women shy away from weight lifting believing that it will make them muscular, bulky and masculine but this is not the case.
There are many reasons why, not least that women have different proportions of hormones to men.
Make no mistake, weight lifting is a very good choice for everyone, women included.
But science has proven them to be true.
No gimmicks, no hype, just real-world results.
High intensity interval training has been gaining in popularity in recent years and with good reason: science has proven it to be one of the most effective forms of exercise.
HIIT workouts simply involve choosing a type of exercise and alternating bursts of exercise and rest.
There are a growing number of studies that show its effectiveness. For example, HIIT workouts are proven to:
On top of these benefits, HIIT workouts require no special equipment and it can be done (almost!) anywhere.
You can download our free HIIT workout at home to get you started.[MAGNET]
One word of caution: for men the type of exercise used in interval training may be important.
Specifically, cycling has been shown to damage sperm quality.
It has been known for a while that competitive cyclists suffer from lower sperm quality and a study15 on “normal” cyclists showed that even a moderate level of cycling can have negative effects.
The study involved 2,481 men and found that men who cycled for more than 3 hours per week were twice as likely to have low sperm concentration.
Not to be left out, weight training also gives us a whole range of health benefits, including:
Now, don’t get me wrong.
There are some good personal trainers out there. But it’s hit or miss.
Many have just done a 2 day course and call themselves “qualified” or “certified.”
But you don’t need to pay a personal trainer to design effective HIIT workouts…
You don’t even need any special equipment to do HIIT workouts at home.
Designing a workout is actually very straightforward.
But PTs don’t want you to know this – it’s bad for business!
I’ll take you through the formula for HIIT workouts and weight lifting below.
And to get you started, you can download the free HIIT programme here [magnet link].
So, with interval training the basic idea is that you perform short bursts of an exercise, rest for a bit and then repeat the cycle a few times.
That’s really all there is to it.
Many personal trainers will have you believe that there are countless variables. In fact, most of them have little or no impact on effectiveness.
Let’s keep things simple by focusing on the things science has proven make a difference:
Do 2-3 sessions per week. If getting fit is your goal and not, for example, fat loss 1 session may be ok depending on what other exercise you do.
The session(s) should be at least 1 day apart from each other and from weight training, if you choose to do that.
This is important. You need to give yourself enough time to recover.
HIIT workouts can be performed using many exercises. To keep things simple the exercises below do not require any special equipment and are great options for a HIIT workout at home:
You may not be familar with some of these so here are some good videos that show exactly how they should be done:
Alternating leg lunges
Intensity of effort
Interval training should be done at 90-100% intensity (ie. maximum or near maximum effort).
This may sound tough but, remember, you’ll only be doing short bursts…
HIIT workouts involve short, sharp bursts of effort followed by a period of recovery so you may be surprised at how short the intervals are.
Depending on your current fitness each burst of exercise should be between 30 and 60 seconds. If you are unfit or are new to intervals, start with periods of 30 seconds.
The studies in this area show that rest periods should be between 1-3 times the length of the exercise period.
So, for intervals of 30 seconds, each rest period should be between 30 and 90 seconds.
If you are unfit or new to HIIT workouts, start with rest periods of 90 seconds then reduce them as your fitness improves.
For interval training 1 set means a burst of exercise followed by a period of rest. So, 30 seconds of effort followed by 90 seconds of rest equals 1 set.
How many sets you should do again depends on your current fitness levels and whether you have done intervals before. Beginners should aim to start with 5 sets.
Exercising cold muscles and joints increases the chances of injury significantly. It’s important to warm-up properly.
A good warm up comprises a general “all body” warm-up followed by an exercise specific warm-up.
For the all body warm-up a combination of dynamic stretches works best.
Do not do static stretches (where you stretch a muscle to a certain point then hold it) before exercising as this has been shown to increase the risk of injury and decrease strength26.
Spend 5 minutes doing the following dynamic stretches at the beginning of each HIIT workout:
This video shows exactly how to do the properly:
Once the all body warm up is done you should feel “looser” and more flexible but it is still important to do an exercise-specific warm-up.
For interval training, a 5-10 minute jog, starting gently then gradually getting faster is a good option.
When you’ve completed your workout don’t just run for the shower. Take 5 minutes to perform some gentle static stretches to warm down.
Stretch your muscles to a point where you feel a mild stretch and then hold the position for 10-20 seconds.
Stretching can, if done incorrectly, can cause injury so go easy. You shouldn’t feel any pain, just a gentle stretch.
You can do this simple stretching routine in less than 5 minutes:
Here’s a great video that shows you how to perform each stretch:
HIIT workouts are only as good as the time it takes our body to adapt to them.
After a while our body will adapt to any programme and there’s no point putting all the effort in to get diminishing returns.
