Let’s be honest about something here. When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you perform better in all walks of life. We all want to feel good, but how do we go about getting that way? Low-intensity steady state (LISS) cardio? or High-Intensity Interval Training?
The idea of LISS cardio as the primary means by which we can burn fat is an idea which emerged out of the bodybuilding community and has been used to great success. So If body builders have used it to such great effect, why shouldn’t we?
The reason being, that not everyone is a bodybuilder, and bodybuilders, as many will tell you, are not the most athletic of people. Now, this is a broad generalisation, and I am sure that there are many recreational bodybuilders who are very athletic. However, those bodybuilders who are at the top end of the scale, the Flex Lewis's and Phil Heath’s of this world, are not capable of the same athleticism as displayed by Division 1 Athletes. Their entire world revolves around being as muscular, and symmetrical as humanly possible, and this is going to lead to a reduction in their athleticism, as the human body is designed to work at peak performance in relation to its overall mass. This is not to say that a 300lb bodybuilder could not have the athleticism of a Division 1 athlete, but the fact is, their primary goal is growth, not peak performance.
So, now that we have established that everyone is not a bodybuilder, what other options are at our disposal to get that lean, athletic body, without walking on a treadmill for 2-hour stints? Well, the best option for getting leaner, fitter, and more athletic, is HIIT, a.k.a. High-Intensity Interval Training! So what does this entail?
What does the research say?
Well, I am going to give you an insight into what, I think, is the best method of interval training around, Tabata.
What is Tabata?
Well, Dr Tabata, a Japanese sports scientist, who was working in the field of VO2max development, came up with a protocol of having an athlete engages in a movement such as Air dyne sprints, done at maximal intensity, for twenty seconds, followed by an active rest of ten seconds, repeated eight times, showed a dramatic improvement in the VO2max of his athlete’s. However, what he also noted was a marked improvement in his athlete’s body composition, namely a marked reduction in their body fat %’s as opposed to those who engaged in long slow cardio. This was a consistently occurring theme, despite the fact that the volume of cardio work done was at a much lower rate than the standard volume of the popular long slow distance cardio protocol. This was considered strange as the calories burnt by the athlete during the Tabata work accumulated to less, or barely over the total calories burnt during course of the long, slow cardio protocol. Surely it’s a question of calories in vs calories out? Well, actually, it’s a question of muscle fibres.
The how, the what and the why
So, let's have a little break down of what actually happens in the human body as we go through both of the protocols. When we do aerobic work, namely long, slow cardio we are using our Type I muscle fibres, which create ATP, the bodies energy currency, in the presence of oxygen. As such, they have to use two fuels, glucose and fat.
When we engage in anaerobic work, such as Tabata, we are using Type II A/X muscle fibres (X fibres used to be called B fibres). So, these fibres create ATP without the presence oxygen, and as such uses phosphocreatine and glucose as the primary fuel source.
Tabata vs slow cardio
So, if we say that we have two individuals, with one engaging in Tabata, and the other in long, slow cardio, and they both burn 500kcal during the course of their individual protocols, the kcal burnt during the long, slow cardio will be from a higher percentage of fat.
However, this is where it gets cool. So, if the long, slow cardio burns a higher percentage of fat during activity, why do Tabata? Well, both have required a calorie expenditure of 500kcal, but that is just during the time in which the participant is engaged in the exercise. The time after Tabata is when the magic happens!
Tabata is a protocol that causes the body to spike its production of glucagon, a fuel-mobilising hormone. This, in turn, causes a spike in the bodies metabolism to order to refuel the muscles that have been used, and restore the bodies glycogen stores by attacking its natural energy stores, body fat. This spike in metabolism can last for 24-48 hours depending on the individual, and the activity that they have engaged in. This magic time is Tabata time!
The time that we spend in recovery, i.e. resting, sleeping, eating, is all done at the lowest bodily intensity possible, and as such, burns up the bodies fat stores.
This was a brief, yet somewhat in depth look into the Tabata training protocol, and how it can help you get the body that you want, in the time that you have! So go on, be a rebel and break from the long, slow cardio trend! Who knows, you might actually like not having to spend two hours walking up hill on a treadmill.