High intensity versus low intensity exercise for fat loss

High intensity exercise training gets rid of abdominal fat better than low intensity exercise. To many of you this statement may seem intuitive; however, some exercise enthusiasts have mistakenly promoted the opposite approach. These people base their reasoning on the concept that at rest the human body gets 70% of its energy from carbohydrates and 30% from fats. As exercise intensity increases, the ratio changes to upwards of 90% carbohydrates and 10% fat. This well established physiologic response has led some to advocate long, slow training for lowering body fat since the percentage of fat burned is greatest at lower intensities.


A recently published study in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise sheds new light on this debate. Researchers compared body fat measures in two matched groups of people who were overweight. Group 1 exercised three days per week at a level that was perceived to be “hard” and two days per week at a low intensity. Group 2 exercised five days per week at a moderate / low intensity. Each group performed the same amount of exercise each of the five days so that the total number of calories burned should have been the same (400 calories per workout). For example, three days per week the high intensity group ran / walked at a hard level for four miles while the low intensity group ran / walked four miles at a low intensity. The low intensity group obviously took more time to cover the distance.


After sixteen weeks the high intensity training group won the award demonstrating superior improvements in total abdominal fat, abdominal visceral fat, abdominal subcutaneous fat, waist circumference, mid thigh fat, body mass, body mass index and overall fat mass. Interestingly the higher intensity group did not report an increased level of injury, which has also led some to discourage the use of higher intensity exercise. So, the take home message is that there are some tremendous health benefits to adding high intensity exercise into your training routine.


Bryan Whitesides MPT, OCS

Physical Therapist


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