So, change your programme every 4-6 weeks to help ensure continued progress.
As with HIIT workouts, you can download example weight lifting programmes here [anchor].
A few programmes will only be of limited use so let’s look at a simple formula to design your own.
One of the biggest mistakes people make with weight lifting is using the same programme for months on end.
Our body adapts very quickly so you have to change things around every 4-6 weeks otherwise your progress is likely to slow down or even stop.
Changing things also helps to keep workouts fresh and interesting and so keeps our motivation levels high.
Again, personal trainers love to overcomplicate weight lifting routines. They seem to think that having people do weird and wonderful exercises makes them look as they have a “secret sauce”!
Here are the things science has proven actually matter (you’ll recognise some of them from the HIIT workouts):
If you choose to weight train aim to do at least 2 sessions per week to achieve results.
Anything less than that and you’re unlikely to generate sufficient “training effect” to progress.
If you can’t commit to doing 2 sessions per week then opt for HIIT workouts instead. If you are able to commit you should plan on having at least 1 day’s rest between each session.
20-30 minutes excluding warm-up and warm-down is a good rule of thumb for beginners.
When weight lifting, unless you are trying to strengthen or increase the size of a particular muscle group, it pays to focus on exercises that give most bang for the buck.
These are known as compound or “multi-joint” exercises.
In other words, exercises that involve more than one joint movement to perform.
These exercises allow you to work multiple muscle groups at once making them much more efficient than trying to exercise each muscle individually.
Multi-joint exercises can be divided into 4 categories according to the type of movement:
Here are some more examples of multi-joint exercises, categorised by type of movement:
Upper body push
Flat bench press
Incline bench press
Decline bench press
Overhead shoulder press
Upper body pull
You’ll notice that most of these exercises require only basic equipment.
That’s because “free weight” exercises, as they are known, are the most effective.
Exercise machines dictate planes of movement and can not only cause injury they remove the need for the muscles to stabilise the weights which makes the exercise easier but less effective.
For each programme choose 1 exercise from each category, varying your choice from programme to programme.
Set and repetition ranges
The possible combinations of sets and reps is infinite.
To simplify things, for all but advanced weight lifters, using a yardstick of a total of around 25 reps per exercise is a good guide.
This number of reps can then be divided between sets in a variety of ways. Different rep ranges have different effects:
Some of the most effect set/rep combinations are 5 sets of 5 reps (shortened to 5 x 5), 3 sets of 8 reps (3 x 8) and 8 sets of 3 reps (8 x 3).
For beginners, starting out with 3 x 8 is a good option then move on to 5 x 5 and then 8 x 3 in subsequent programmes.
This is closely linked to the number of reps you do per set. If you’re doing 8 reps per set you are obviously going to need to use less weight than if you are doing 3 reps per set.
It’s important that the exercise is not too intense so choose a weight that is heavy enough that you reach “failure” on the last rep of the last set.
Failure means not being able to perform any more reps with proper form. It may take some experimenting in the first few workouts to find the exact weight.
Once you have found the correct starting weight aim to increase the weight slightly each workout whilst maintaining correct form.
This is important as it will help ensure that you progress whilst helping to prevent injury. If you find yourself straining and using incorrect form you have increased the weight too far.
Choose a rest period of somewhere between 30 and 90 seconds between sets and vary the length of rest periods each time you change your programme.
Follow the all body warm-up suggestions set out above for HIIT workouts but instead of the jog do some exercise-specific warm-ups.
Before each exercise pick a light weight that you can use for 15 reps and perform two sets of the exercise for 15 reps with 60 seconds’ rest in between.
You can then go on to perform the exercise.
Again, follow the warm-down suggestions for HIIT workouts.
As with HIIT workouts a weight lifting programme is only as good as the time it takes our body to adapt to it.
Change your programme every 4-6 weeks to help ensure continued progress.
HIIT workouts HIIT the spot (sorry!)
If you want to lose fat the right type of exercise can help you melt it off.
Everyone knows that steady state cardio is the best exercise for losing fat, right?
By spending 30-60 minutes on a treadmill, bike, jogging, etc 3-4 times per week our body will burn off the fat. Not so fast, there may be better ways…
There have been a number of studies that compared the fat loss effects of cardio against HIIT workouts.
For example, an Australian study27 looked at the effect of doing 20 minutes of interval training 3 times per week compared to doing 40 minutes of cardio 3 times per week.
Despite the cardio group exercising for twice the time of the HIIT group the cardio group actually gained on average 0.5kg (1lb) of fat whilst the interval training group lost an average of 2.5kg (5.5lbs) of fat!
In a study28 as far back as 1994 researchers compared a 20 week cardio programme against a 15 week interval training programme.
