Cellulite & HIIT / interval training: the facts
Why HIIT is the best type of cellulite workout
the most effective form of exercise for cellulite reduction / prevention
Interval training (also referred to as high intensity interval training, HIIT), is a type of cardiovascular exercise that involves bursts of high intensity training, alternated with periods of rest or low activity (intervals). Interval training can consist of fast-slow running, swimming, cycling, rowing, exercise on the elliptical/cross trainer or other activities that can involve sprinting. Most "active" sports are in essence interval training, e.g. basketball, football, rugby, water polo, hockey etc.
Interval training is by far the best form of exercise for cellulite reduction and prevention. This is because during the bursts of high intensity activity you burn calories very fast - much faster than you would with slow intensity work. In addition, those bursts act as a shock on the endocrine system and boost your metabolism much more effectively than slow intensity exercise, so you continue to burn calories after your training session. Furthermore, the extreme production of noradrenaline and adrenaline that occurs during sprinting has an immense effect on the fat tissue, stimulating it not only to release fat but, with time, to also burn fat itself (thermogenesis)!
Interval running, in particular, also provides quite intense mechanical stimulation to the fat cells (adipocytes), blood and lymph vessels and collagen cells (fibroblasts), so it offers yet another benefit in terms of cellulite reduction. The only exercise type that provides more mechanical stimulation is vibration plate training. However, vibration training does not burn nearly as many calories as interval running does. But then again, nobody stops you from combining vibration training with interval training and get the most of the two best anti-cellulite forms of training!
Why should I do interval training instead of continuous high intensity exercise?
Low intensity exercise, such as walking or slow running, is not particularly effective in reducing fat and cellulite, but it is easy, especially for unfit people. High intensity training is fantastic for burning fat (including cellulite fat) but it can not be practised for prolonged periods of time by beginners. Interval training offers the best of both worlds, giving unfit people the opportunity to reap the benefits of high intensity exercise without the required mental discipline and advanced physical fitness.
In addition, interval training leaves you with a feeling of invigoration, instead of a feeling of exhaustion that prolonged high intensity activity may do. This is always a bonus if you are overworked and tired - like most people today. Finally, interval training makes you much more motivated to train than continuous training, because when you interval-train you don't get bored: the sprints offer you a natural high (adrenaline rush), while the rest periods act as a reward (dopamine release) and provide you with a welcome distraction after the exertion of the sprints.
Furthermore, by varying the speed of the sprints, the length of the sprints, the rest periods and the overall amounts of sprint-rest cycles you can create a different workout everyday, beating boredom and tricking your body into working harder.
Finally, due to the high amounts of noradrenaline that it releases, interval training is the perfect type of exercise to combine with anti-cellulite treatments and creams in order to focus the results of exercise on specific cellulite areas (noradrenaline triggers fat release which is synergistically combined to the fat release caused by a quality anti-cellulite and/or anti-cellulite treatment).
I have personally been practising interval running for the last 35 years, among several other forms of training, and I can say that interval training is my favourite type of cardiovascular training. Circuit training, being very similar to interval training, is my other favourite form of training, offering a mix of strength and cardiovascular conditioning. Below I am offering you a simple guide on how to perform interval training safely and effectively.
How to beat cellulite with HIIT/interval training
Interval training is the best exercise against cellulite
In the previous section of this article we analysed why interval training is the best anti-cellulite exercise. On this article we are showing you how to use interval training simply, effectively and safely as part of your anti-cellulite exercise regime.
How do I do interval training?
Intervals are simple and fun, so you don't need a personal trainer - all you need is to get started now and then be creative along the way, devising your own interval training routines!
The information below is for interval running, but the same principles can be applied to interval rowing, interval swimming, interval cycling, interval training on the elliptical/cross trainer machine etc.
Warming up, warm clothes and stretching are essential to avoid injuries - neglect them at your peril...
