The 3 Pillars of Health: Fitness, Food, Sleep

A 4 Week HIIT Program for Fat Loss


What do you see when you look in the mirror? Does looking in the mirror make you happy or sad?

Maybe like many of us, you’ve decided you need to lose a few pounds.

Let’s discuss how we got into this mess and how we can get out of it.

NOTE: This is an updated and combined version of several posts here on Fitnessator. This is a long article (over 5,000 words). The following table of contents will help you find topics within HIIT and Fat Loss that most interest you.

From Age 20 to 40

Let’s start by looking at how you got those extra pounds.

If you are like most people, you gained weight as you went from a 20-year-old to becoming a 40-year-old.


On one level we all know the answer that applies to most of us.

HIIT program for weight loss to fight the junk food

Yummy, but adds pounds

Way too much food… So much yummy food… So much fattening food.

Not enough activity. Little or no real exercise.

Work and family pressures made it hard to exercise on a regular basis.

And who can afford a gym membership these days, anyway?

You bought an exercise bike, but discovered that it really should be called a boring bike.

Weight Gain Basics

The food you eat gives your body energy in the form of calories and needed nutrients.

For our purposes, we only care about the energy.

The calories you consume do one of three things. They are used for

  • immediate energy needs,
  • short-term storage for later energy needs, or
  • long-term storage (fat).

If you are a moderately active woman, aged 31 – 50, then you need about 2000 calories a day.

A moderately active man, aged 31 – 50, needs 2400 – 2600 calories each day.

(These daily calorie estimates are based on research. You can see the whole chart for different age groups and activity levels here.)

When you consume more calories than your body needs, the excess calories are converted into body fat.

Though it’s not completely accurate, about every extra 3,500 calories you eat are turned into one pound of body fat.

Even if it’s only 10 extra calories a day, that adds up to 3,650 extra calories a year.

Do that every year and by the time you’re 40, you’re looking at a dumpy version of your former self.

Don’t feel bad.

Most of us have been there.

The only question now is what to do about it.

Myth of Weight Loss

HIIT program for fat loss

You’re probably thinking, “Since more calories equal more weight, then fewer calories equal less weight.”

So you get out your calculator and find that to lose one pound a week, all you need to do is cut out 3,500 calories a week.

Wonderful, you think, that’s only 500 calories a day.

So you prepare yourself to cut out 500 calories a day, convinced that in a few short weeks you’ll lose all of that weight you put on since high school.


If you’ve been researching how to lose weight, then I’m sure you’ve come across the idea that crash diets don’t work.

You may have even experienced it yourself.

A crash diet may work for a short time, but usually you’ll hit a weight loss plateau. You stop losing weight.

A crash diet “scares” your body. It’s as if your body says to itself, “Hey! What’s going on here? Famine? Prepare for the worst. Shut down all non-vital functions!”

bad snacks make it hard to lose weight

Weighing his options

Your body adapts to your new eating habits and tries every trick it knows to save energy.

You started the diet because you wanted to lose weight. When you thought “lose weight” you had in mind the fat that you’ve added over the years.

Your body doesn’t know that all you’re interested in losing is body fat.

So in its effort to save energy, it will get rid of some of your lean body mass also. That means you’ll start losing muscles as well as fat. Not what you wanted.

Also, by their nature, crash diets are not sustainable.

You can’t experience hunger pangs too often without eventually caving.

You’ll go back to your old eating habits (unless you’ve made a real lifestyle change). Once you’re back to your old habits, the pounds come back in a flash.

Fat Loss vs Weight Loss

Let’s be clear about one thing that can be confusing.

Fat loss and weight loss are not the same thing.

Granted, if you want to lose weight, then you also need to lose some body fat.

However, your weight loss will come from losing excess fat and from losing excess fluids.

Also, if you’re not careful, you may also lose weight by losing muscle mass. That is something you want to avoid doing.

So you see, fat loss is one specific component of weight loss. In fact, you could lose fat but gain weight if the fat is replaced with muscle. The overall effect will be that you look and feel better and are more fit, even though you may weigh a bit more.

The Right Mindset

I’ve tried to describe the process that many people go through from being a teenager to becoming an adult.

You probably weren’t aware of the extra weight you were putting on as it happened.

It came gradually over the years.

Therefore, don’t expect it to come off quickly.

