This One Workout May Help Whittle Your Waist

Updated: Feb. 01, 2020

This workout may help you trim your waist and lose weight more than steady-state cardio, according to science.

Forget crunches and hours spent on treadmills. The key to trimming your waistline may start at the gym, but your cardio session isn’t the only form of exercise that can help. As a matter of fact, science suggests that interval training may be more effective at helping you lose weight than steady-state cardio. (No gym membership? Here’s how smart technology can help trim your waistline.)

A 2019 review and meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed more than 75 studies involving more than 2,000 people. Each study compared interval training—working at quick bouts of high-intensity effort, followed by short rest periods—to continuous effort exercise at a moderate intensity for at least four weeks. The researchers found that those who turned to interval training reduced their overall fat mass by 28.5 percent more than those who did continuous, lower-intensity exercise. (Read more about the benefits of high-intensity exercise as compared to straight cardio.)

Many different types of interval training were included in the meta-analysis, but Albert Matheny, RD, nutritional advisor to Promix Nutrition and co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab, suggests this workout set-up to get you started: “Go for 20 seconds of high-intensity effort, followed by 40 to 60 seconds of recovery. You could do an exercise like a step-up to a box above knee height, a good idea for beginners, or run stairs if you’re more advanced. Just make sure your form stays strong and during your rest, walk around slowly. Aim for eight rounds, alternating between work and rest.” (Don’t want to run? Check out these exercises that burn more calories than running.)

Matheny says to keep in mind that there is no definitive work-to-rest ration for high-intensity interval training (or HIIT), so see what works for you. “The main parameters are intense exercise, which could be 10 seconds or a few minutes, with alternating intervals of rest or very low-intensity exercise,” he says. “In general, I would recommend working above 80 percent of your max heart rate for the interval, and no longer than 20 minutes maximum of a training session. The goal during rest is to get your heart rate down around 60 percent of your max.”

An important caveat for anyone who wants to try HIIT for the first time: It’s not for everyone and requires a familiarity with any exercise you’re doing. “Due to its high-intensity nature, you should have some familiarity with exercise in general, and specific experience in the movements you will be doing for your HIIT workout,” Matheny says. “Also, as with anything, like driving a car, when you first learn to do something you should not be doing it as fast as possible, which is often required as part of a HIIT workout. The faster you go, the more your heart rate will go up. The reason is when you learn a movement you need to practice performing it correctly at a slow speed before trying to do it as fast as you can in a HIIT setting.” If you’ve never run stairs or done squat jumps, don’t use that as your first HIIT exercise. Stick to what you know.

As a bonus, intervals allow you to focus on different muscle groups as you switch between exercises, which gives certain muscles time to recover while you fire up others. Get started with these 8 ab exercises to help reduce belly fat, without a single crunch.