Let’s be honest: deciding to take control of your health is never easy.

Still, you’ve chosen to take that first step towards a healthier you. Along your journey, you found a blog that taught you the importance of measuring body composition instead of BMI (or Body Mass Index). Next stop: choosing a training method.

Unfortunately, a quick Google search of the phrase “workouts to stay healthy” sends you down the fitness rabbit hole. Figuring out which training method is right for you can be a surprisingly frustrating and confusing experience!

Frankly, there’s just no easy way for people to figure out which training regimen  they should follow. That’s why today, we’ve taken two of the most popular training methods on the planet and broken them down for you.

By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know how each training method works and more importantly, how they influence your body composition.

The journey to a healthier you might not be easy, but it’s far from impossible–especially when you arm yourself with knowledge.

All Training Programs are Not Created Equal

Bodybuilding, as you’re probably aware, puts a huge premium on physical appearance. That means big muscles (and low body fat percentages) which is accomplished by huge, heavy lifts.

On the other hand, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) focuses less on progressing to heavier lifts and bigger muscles and more on performing repetitive exercises quickly in order to raise a person’s heart rate, cycling between extreme intensity and resting periods. This can be accomplished with weights or with a cardio-based exercise.

Before we dive into the analysis, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that different training methods will uniquely affect your body composition. When you consider how different bodybuilding’s physical demands are from High Intensity Interval Training’s, it’s no surprise that your body’s need to adapt can have some interesting effects on your body composition.

Regardless of how you measure it, body composition is all about painting a more accurate picture of what’s going on in your body. So, the key here is to break down what each training program looks like, what it does and how to choose the program that’s best for your goals, whether that’s gaining Lean Body Mass, losing Fat Mass, or both.

Bodybuilding 101: What to Expect

Before you can hope to understand what bodybuilding does to your body composition, you need to understand what differentiates bodybuilding from every other kind of training regimen.

Not only does this help in a practical sense (helping you decide if you want to actually get invested in this type of training), but it also gives you a fundamental understanding of the systems in place, making it easier to understand why your body reacts the way it does.

Bodybuilding is many things, but at its core it’s about one thing: building big muscles while minimizing body fat. While that last part about ‘minimizing fat’ might not seem important, it’s actually one of the key components of this training method. Essentially, it’s that emphasis on reducing body fat on top of increased muscle/strength gains that separates it from powerlifting.

In fact, it isn’t entirely off-base to define bodybuilding as a modified version of powerlifting.

We’ll focus more on that ‘minimizing fat’ component later, but for now let’s take a look at the ideal bodybuilder body type. