Fitness HIIT Sports Performance Training Benefits

Utilizing Sprint Interval Training for Weight Loss

Brian Oddi, Ph.D., CPT, NASM-PES, NASE-CSS | Stay Updated with NASM!

There are many individuals who are striving to stay healthy and fit, however, they lack time to dedicate to a fitness program due to the busy demands of family, work, and pleasure.

Speed training has shown to be a very effective tool to accomplish profound results in a short amount of time. Of the vast number of different training protocols available, speed training can be a very efficient method to help clients lose weight.

Speed is defined as the ability to move the body in one direction as fast as possible (Clark et. al, 2014). Speed training is also referred to a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or sprint interval training (SIT), which plays a key role in eliciting fat loss. HIIT and SIT have also been shown to improve body composition, aerobic fitness, and fat burning while maintaining lean body mass.

Sprint the Fat Off

As we look at ways to burn body fat we first have to consider that speed training is only a component to a well-structured approach to weight loss. Planning and setting goals with your client is critical for optimal success. When we look at sprinting, it is both efficient and inexpensive. Sprinting comes with a vast array of positive outcomes, such as an effective way to target stubborn body fat, burn calories in a short amount of time, build muscle, boost metabolism, and produce excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC).

According to Professor James Timmons, University of Loughborough, speed training can assist in preventing weight gain, which can lead to other serious conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Having the ability to work with individuals who are trying to lose weight is a responsibility that comes with challenging obstacles as well as safety concerns.

As trainers choosing the right protocol is your responsibility based on your client’s desired goals. With this being said, not everyone should start out sprinting. When you are designing a training plan, a client’s medical history and physical limits should be taken into consideration to allow for a smooth transition into such a high level of intense programming if appropriate.

Breaking down speed training into stages is always a good idea as well. 

Taking a Deeper Look

In a study utilizing speed training, Hazell et al. (2014) conducted a trial on running sprint interval training (SIT) with a sample population of fifteen recreationally active women. They completed 6 weeks of running SIT consisting of 4 to 6, 30 second “all-out” sprints on a self-propelled treadmill separated by 4 minutes of rest performed 3 times per week.

The results of this study produced significant findings that should be considered when designing a speed program for weight loss. The researchers found an 8% decrease in fat mass, 3.5% decrease in waist circumference, a 1.3% increase in fat-free mass and a 4.6% decrease in body fat percentage. In contrast, a study conducted by Haifeng et al. (2015) examined the effect that HIIT had on abdominal fat with overweight women. The HIIT protocol consisted of 12 weeks with 4 x 4 minute running intervals at 85-95% heart rate (HR) peak interspersed by 3 minutes of walking with 7 minutes of recovery.

The study design utilized a comparison group with an intervention of a moderate intensity continuous training (MICT) program consisting of 33 minutes of running at 60-70% HR peak. The study showed a 7% reduction in body fat between the HIIT and MICT groups and an average of a 10 pound reduction in body mass. A key discovery with this study showed a 19% decrease in subcutaneous fat and an 18% decrease in abdominal visceral fat with the HIIT group.

The research supports the idea of using SIT and HIIT protocols to elicit a response for fat reduction and weight loss.

Putting it Together

There is no “one way” to design a speed training program, especially for weight loss. Programming can consist of using equipment in a gym or simply a place to run. There are many variables to take into consideration such as time, safety, and environment. There must be a good understanding of how the body works and how to determine the correct target heart rate zone.

You can use your target heart rate zone as a gauge for training keeping in mind your peak heart rate being the upper zone and your aerobic threshold heart rate being the lower zone. Having your client use a heart rate monitor can help with preparation and optimal planning. Determining HR zones can be accomplished by testing VO2max or using the Karvonen formula. When conducting a speed program the recommended heart rate for HIIT is between 80% to 95% of a client’s maximal heart rate during work and 40%-50% during rest. SIT generally promotes an all out max effort for 30 seconds with 4 minutes of rest.

When designing a speed training program the basic guidelines supported by many studies tell us that a program can be structured based on a variety of ways to manipulate work to rest ratios. When designing a speed training program, duration, frequency and intensity should be the primary variables to consider. Programs can be identified as short or long.

Both a short and a long program should always begin with a 5-10 minute warm-up and conclude with a 5-10 minute cool down. The frequency for a HIIT protocol should not exceed 2-3 times per week. A short speed training program can have a time frame ranging from 4-15 minutes, with a 2:1 work to rest ratio, and running bouts consisting of >45 seconds. For example, if you are doing a 4 minute workout your running bout will consist of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest.

For a long speed training program the length of the workout will range from 18-55 minutes, with a 1:3 work to rest ratio, and running bouts of 2-4 minutes. A similar example of this programming can be seen in the Haifeng et al. (2015) protocol while doing a running bout of 4 minutes with approximately 10 minutes of rest for 4 sets.

Final Thoughts on Speed

Fitness professionals are always looking for new ways to provide exciting routines for their clients, and clients are looking for ways to lose weight and save time. The ultimate goal is to get results that work in a safe and effective manner.

Speed training and forms of HIIT and SIT provide a great way to target stubborn body fat in conjunction with a structured workout program to achieve ones weight loss goals. Knowing your client and their limitations in the terms of their medical history and movement compensations will help you decide how you will approach the implementation of a speed training workout. Know your program, set your goals, be able to support your program and sprint the fat off!


Clark, M.A., Lucett, S.C., & Sutton, B.A. (2014). NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Haifeng, Z., Jingjing, W., Yuxiu, H., Tong, T. K., Weifeng, Q., & Jinlei, N. (2015). Effect of high-intensity interval training protocol on abdominal fat reduction in overweight Chinese women: a randomized controlled trial. Kinesiology, 47(1), 57-66.

Hazell, T. J., Hamilton, C. D., Olver, T. D., & Lemon, P. W. (2014). Running sprint interval training induces fat loss in women. Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, 39(8), 944-95.

Short fast sprint “cut” diabetes (2009). BBC News Channel. Retrieved from:

The Author

Brian Oddi, Ph.D., CPT, NASM-PES, NASE-CSS


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