Rest assured, you can take off the weight. Also, it won’t take 20 years to lose it.

However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can take it all off in a couple of weeks.

It will be much healthier for you if you strive for a slow weight loss of 1 – 2 pounds per week.

Designing a Fat Loss Workout Plan

You might think that designing workout plans for weight loss would be difficult or complicated.

In fact, it’s neither difficult nor complicated.

All you need is to do is take into account your current fitness level, your interests, your lifestyle, your available time, and your weight loss goals.

The following tips will help you develop a plan that will work for you.

Your Current Fitness Level

A good workout should push your limits. When you push yourself you will increase your strength, endurance, and flexibility.

You will also lose weight, burn body fat, and gain muscle.

However, it is also important that your workout should not be too difficult for your current fitness level.

Working out beyond your means may leave you feeling frustrated and it can also lead to injuries.

Start with a plan that pushes you a bit beyond your current fitness level. Once that routine starts to become easy for you, modify it to be a bit more difficult.

Repeat this process until you reach your fitness goals.

Your Interests

You may have designed the most perfect workout plan in the world. But, you will only achieve your goals if you follow the plan.

You will not stick with a plan if you don’t enjoy the activity.

For instance, maybe you love riding a bike. It won’t be too hard to develop a workout plan that is based on bicycling. This is the type of plan that you are most likely to stick with for the coming weeks and months.

Try this: make a list of your favorite activities. Think back to what you liked to do when you were a kid.

From your list choose those activities that can be turned into fun and engaging workout plans for weight loss.

Your Lifestyle

Your new fat loss workout plan must take into account your current lifestyle.

When can you make some free time in your day? You’re most likely going to have to do your workout in the mornings before you go to work or in the evenings after you get home.

Which time of day is best for you?

If you feel energetic in the morning, then that may be the best time for you. You may even find that you can get up 15 or 20 minutes earlier and make time for your workout.

Your Time

choose a workout that saves time

An HIIT workout does not take a lot of time.

I’m sure you’re like most people and find yourself wishing you had a few more hours every day. You sure don’t have an extra hour or two to devote to an exercise program.

Your best bet then is to develop an HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout for your weight loss.

One of the huge benefits of an HIIT workout is that you can get real results from short workouts. How short?

It’s hard to believe, but even only 4 minutes, three times a week can get you on the road to losing weight and burning body fat.

Your Weight Loss Goals

Think carefully about your weight loss goals.

This is a time to be realistic.

You may want to lose a lot of weight in a few weeks to look good for a major event.

It may be possible to lose, for example, 30 pounds in 3 weeks. But it’s probably not a good idea.

Don't be a human yo-yo

Don’t become a human yo-yo.

You may be setting yourself up for becoming a human yo-yo. Weight comes off quickly and just as quickly returns.

It would be better to gradually lose those 30 pounds. Do it by developing new habits so that you can keep the weight off.

Don’t do anything that resembles a crash diet. Find out how many calories are recommended for your age, gender, and weight. You can cut back on that some, but don’t do anything super low-calorie.

Remember, you put on those pounds slowly over a period of years. The best way to take them off is slowly.

How to Stay Motivated

If you are motivated you’ll find it easier to stick with an effective weight loss workout plan.

One way to motivate yourself is to keep records.

Get a journal and make notes about your workouts. How many repetitions did you do? How did you feel during and after your workout? What did you weigh when you started your workout program? How much do you weigh now?

Also, be careful in other areas of your life. Get enough sleep each night. Avoid overeating and binge eating. Don’t eat junk foods full of empty calories.

As you establish an overall healthier lifestyle, you’ll find it much easier to lose weight.

The Best Exercise to Burn Fat

Many people ask the question, “What is the best exercise to burn fat?”

I won’t keep you in suspense.

There is no one best exercise to burn fat. However, there is a system that has proven to be very effective: HIIT – high intensity interval training.

Read on to get the details.

The Wrong Question

Some people ask, “What is the easy way to lose fat?”

When a person asks that question, it could mean that all they want is a quick and easy shortcut. Maybe all they want is a magic pill.

You probably already know that there is no quick and easy way to lose body fat.

What you want to know now is what you can do to make sure your eating and exercise work together to help you lose fat.

Cardio for Fat Loss?

Let’s start with a startling statement by personal trainer John Meadows:

“When it comes to doing cardio for fat loss, it’s either slow and easy (walking) or fast and torrid (HIIT). The middle ground can make you fatter.”