First off you start with a warm up session consisting of 10 minutes of slow running. The warming up is essential to avoid injuries, so neglect it at your peril! Warm clothes are also essential: when you sprint, your muscles must be warm at all times, otherwise injury is almost guaranteed. Other injury prevention measures include running on the grass, wearing special running tights (indispensable for knee stabilisation), buying a pair of quality trainers (don't even think of doing interval running with any other type of shoe than running shoes) and buying shock absorption insoles to enhance your running shoes' shock absorption.
After a 10-minute slow run you need to spend about 5 minutes stretching your legs. This will also help prevent injury, in addition to allowing you to rest and prepare for the exertion of the sprints.
Finally, make sure you always carry some water with you and do not start your session hungry, to avoid hypoglycemia. On the other hand, eating for two hours before exercise is not recommended, as the deep breathing occurring during interval training may upset your stomach. If you did not have time to eat properly 3-4 hours before training, you can have half a banana with some water just before exercise to give you an energy boost without over-filling your stomach.
Main interval session
After stretching you are ready for action! A typical sprinting-rest routine for beginners involves 30" of sprinting, followed by 90" of slow walking (recovery time should be about 3x times longer than sprinting time). Alternatively, you can sprint for about 150 metres and then walk back slowly to your starting position. The time it takes you to walk back to the starting position will be just about the right amount of rest, which should take about 3x times the sprinting time.
Typical sprint/rest combinations are:
- 30" fast sprint + 90" slow jog/walk
- 1' moderate sprint + 3' slow jog/walk
- 150m of fast sprint+ 150m of slow walk back
- 200m of moderate sprint + 200m of slow walk back
- 300m of moderate sprint + 300m of slow walk back
Intensity/duration of sprints and recovery periods
Anything below 30" of sprinting does not allow your heart rate to increase considerably, unless you are very fit and can run really fast. Anything more than one minute of sprint is also not suitable if you are an amateur, as you will be too exhausted after one minute of sprinting. Recovery periods should consist of very slow jogging / walking - never standing or sitting down - to allow for lactic acid removal and to reduce the possibility of dizziness.
If you sprint really fast you will need to take more time recovering, i.e. you will need to walk back to the starting position at a slower pace, in order to recover sufficiently (maybe you can have 4x times more recovery time than sprinting time).
Alternatively, you may choose to sprint less fast, in which case you will have to allow less recovery time, i.e. you will have to walk faster towards the starting position (perhaps 2x times more recovery time than sprinting time).
However, I do not recommend beginners to sprint so fast that they need 4x times more recovery time than sprinting time, as such excessive exertion may lead a beginner to dizziness or cause an injury.
And I do not not recommend sprinting very slowly combined with recovery time of only 2x times the sprinting time, as this does not allow a big enough fast/slow contrast.
Of course, trying to be "too smart" by sprinting fast and resting little, in order to have faster results, is not recommended, as it will only lead to early exhaustion and lower quality workout - and definitely not faster results!
Number of sprint/recovery cycles to be repeated
Repeat those sprint-rest cycles 6 to 12 times, according to your fitness and energy levels. Your interval training should last anything between 18' to 36'. Less is not efficient enough, while more may be too exhausting for more people.
Remember, if you're tired it is better to do a short workout made up of only 6x sprint-interval cycles, than going home to watch TV and wait for the perfect day with the huge energy levels that will allow you to do 18 cycles of sprint-interval cycles.
Heart rate monitor: your personal trainer!
If you want to know whether you sprint too fast or too slow, or whether you rest too much or too little, you can assess your heart rate with a heart rate monitor, or by checking your pulse by gently pressing your thump on the carotid artery (found just to either side of your throat).
A heart rate at the end of the sprint of 160 beats per minute (bpm) is ideal for a 30 year old person (~85% of maximum heart rate), while a heart rate of 115 bpm is great after the end of the recovery period, for the same person (~60% of maximum heart rate). Older people can do with slightly slower heart rates, for example a 50-year old should aim for 145 bpm after the end of the sprint and 105 bpm after the end of the recovery period. Anything lower is less effective, whilst anything faster may be too much for your system. Of course, these numbers are relative, as some people have a higher maximum heart rate and some lower, but statistically, these are the average recommended heart rates.
