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Why You Shouldn’t Trust Fat Loss Articles


Recently one of my followers directed me to this article which suggested that:

‘short burst of intense exercise [is] better for weight loss.’

Today I’ll tackle some direct quotes from the article, and give you an introduction in how to critically think.

For context:

Hiit = high intensity interval training (sprint all-out for 10 seconds, walk/ jog lightly for 40-60 seconds)

Liss = low intensity steady state cardio (put our trainers on and go for a run around the block for 20-60 minutes.)

Oh, and before jumping on me for being a sprinting hater or a long duration cardio snob, please understand that I’m not in favour of one over the other. In the past I have recommended all types of cardio to clients, whether more intense or longer duration steady state modalities.

These workouts [Hiit] were compared with longer continuous moderate intensity workouts, most of which were between 30 and 45 minutes. All participants exercised for at least four weeks.

I hardly think 4 weeks is enough time to cover much ground on long term sustainable fat loss (or weight loss as the article suggests.)

12 weeks and up would be more sufficient, as how do we know the Hiit trainees could even keep up Hiit exercise for a period of time longer than 4 weeks.

As we’ll touch on in just a second, this is an important factor to consider.

Those doing interval training lost on average 1.58kg (3.48lb) compared with the 1.13kg (2.49lb) lost by those doing lower intensity workouts.

So, on average, they only lost an extra 1 lb over 4 weeks? Big whoop. That’s not really a stat to go screaming home about, considering we’ve had clients drop 7kg in 4 weeks without so much as a sprint.

Sure, if the difference was 5 lbs or up, then perhaps they’d be onto something. But this stat doesn’t really impress me that much.

Dr Niels Vollaard, a lecturer in health and exercise science at the University of Stirling, said the results were counterintuitive as most people burned more calories during longer moderate exercise.

Which they generally do because Liss is MUCH easier to get more time under your belt. Not so easy with Hiit, and I would argue that anyone doing Hiit over 20 minutes is definitely NOT even doing Hiit anyway...

Hiit, for the record, is an all-out modality of training. I’m talking 90-95% max effort for the sprint portion you carry out. Most people never ever get to this level, or drop off after 3 rounds because it’s too intense to maintain.

Hiit may lead to greater energy expenditure after exercise - metabolism may be increased for up to a day following a Hiit session.

I think what they are referring to here is EPOC, or exercise post-oxygen consumption, when your body tries to pay back the oxygen debt after exercise is finished.

So we burn calories even after training which is commonly referred to as the ‘after-burner effect.’

Which is actually true.

If you compare a 20 minute bout of intense exercise to steady state, you burn roughly 7% more calories.

But most people who do 20 minutes of cardio are only just getting started...

Real cardio junkies can sometimes get 60+ minutes of cycling, running, rowing and can burn an epic 500+ calories doing it.

So if you have the time for Liss actually, it’s probably more effective.

After a Hiit session, you may be less hungry.

Will probably need to see some more data on that, but I’m not exactly hungry after an epic 40 minute run round the park either.

It is, however, not easy to study whether energy intake is reduced as a result of this in the longer term when following a Hiit routine, so at the moment we are still unsure exactly what the reason is.

And here it is. The more studies are needed line...

So there’s more to be researched and looked into before we make a black-and-white statement as ‘short burst of intense exercise [is] better for weight loss.’...

So yeah, the title is misleading and anyone that doesn’t look into the actual research (I don’t blame you… why would you if you’re not paid to do it?) enters this big game of Chinese whispers where it starts with “Hiit is more effective for weight loss”, ending in something along the lines of “steady state cardio is going to give you heart disease, avoid at all costs man!”

What the article fails to take into consideration is:

  • a persons preference (some people hate the thought of max sprints. I know I do!)

  • whether the person is heavily overweight or obese (which Hiit is a really bad idea because you’ll destroy your joints if you’re not careful.)

  • time allowance and lifestyle

  • the higher risk of injury associated with Hiit

  • how likely you are to adhere to weekly sprint sessions (can you go longer than 4 weeks without destroying your recovery?)

There are too many factors to suggest Hiit is more effective for fat loss, because until we sit somebody down and find out there current position and previous history, it’s not a good idea to throw out a blanket statement without context.

I’m a tall guy who is probably built to run long distances and finds it tough to pack on muscle.

Do I want to focus running as my main source of training? Ahh, nah!

It’s not my preference and I enjoy resistance training so much more.

In his seminal book Bad Science (which I highly recommend) Ben Goldacre calls this type of article ‘churnalism’ where journalists have an impossible task to fill newspapers and website space in such a short space of time.

So instead of delving into the research, they spot a research paper, skim through it, and post it regardless of the consequences.

The job of a journalist isn’t to educate the population about fat loss. Nor to give evidence-based, realistic advice that is pragmatic to the individual in question.

So my advice is to ignore these types of stories in newspapers articles, websites, and even health documentaries. They are a waste of time and don’t give you the full picture.

People who actually care about results, like my clients, the members of our online course, and the readers of this are all here.

So the next time an article states that eggs give you cancer, or red wine helps you sleep better, or resistance training stunts your growth and destroys your knees and joints, remember to critically think before blindly following the advice of an article!


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