Many people think exercise means riding an exercise bike or using an elliptical machine for 30 – 45 minutes each day.

This is the cardio John is referring to when he says, “The middle ground can make you fatter.”

In simple terms, John Meadows is telling us that your body reacts to the messages it receives.

Here’s how trainer Charles Staley puts it:

“When a biological system experiences a challenge, it modifies itself in order to be able to more easily meet similar challenges in the future.”

If you have been overeating and not exercising, then the challenge your body has faced is what to do with all the extra calories. The result is body and belly fat.

If your day is spent mostly sitting (in your car, at your desk, at your dining table, on the sofa) you’re telling your body that you only need a few muscles.

Let’s say you start riding an exercise bike for 30 minutes a day.

Your body will react to that message. That is, your body will try to become good at slow aerobic cardio.

The way to become good at steady-state cardio is to use as few calories as possible during the exercise session.

The thing is, it’s your muscles that are using the most calories. So your body will tend to minimize your muscle mass in order to do the cardio more efficiently.

Cardio Done Right

Cardio workout routines are effective at helping you lose weight when you put in place an effective weight loss workout plan.

When you do cardio the right way, you will burn calories and may even burn off calories more than many other types of exercise.

Remember, one pound of body fat equals 3500 calories. This means that your body needs to expend at least that many calories for you to lose a single pound.

Benefits of Cardio

Cardio is a highly beneficial component of an effective weight loss workout plan.

However, it’s not a magic bullet that will instantly solve all of your weight loss problems.

For example, a power walk lasting 30 minutes on flat ground will only burn off about 120 calories. This means that you need a walk of two hours every day to lose one pound a week.

You can, of course, walk up hill or more quickly to get quicker results.

Plus, you need to be careful after your walk. Many people over estimate how many calories they used and will end up overeating to compensate.

Walking – The Easy Cardio Exercise

One of the easiest ways to lose a lot of pounds and inches is to exercise by walking. However, it is important to start slowly, to avoid burnout within the first few days.

Begin walking every day for exercise, and incorporate it into your average daily routine. This might include walking to work instead of driving.

When driving, consider parking farther away from the building and walking in.

Not All Cardio is Good

should an exercise bike be part of your workouts?

After you’ve been successfully walking, you might think that your next step up the fitness ladder is to start jogging or using an exercise bike.

You’ll think that since you’re experiencing success from the easy workout, then you’ll get more results from a slightly harder weight loss workout.

However, trainer John Meadows cautions us that not all cardio is created equal.

He makes this startling claim, “When it comes to doing cardio for fat loss, it’s either slow and easy (walking) or fast and torrid (HIIT). The middle ground can make you fatter.”

In other words, don’t get into the routine of long slow steady-state cardio workouts. This would include jogging and using machines such as treadmills and ellipticals.

How to Burn Fat

arm muscles

Tell your body muscles are important to you.

Do you really want to lose body and belly fat?

Then you need to start sending your body the “burn body fat” message.

You need to start exercising in a way that tells your body muscles are important.

Your body then starts considering your body fat to be dead weight and throws it overboard.

Craig Ballantyne, the creator of Turbulence Training and the Home Workout Revolution, says your exercise needs to match several characteristics to put you on the road to burning body fat. Those characteristics are:

  • resistance or strength training
  • circuits or supersets
  • elevated heart rate
  • maximized calorie use
  • insufficient recovery between exercises
  • density training

Let’s talk a little about each of these factors.

Resistance or Strength Training

Cardio exercise is not the only way to lose weight.

include strength training in your workouts

Resistance, or strength, training may not lead to a significant weight loss, especially when compared to a cardio workout.

However, strength training does help you develop significant muscle mass in your body. This is important because the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn, even at rest.

To use the technical term, your basal metabolism will increase.

This may be done with no equipment (bodyweight exercise) or equipment such as weight machines or free weights. You move the weight to exercise and strengthen your muscles.

Strength training is great for improving your overall health. In fact, cross training, or performing a variety of different exercises helps keep you from getting bored during your workouts.

You can read more about resistance training here.

Circuits or Supersets

A superset is combining two or more exercises with a similar motion to maximize the work done by that muscle group.

A circuit is doing a number of exercises one after the other and then repeating the same exercises.