They found that, even though the interval training programme was carried out over a shorter period, it led to much greater fat loss.
The researchers measured the levels of fat under the skin before and after the programmes and found that the HIIT workout participants lost on average 13.9mm of fat but the cardio participants lost only 3.5mm.
One other thing that is interesting about this study is that the researchers calculated the total amount of calories burned during the workouts.
It turned out that the cardio group burned 28,661 calories and the HIIT group burned only 13,614 yet still lost much more fat.
Why is interval training so much more effective than cardio for fat loss? There seem to be a few reasons:
Weight lifting fuels our fat burning machine
Like HIIT workouts, weight training has been shown to be one of the most effective forms of exercise for fat loss.
It both preserves lean muscle whilst creating an optimal environment for our bodies to burn fat. It does this in a number of ways:
So, if you want to shift the pounds quickly choose a combination of HIIT workouts and weight lifting.
Exercise needn’t be something that you hate. It can be fun!
But, of course, it’s only fun if we see results without spending hours doing it.
As we’ve seen, you can get results quickly by focusing on the right types of exercise.
HIIT workouts and weight lifting are amazingly effective…
If you actually do them!
Let me know how you get on…
1 The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. International Journal of Obesity (2008) 32, 684–691
2 Where does HIT fit? An examination of the affective response to high-intensity intervals in comparison to continuous moderate- and continuous vigorous-intensity exercise in the exercise intensity-affect continuum. PLoS One. 2014 Dec 8;9(12)
4 High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. J Obes 2011;2011:868305
5 Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism, 2017; 25 (3): 581
6 Where does HIT fit? An examination of the affective response to high-intensity intervals in comparison to continuous moderate- and continuous vigorous-intensity exercise in the exercise intensity-affect continuum. PLoS One. 2014 Dec 8;9(12)
7 A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. J Physiol. 2010 Mar 15;588(Pt 6):1011-22
8 Physical activity and all-cause mortality: an updated meta-analysis with different intensity categories. Int J Sports Med 2009;30:213–24
11 Aerobic interval training versus continuous moderate exercise as a treatment for the metabolic syndrome: a pilot study. Circulation 2008;118:346–54
12 Effects of high-intensity aerobic interval training vs. moderate exercise on hemodynamic, metabolic and neuro-humoral abnormalities of young normotensive women at high familial risk for hypertension. Hypert Res. 2010;33:836–843
13 Walking compared with vigorous exercise for the prevention of cardiovascular events in women. N Engl J Med 2002;347:716–25
14 Exercise type and intensity in relation to coronary heart disease in men. JAMA 2002;288:1994–2000
15 Physical activity and semen quality among men attending an infertility clinic. Fertil Steril. 2011 Mar 1; 95(3): 1025–1030
16 Effect of Exercise Type During Intentional Weight Loss on Body Composition in Older Adults with Obesity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2017 Nov;25(11):1823-1829
17 The Benefits of Exercise for the Clinically Depressed. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2004; 6(3): 104–111
18 Association between lifting weights and metabolic syndrome among U.S. Adults: 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. J Strength Cond Res. 2012 Nov; 26(11): 3113-7
20 The effect of regular physical activity on bone mineral density in post-menopausal women aged 75 and over: a retrospective analysis from the Canadian multicentre osteoporosis study. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2013 Aug 23; 14: 253
21 Effects of Different Exercise Interventions on Risk of Falls, Gait Ability, and Balance in Physically Frail Older Adults: A Systematic Review. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Apr; 16(2): 105–114
22 Effects of endurance and strength acute exercise on night sleep quality. International SportMed Journal. 2011; 12(3): 113-124
23 Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on health. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2012 Jul-Aug;11(4):209-16
24 Minimal resistance training improves daily energy expenditure and fat oxidation. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010; 41(5): 1122-1129
25 Psychological Aspects of Resistance Training. In: Principles and Practice of Resistance Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2009. p. 229-241
26 Acute effect of passive static stretching on lower-body strength in moderately trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Apr;27(4):973-7
27 The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. International Journal of Obesity (2008) 32, 684–691
28 Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism. Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8
29 Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Aug;60(2):167-75
30 Exercise Training and Energy Expenditure following Weight Loss. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Sep; 47(9): 1950–1957
31 Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise energy expenditure and resting metabolic rate. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1993 Oct;75(4):1847-53
32 High-Intensity Interval Resistance Training (HIRT) influences resting energy expenditure and respiratory ratio in non-dieting individuals. J Transl Med. 2012 Nov 24;10:237
33 The Role of Resistance Exercise in Weight Loss. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2002. 24(1), 65-
34 Strength training increases insulin action in healthy 50- to 65-yr-old men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1994 Sep;77(3):1122-7