Some Q&A on Spinning, HIIT and Thunder Thigh Fears

High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, enjoys an expanding legacy in many fitness clubs throughout the US and abroad as a go-to calorie torcher. Premised on the belief that incorporating short bursts of high intensity at calculated intervals during an aerobic workout benefit the athlete’s endurance [1], HIIT is a research-proven method for fat-burining and improved performance and results [2][3]. Whether doing pyramids, 2:1 splits or another pre-determined interval schedule, HIIT gets exercisers into shape – on average – more quickly and with better performance results than steady-state cardio (i.e., walking, running, cycling, etc. and the same pace for the length of your workout).

Before HIIT was a household acronym, Spinning (TM) classes ruled many fitness clubs. Promising calorie burns into the high hundreds, this intense mechanism pushes cardiovascular performance to its limits – provided the instructor is well-versed in the program and its scientific backing.

Recently, some celebrity trainers have scorned Spinning followers and have labeled the Spin workout and its HIIT counterparts as primary contributors to heavier legs. They warn that if you want to “fit into your jeans” you should avoid Spinning and its fellow ilk. What’s the actual deal?

1. I love doing intervals because they keep my mind active while I work out. Will I get fat if I only do intervals?

A: As with any form of exercise, this depends on you, your body and your diet. Most individuals who exercise regularly and follow a balanced diet will see benefits to incorporating HIIT sessions into their weekly blocks. However, individuals who are new to exercise and/or maintain BMI’s above 25% might not benefit as much from HIIT as they do from continuous exercise [4]. Few trainers will recommend doing the same thing day in and day out: variety promotes interest, motivation and the muscle confusion necessary to improve strength and conditioning. Even marathon runners for whom weekly miles are the hallmark of success should include cross-training to avoid overtraining and to enhance running performance. Will you get fat, though? The short answer – without reviewing a full history and fitness assessment – is no, unless you are overcompensating with a high calorie diet.

2. I LOVE spinning! But I heard it will make my legs heavy: is this true?

If you have enjoyed spinning, you find it motivating and it continues to bring you cardiovascular benefits along with joy, I would only question whether or not you have noticed a change in your body composition since beginning the program. Otherwise, why stop or pull back? For those who easily build muscle in the legs, or who carry extra fat in the legs that pushes muscles out making them appear larger, adhering to an exercise promoting rather strict focus on the quads might seem like a bizarre decision. There are ways around this: avoid spinning daily by incorporating other cross-training like walking, running, yoga and Pilates. If you are prone to musculature but prefer a leaner look, yoga and Pilates offer resistance that also lengthens and elongates muscles. Additionally, the length of the class can be a factor: 20-30 minute classes might not allow some exercises to approach an intensity level that burns enough fat, while a 45-60 minute class pushes them into burning more fat and calories creating strong muscles that are hardly bulky. Still don’t trust this advice? Look at Olympic cyclists – they have long lean legs from logging miles.

3. I have thick legs and a tiny waist. What type of cardio is best for me to lean out my legs while keeping muscle on my torso and upper body?

The same advice that applies to the questions above applies here: You have to know your body, how it works best, how it is best fueled and what influences your weight gains and losses. As a female with a broader base (wide-set hips and muscular legs) and a narrow torso, I’ve encountered this myself. However, what works for me might not work for you, so here’s some science to guide your process:

1.Cardiovascular exercise is beneficial to the heart and many body systems. Getting an appropriate amount of cardio daily will keep you healthy.

2.Fuel that exercise with proper nutrition: a good balance of vegetables, fruit and lean protein with some dairy, fats and grains is widely promoted. Variety in your diet is essential to absorbing the vitamins and minerals you need for health & wellness, injury prevention and immune system function.

3. Your workouts should be varied to keep you interested, motivated, healthy and fit. The type of cardio you choose should depend on what you like best, what fits into your schedule and what gives you the best results. For leaner legs, long distance running and walking offer an easy solution that can be done anywhere, without equipment. Incorporated muscle-leaning exercises like squats and plies can expand your results.

4.To prevent muscle atrophy of the torso and upper body, include 2-3 days of resistance or weight training along with 3 days of abdominal work.

This suite of exercises promotes cardio-respiratory health, overall wellness and increased fat-burning potential due to muscle building techniques.

[1] http://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Citation/2013/05000/High_Intensity_Interval_Training___Efficient,.3.aspx

[2] http://etd.auburn.edu/etd/handle/10415/3757

[3] http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/2193-1801-2-532.pdf

[4] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0939475313001403

 

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