Elevating Your Heart Rate

Your target should be to get your heart rate up to 85% of your maximum heart rate.

Your maximum heart rate is usually calculated as 220 – Your Age.

So if you’re 40 years old, then your maximum would be 220 – 40 = 180 beats per minute. Your 85% target would then be 180 x 0.85 = 153.

Maximizing Calorie Use

You will maximize the calories you burn by exercising intensely with only short breaks between sets. Your body not only burns calories during your exercise session, but also after your session ends.

This is the afterburn effect. Your body needs to recover from your intense exercise session. It is replenishing your oxygen supply and repairing muscles. These activities can increase your metabolism for between 24 – 36 hours.

Insufficient Recovery

The idea of insufficient recovery is that you pause between sets for a short time.

This pause, your rest and recovery interval, allows your body to slightly recover from the exercise you’ve been doing. During this time you breathe deeply to replace oxygen in your body. This recovery interval keeps lactic acid from building up in your muscles.

However, you start the next set of exercises before your body is fully recovered from the previous set.

How long the rest and recovery interval should be depends upon your current fitness level and the intensity of your workout.

Density Training

Density training means either doing more work in the same time period or doing the same amount of work in less time.

One way to accomplish this is to move fast between exercises. Also you can alter your work and rest periods to do the maximum within a single exercise set.

Fat Burning Secret

HIIT program secret to burn fat

Density training causes fatigue within your muscles. You only need to train for a few minutes at a time for this fatigue to set in.

Your muscles react to the signal you’re sending them.

They release the chemicals in your body that indicate the fatigue they are experiencing.

The result of density training is biochemical and hormonal changes in your body. These are changes you don’t see or feel on the surface.

However, working within you, these changes cause you to burn fat and gain muscle. Also, your cardiovascular system performs at a higher level.

Your body adapts to your new exercise routine, to this density training.

You get fitter and leaner.

Your body no longer wants or needs the body fat and belly fat you’ve built up over the years.

It’s now truly dead weight that gets thrown overboard.

Your Best Exercise to Burn Fat

We now have the full answer to how to burn body fat.

Start doing an HIIT workout three times a week.

HIIT combines all of the factors that we discussed above.

By starting an HIIT workout routine, you force your body to adapt to the new challenge. Your body has no choice but to increase your muscle mass and to burn the excess body fat.

High Intensity Interval Training – HIIT Program

If you want an in depth discussion of HIIT, then read this post.

For now, let’s quickly review why an HIIT workout plan can be best for you.

We know that HIIT workouts produce the kinds of results you want from an exercise program.

These aren’t just theoretical results, these are results that researchers have documented in their labs and that real people have achieved at home and at the gym.

For example, an experiment with 22 college aged women divided them into three groups. The experiment lasted 4 weeks.

One group did 30 minutes of running on a treadmill 4 times per week.

The second group did 8 rounds of bodyweight exercises using the 20 / 10 system four times per week. That’s just 4 minutes of exercise, four times per week.

The third group was the control and did no exercise.

Both training groups increased their cardiovascular fitness level by about 7%.

However, the second group also increased their muscular endurance and had greater overall enjoyment from their workout routine.

So, the second group had much shorter workouts and better fitness results.

The Magic HIIT Program

HIIT is based on sound principles of human physiology.

When a biological system experiences a challenge, it modifies itself in order to be able to more easily meet similar challenges in the future. – trainer Charles Staley

High intensity, in the context of HIIT, means that you perform an exercise at a level that pushes you close to your limit.

Then, before you’re exhausted, you pause. This rest and recovery interval is key to the success of HIIT.

The rest and recovery interval prevents lactic acid from building up in your muscles. Lactic acid is what gives your muscles that slight burning sensation when you work them hard. It signals that you’re reaching your limit and will have to stop soon.

But, with HIIT, the recovery interval keeps the build up of lactic acid in check. Your muscles are partially restored and you are ready to do another intense workout interval.

Now, based on the message of Charles Staley, your body MUST adapt to the challenge.

Your body dumps excess weight and burns fat. Your body knows that the fat is no longer needed and tosses it out.

Also, your body must prepare for the next challenge, AKA workout, by adding muscle. You’re telling your body that fat is not needed and muscle is needed.

That’s the magic of HIIT – it combines weight and fat loss with adding muscle.

