Does Interval Training Burn More Fat? (Science-Backed)

interval training is one of the best ways for you to burn fat

We are here to explore one of the more time efficient methods to achieving fat loss: interval training.

But first, does interval training really help you burn more fat than traditional workouts?

Studies have shown that when calorie expenditure is the same from interval training and lower intensity training, there is NOT a significant difference in overall fat loss.  The key is simply to get into a calorie deficit, whether that’s by using interval training or otherwise.

With that said, if all you have is 30-miuntes to train, for example, research has shown that  internal training is a better usage of one’s workout time as it can lead to more calories being burned in the same amount of time one would perform low intensity exercise.

Our goal with this article is to help you determine if interval training is the best way for you to burn fat.  

We’ll discuss…

  • The differences between interval training and more traditional training 
  • Discuss why interval training may actually help you burn more fat 
  • Review the three benefits of interval training.

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Interval Training vs Lower Intensity Training: Why Knowing The Difference Matters

the differences between interval training and lower intensity training

When it comes to training hard, interval training is often used as a catch-all phrase when people think they workout intensely and therefore must be doing hard intervals or work to rest. 

While this may be the case, the science and protocols behind interval training can be watered down, which is exactly why we must first differentiate between lower and moderate intensity workouts and interval training.

Defining Interval Training

Interval training is when there are short, intense bursts of work followed by longer, slower or low intensity periods of light work and recovery. 

The key to interval training is that the short and intense work periods must be close to or at maximal exertion levels. The ACSM defines this as anywhere between 80-95% of maximal heart rate, or 8, 9, or 10 on a 1-10 RPE scale. 

The short bursts of intense work periods often lasts five seconds to eight minutes, and are followed by a recovery period of 1:1 or 1:4 work to rest ratio. 

If the rest period is too short, the individual may not be able to output as much energy and have such a drastic physiological response (heart rate response).

Many gym goers fail to recognize that the research that backs the effectiveness of interval training is entirely predicated on the basis that the individual MUST be training very hard.

In order for the interval training to be called interval training, this high output and high intensity level of training must be achieved, otherwise the research behind the effectiveness of interval training may not be as useful.

If you want more resources on interval training, check out: 

Defining Non-Interval Training

Non-interval training can be defined simply as anything other than interval training. 

This of course is an umbrella term that applies to all other forms of training. 

It is important to point out that many interval training workouts can quickly become non-interval based simply by stripping down the rest or recovery period to a point where it impedes one’s ability to reach maximal levels of exertion (as defined above). 

Interval training workouts can also become non-interval training simply due to someone not pushing themselves hard enough.

Therefore, it is key that individuals understand that doing intervals within a workout is not enough to qualify something as interval training. 

In order for those workouts to be interval training, and be able to claim the benefits listed below, the individuals MUST be able to reach maximal levels of energy output, RPE ratings of 8+, and/or reach 80-95% of heart rate max during those work periods to quality.

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Why You Should Focus on Both Interval and Non-Interval Training To Burn More Fat

While many people would love to claim one form of training is better than the other, the truth is that they both have merit and can be beneficial for all levels of lifters at various stages of training based on their overall goals and abilities.

Interval training is intense, and while it is a very efficient way to spend your training time, it can also lead to overuse injury and excessive systemic strain if recovery is not prioritized between work bouts and sessions. 

Additionally, it can be stressful and jarring to individuals who may have contradictions to certain movements or actions, making exercise selection and proper form a key component to injury prevention.

Conversely, interval training can be a great way to burn a ton of calories in less time, and can help place all level gym goers on a fast tract for developing cardio and fitness health.

Non-interval training is a good way to burn just as many calories as interval training (when total expenditure is equated), and could be a good option for lifters who cannot or do not want to add additional system stress to the body through intensity interval training. 

This is often the case with athletes and lifters who are looking to preserve all their energy to attack hard and strenuous strength and hypertrophy based weight sessions, or with individuals who are looking to use exercise as a low intensity, low stress means of fitness.

Does Interval Training Burn More Fat Than Regular Workouts? 

interval training is more time-efficient strategy for decreasing fat stores as compared to regular intensity workouts

Most people would think that interval training burns more fat during a workout simply beauce the workouts are “tougher”, however research has shown that this is not always the case. 

Interval training is simply a more time-efficient strategy for decreasing fat stores (increase calorie output in less time) as compared to regular intensity workouts, however if total calorie expenditure is equivalent between both training methods, there is no significant difference.

One meta-analysis showed that interval and non interval-based training, when total calories are equated, produced similar benefits and reductions in body fat, blood pressure, and improvements in cardio and overall fitness. 

While there were no significant differences between the groups in terms of exercise outcomes, they did find that the interval training group trained on average 10 less minutes per session than the moderate intensity groups. 

This is further supported by a 2018 meta-analysis that concluded similar findings, and states that, “HIIT is a time-efficient strategy to decrease fat-mass deposits, including those of abdominal and visceral fat mass.” 

They further concluded that while HIIT is a time-effective strategy to decrease fat, it is not any more effective than moderate and low intensity training when total caloric output is equated… it just may take more time to burn those calories (however it will not be as intense as a workout).

Benefits of Interval Training For Fat Loss

the 3 main benefits of interval training for fat loss

The 3 main benefits of interval training for fat loss are: 

  • It can help you burn more or the same amount of calories, in less time
  • It can help to avoid “compensatory” eating   
  • It can improve work capacity and other markers of muscular and aerobic fitness

1.  Burn More Calories in Less Time

High intensity interval training is a great way to burn more calories in less time.

For example, if you can burn 300 calories in 45 minutes with moderate intensity, non-interval based training, you may be able to burn 300 calories in 30 minutes using a more intensity, interval based training protocol.

This is useful for individuals who are looking to burn as many calories as they can, in the least amount of time. 

For individuals who are strapped for time at the gym, interval training can be a primary way of training with weights and other forms of exercise as long as they are able to push their intensity to the highest of levels (as discussed above). 

2.  May Help Avoid Overeating

Some exercise physiologists and coaches believe that shorter workouts may reframe an individual’s mind so that they do not view their workouts as these long, arduous, training sessions. 

By keeping training sessions short and intense, some coaches and specialists find that individuals are less likely to participate in “compensatory eating’ practice like overeating or rewarding themselves after workouts. 

3. Improve Aerobic and Muscular Fitness

Like most forms of exercise, interval training is an effective and efficient way of improving aerobic capacity and muscular fitness.

This can be helpful for individuals who are looking to increase various aspects of their health and fitness, yet are limited on time and need to be the most efficient with their workouts as possible.

Looking for examples of HIIT workouts?  Check out our other articles: 

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Interval vs Non-Interval Training Verdict:  Which Can Burn More Fat?

As discussed above, both forms of training can be equally beneficial to individuals when total caloric expenditure is equated.

That said, research has repeatedly shown that interval training, when done using high or maximal levels of intensity, is a very effective and time-efficient method of decreasing fat stores in less time when compared to non-interval, lower to moderate intensity exercise.

While it is unclear how much time you will save by doing higher intensity interval training, some research suggests that on average individuals spent 10 minutes less per workout when doing interval training.

It is important to note that the validity of all the interval training research is entirely dependent on the fact that the work periods must be performed at the highest of intensities (performed at 80 percent to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate, or RPE 8, 9, or 10).

If you are looking for a high intensity interval training program that is designed to help you burn fat and build muscle, download the Fitbod app.

Need a workout program? Try Fitbod for free.

About The Author

Mike Dewar

Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.