If you assess your heart rate with the thump/carotid method, you don't need to take your pulse for 60 seconds - 10 seconds are more than enough. In this case, for a 30-year old person, 27 beats per 10 seconds are ideal immediately after the sprint, and ~19 beats per 10 seconds are great at the end of the recovery period and immediately before the next sprint.
Athletes normally do 28-31 beats/10" post-sprint (equivalent to 168-186 bpm), but that is not advised for amateurs.
More stretching and cooling down are also essential for injury prevention and for lactic acid removal from your muscles
As the title suggests, you must follow EVERY interval training routine with 5 more minutes of stretching and 10 minutes of slow jogging, to enable your body to adjust to normal life smoothly and to help remove lactic acid from your muscles. Again, neglect the cooling down session and you might find yourself feeling dizzy or getting injured sooner than you expect.
How often can I do interval training?
Interval training is what we call high quality workout, meaning that it pushes your body further than normal steady pace cardiovascular training (running, swimming, cycling etc). However, this also means that you need to allow longer recovery period between workout, so doing interval running every day is definitely not recommended. In fact, interval training is ideal if performed once or twice a week, with other workouts, such as continuous running (or cycling, swimming etc.), circuits, weights etc. filling the rest of your training week.
After doing a few interval training sessions and attempt to do steady pace CV training you will realise just how boring steady pace CV training is. However, steady pace training has it's own benefits - one of them being a nice "filler" between interval training sessions in your training week!
Fartlek training - an even more playful type of interval training that is ideal for cellulite reduction
After a few sessions of interval training you will be able to create your own routine, with shorter or faster sprint/recovery times and less or more interval cycles per workout.
If you get bored of intervals you can also try fartleks. Fartleks have nothing to do with passing wind or other discomfort - fartlek means "speed play" in Swedish! Fartleks involve the random change of pace while running - anything from sprinting to walking, with random and continuous change of speed every few seconds during your 20-40 minute routine. Spinning classes can also be categorised as fartleks, and are great for fast fat loss.
Have you heard of SMIT (Supramaximal interval Training) yet?
If you thought faster forms of HIIT may be a bit demanding for your heart, muscle or joints, well, then supramaximal interval training (aka supramaximal exercise training) is definitely not for you. As the name suggests, with SMIT you go above your maximum 100% exercise intensity. How is this possible, you might think? Well, it is. Imagine you cycle really fast down a hill and then cycle as fast as you can on a steep incline at the bottom of the hill - that's supramaximal. You could never achieve this intensity on a level road.
How can you apply this at the gym? Simple. Go on the exercise bike, cycle as fast as you can and then, will you cycle super fast at your maximum intensity, suddenly increase the bike resistance by two-three notches and keep cycling for 30 seconds. Then rest for 3-4 minutes.
Another application of SMIT is plyometrics. Get some heavy dumbbells, jump off a 3-foot high bench and on hitting the ground do a deep squat and bounce back up again. Repeat a few times. That's the simplest form of plyometrics and if done with really heavy weights it's also SMIT.
Do both types of supramaximal interval training training sound as a recipe for disaster for you? Yes, they are a disaster for anyone except the very fit types. You know, those ones with great strength, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning. SMIT is not for the faint-hearted and although it gives you generally better results than HIIT, the risk to joint health or muscle injury is not worth it. Milder forms of HIIT are for the masses, intense HIIT is for the fitter ones among the masses and SMIT is for the very fit. But I doubt any very fit women would be reading this post, because they wouldn't have cellulite in the first place.
So no matter what the magazine hype will say in the next few months and years (SMIT is a new kid on the block for anyone except competitive athletes), save your joints and just do a milder or more intensive version of HIIT or some nice playful fartleks instead. Or do some uphill interval training, which will test your cardiovascular system and boost your metabolism, without injuring your joints or muscles.