The Balance Benefit

girl learning to balance

Usually when I write about the benefits of an HIIT program, I talk about weight loss, burning fat, and gaining muscle tone.

However, there is another very important benefit – balance.

It takes a child months of practice to learn how to walk without falling.

Sadly, many adults gradually lose their ability to balance and endup using a cane or a walker.

As you get stronger, your balance will improve.

As your balance improves you’ll be able to move and walk with confidence and you’ll not be afraid of falling.

In my conversations with older men and women they’ve mentioned to me that the fear of falling keeps them back from doing things they would otherwise enjoy doing.

So, let’s keep ourselves strong and able to balance with confidence!

Choosing Your Exercises

The first step in designing an HIIT workout plan is choosing your exercises.

The good news is that almost any exercise you enjoy doing can be turned into an effective HIIT workout routine.

All you need is an exercise that can be done at a high intensity level and at a low level. Or, you can use an exercise that can be done at an intense level followed by a pause during which you do no activity.

For this article, I’m going focus on bodyweight exercises because they offer a lot of variety and can be done virtually anywhere.

4 Week HIIT Program – Beginners Level

In choosing exercises for an HIIT workout, it’s important to try to get a total body workout. That is, work your upper body, lower body, and core.

Here’s a 10-minute beginners HIIT routine that you can do during the next month to see for yourself the benefits of an HIIT workout program.

woman doing body squats

Here are the exercises:

  • Jumping Jacks
  • Pushups or Kneeling Pushups
  • Bodyweight Squats or Wall Squats
  • Plank or Bird Dog
  • Prisoner Lunges or Split Squats

Do each exercise using the 20/10 system. That is, do jumping jacks for 20 seconds then rest for 10 seconds. Then do the next round of jumping jacks.

Of course, if you need to, rest for more than 10 seconds before starting again.

Do 4 rounds of each exercise before moving on to the next one.

In those cases where I’ve listed a pair of exercises, the second one is a less strenuous version.

Your goal should be to build up to doing the more difficult exercise for all 4 rounds. However, it’s very important that you do all of the movements with good form.

Therefore, if you can only do a few regular pushups properly, then switch over to the kneeling pushups. You’ll soon build up the strength to do more and more regular pushups.

A 4 Week HIIT Workout Routine – Intermediate Level

Here’s a sample intermediate routine that I’ve developed:

  • Jumping Jacks – work 20 seconds, then rest 10 seconds. Repeat 4x.
  • Pushups or Kneeling Pushups – 20 / 10 system. Repeat 4x.
  • Plank – 20 / 10 system. Repeat 4x.
  • Bodyweight Squats – 20 / 10 system. Repeat 4x.
  • Mountain Climbers – 20 / 10 system. Repeat 4x.

This HIIT workout will take you only 10 minutes to complete.

Of course, you need to be sure to warm up before you start and be sure to cool down after the routine.

Also, you can make the workout more rigorous by doing 6 rounds of the jumping jacks and mountain climbers.

What’s Missing

jumping jacks for HIIT fat loss

So you see, it’s not too hard to design HIIT workout plans for yourself.

All you need are a set of four to six exercises and decide what order to do them in. You want to try to alternate between upper body and lower body so that your don’t overtire one muscle group.

It is important to do a wide variety of bodyweight exercises. There are many more beneficial exercises than the five I suggested.

That is to say, don’t just stick with the workout plans that I showed you.

You need more variety in your routines to make sure that you are getting all of your muscles involved in your workouts.

I’m not saying every workout must use every muscle, but you certainly want to hit them all once a week or so.

There’s one other big thing that’s missing in the routine that I’m suggesting. That is having a coach help you to ensure that you’re doing each exercise with the proper form.

For example, even though the plank is a relatively simple exercise, it’s very important to properly position your arms, legs, butt, shoulders, and head!

The HIIT program that I recommend to my friends is The Home Workout Revolution.

It features about 90 videos of HIIT routines. In each video the exercises are explained and demonstrated. You can follow along as a personal trainer does each workout and follow their pointers about how to get the most out of your HIIT program.

Photo Credits: pushups Flickr
balancing girl Flickr
jumping jacks Flickr – mikeschmid
woman with arm muscles Flickr – ggvic
exercise bikes Flickr – princeroy
hand weights Flickr – slgc
scale Flickr – Alan Cleaver
donuts Flickr – montage man
boy with treats Flickr – aaronvandike