You don’t need the gym to HIIT your New Year goals

Nowhere in the calendar do two months clash as much as December and January.

Dr James King, of Loughborough's School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

The festive period was a time when people got a chance to relax, take a break from usual routines and to indulge in the culinary delights on offer, writes Dr James King, a lecturer in exercise physiology at Loughborough.

Unfortunately, this change in routine and dietary habits often leads to the accumulation of an extra pound or two, and possibly a decline in fitness - which has been hard earned in the months before Christmas.

For many, this often spurs the making of New Year’s resolutions and goals of regaining fitness, losing weight and maximising health.

However, lack of access or general distaste for the gym, is a common barrier when it comes to accomplishing these targets, and it is therefore important to be aware that a gym is not a mandatory requirement to obtain the health enhancing effects of regular exercise.

The most basic laws of physics tell us that the best forms of exercise, able to facilitate weight loss, are those which are capable of burning the most amount of energy.

Therefore, high-volume, continuous aerobic modalities of exercise, such as jogging, swimming and cycling hold the greatest potential when weight management is in mind.

Now, this does not mean that New Year goals can only be achieved by pounding a treadmill or cycle machine in a sweaty gym.

Instead, the same benefits could be achieved by walking, jogging or cycling outdoors in the serenity of the countryside on a winter’s afternoon – or the low-lit pavements near your home.

Indeed, these alternatives are often much more inspiring and motivational than the monotonous grind of a gym, particularly if undertaken with friends, family or within organised clubs.

If you don't have the latest exercise tech, such as a fitness tracker, a good rule of thumb is that a person will expend 1 kcal per kilogram of body mass per kilometre covered when walking or jogging.

This quick calculation can be used to determine the overall impact of physical activity on energy balance when performing activities outside.

Just remember, that it may take an average individual an hour to burn 600 calories when walking or jogging, yet this can be replaced in 10 seconds by scoffing a couple of mince pies.


Now, although long duration, continuous forms of exercise burn the most amount of energy, they are not necessarily the best form of exercise able to enhance or regain fitness.

High-intensity exercise is a better way of improving cardiorespiratory fitness; something athletes have exploited for many years through the practice of interval training.

This form of exercise, with repeated bursts of high intensity effort, followed by rest, allows individuals to accumulate large periods of exercise at high-intensity.

In recent years this practice has been moulded and scrutinised under the banner of high-intensity interval training or HIT (or HIIT) within many exercise physiology laboratories all over the world.

One consistent finding from all of the research performed is that HIT enhances aerobic fitness potently and very quickly – with significant improvements seen after just a handful of training sessions.

This form of exercise could therefore be of use to individuals seeking to regain lost fitness over the festive period.

HIT, in the most general sense, can be undertaken on foot, on a bike, or in a pool.

The only rule to abide by is that individuals must alternate between periods of maximal, or near maximal effort, for up to one minute, interspersed with resting intervals which allow individuals to recover and maintain the quality of subsequent efforts.

10 bursts of 1 minute of physical activity at around 90% of your maximum heartrate followed by 1 minute of rest

This pattern of work could therefore be undertaken walking briskly around a field or cycling intensely up a hill, meaning the gym and specialised equipment are not essential.

Loughborough University’s Christmas and New Year health and wellbeing campaign is aimed at using the knowledge and experience of academics and professionals to give advice about physical and mental wellness over the festive season and into next year.

Follow the latest campaign content by searching for the #LboroExperts hashtag on Twitter, or on our Facebook page, Snapchat account and YouTube channel.


Notes for editors

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