Is HIIT The Best Way To Lose Weight? Here's What Experts Say
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
If you ask the average person what the benefits of HIIT are, chances are they'll mention weight loss. Facts are facts—and the fact is that nearly half of the U.S. population has weight loss on their to-do list. And really, how could you blame them? Maintaining a healthy weight is integral to our overall health. This, in conjunction with an exceedingly busy schedule, means we're looking for the fastest, most effective way to hit our fat-burning goals.
So is doing a HIIT workout instead of a run the best way to achieve it? We asked the experts, and here's what they have to say.
Why HIIT is an effective tool for weight loss.
For an exercise to be considered "effective" for weight loss, it has to help you create a calorie deficit by burning calories. The advantage that HIIT has over other forms of exercise is its "afterburn effect." When you do HIIT, your metabolism stays elevated for hours after your workout. So not only do you expend energy during the workout itself, but you also do so afterward.
"The reason HIIT is so effective for weight loss is that it typically burns calories long after the exercise is over, resulting in an overall higher caloric burn," says Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D. "This is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC."
Another advantage of HIIT workouts is that they're usually shorter in duration and performed at a higher intensity than you would ordinarily exercise. In other words, you burn more calories in less time, which has made HIIT a go-to for those seeking a healthy weight.
That said, it doesn't mean HIIT is the best way for everyone to lose weight.
Should you do HIIT?
As its name suggests, HIIT workouts are intense. When the proper precautions are taken (and good form is practiced), HIIT can definitely lead to weight loss—but when done too often or for too long, it can cause wear and tear on your body. So while experts agree that HIIT is a powerful weight loss tool, that doesn't mean every person on the planet who wants to lose weight should do it.
The truth is HIIT can put a lot of stress on your body—so if you're going to do it, you need to be careful. Safely practicing HIIT means taking certain precautions, like keeping your stress levels down.
"I think HIIT is a great way to lose weight," says Amy Shah, M.D. "However, you want to make sure that the rest of your stress is under control. You don't want to go into this kind of exercise with high levels of stress."
It's worth noting that before doing any kind of workout, especially HIIT, you should be acutely aware of any pain or injuries. For example, if you know you have chronic knee pain and need something lower impact, you should probably avoid HIIT workouts. The same goes for if you straight-up hate HIIT—it's not worth forcing yourself to do it for the sake of losing weight. There are so, so many ways to lose weight that don't involve injury or making yourself miserable. Wouldn't you rather choose one of those?
"The best way to lose weight is always dependent on the individual," Schehr says. "Like most aspects of fitness and nutrition, there is not one way that is best for all."
"However, HIIT is beneficial for our brain health, cardiovascular fitness, and mobility," she mentions. "It yields all the benefits of any exercise with the added benefit of being shorter in duration—hello, busy-day workout."
How to lose fat with or without HIIT.
Any workout that requires your body to expend energy can support your weight loss efforts. That includes everything from walking and yoga to running, biking, and lifting weights.
"The equation for weight loss comes from expending more energy than you consume," Schehr notes. "Therefore, if someone adopts a fitness plan of steady-state cardio or even strength training and they're burning more calories than they take in, weight loss can occur."
Shah agrees, adding, "You can lose weight with just walking or eating better. Exercise is overstated as a way to lose weight. Nutrition matters most."
The bottom line is yes, HIIT can help you lose weight. Any form of movement (when paired with a healthy diet and caloric deficit) will do that.
Our advice? Focus on improving your nutrition and pair that with whatever movement you love. HIIT is an efficient, challenging form of exercise that uses up calories, but it's far from the only way to attain weight loss.
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.