Uphill interval running: the ultimate anti-cellulite exercise
For the ultimate in interval training, why don't you try uphill interval training, after a few weeks of normal interval training? An ideal uphill interval running for beginners can be 100m uphill sprinting followed by 100m of walking down to the starting point very, very slowly. 150m and 200m sprints are also great, but not suggested for beginners.
Or, if you run on a treadmill, you can walk/run uphill, at full inclination, for about a minute and then take about three minutes of recovery time comprising very slow uphill walk/jog.
I do not recommend 30" / 90" intervals on the treadmill, as the machine takes some time to increase / reduce the running pace, which means you will waste too much time fiddling with the speed button and may also be distracted and fall off the treadmill.
How to perform uphill interval running to beat cellulite, fast!
As mentioned above, uphill interval training is the strongest anti-cellulite exercise available and can simply be performed as follows:
- All interval running training must always be preceded and followed by 10’ of jogging and 5' of stretching to avoid injury. For the same purpose, make sure you wear warm clothing on your legs.
- The actual training is very simple: just pick a hill and sprint uphill for 30’, followed by 90’ of very slow downhill jogging to your starting point
- Repeat this cycle 10 times and you have a 20’ high quality interval training session!
- On a treadmill, set the elevation to 10-15º and sprint for 45" followed by 135" of very slow walking. The longer sessions on the treadmill are necessary to avoid fiddling with the controls too often (unlike free running, the treadmill takes some time to increase/decrease it's speed). In this case, just 7 cycles will be enough, as the sprinting sessions are longer.
Remember, with interval training the trick is not to have very little rest or run fast on the recovery period, as that will lead to either slower speed during the sprinting period or to exhaustion/fainting, transforming the interval training to a continuous running session with just small variations in speed, which is not called interval training any more and defies the whole point.
If you were an elite athlete who can do high intensity interval training with very little recovery without fainting, you would not have cellulite in the first place! The trick is to run very fast and then jog very slowly.
If in doubt, you must ask for doctor’s permission before engaging on any high intensity exercise.
Make the most of your interval training to beat cellulite fast
You can combine the ultimate anti-cellulite training with a suitable anti-cellulite treatment taken immediately before or after interval training, in order to focus the fat loss produced by your interval training session on your cellulite. You can also achieve the same effect by applying a concentrated anti-cellulite cream immediately before and/or after your exercise session.
As we mentioned above, the intense noradrenaline production during interval training encourages fat release from fat cells, thereby creating the perfect biochemical environment for a good anti-cellulite treatment or cream to work.
Study reveals why interval training is so effective
Why high intensity interval training is the best type of exercise for unfit / moderately fit people
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become popular because it is a time-efficient way to increase endurance. An intriguing and so-far-unanswered question is how a few minutes of HIIT can be that effective. New research has now shown that interval training (as little as 10 sets of 30" full-intensity cycling alternated by 4' of rest between sets!) causes free radical damage on a muscle cell protein called ryanodine receptor 1 (RyR1). This ultimately causes "mitochondrial biogenesis", i.e. the creation of new mitochondria (mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell, the place where most of cell energy production occurs).
In summary: high intensity interval training > more mitochondria > more energy production > more fitness.
As these changes depend on free radical damage, taking antioxidants (such as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, CoQ10, Alpha Lipoic Acid, polyphenols etc.) stops this process, and this has been proven experimentally. So practically you should not take antioxidants one day before, on the same day and one day after doing HIIT training. Furthermore these adaptations to HIIT did not occur on elite athletes, because they are fully adapted to high intensity training due to their daily gruelling training regime.
This practically means that interval training is ideal for unfit or moderately fit people. The only limitation is that you need to have generally good cardiovascular health. However, interval training is not a good idea for people with cardiovascular problems, as high intensity training puts a lot of pressure on the heart and may lead to too high or too low blood pressure.
(Source: Ryanodine receptor fragmentation and sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ leak after one session of high-intensity interval exercise)
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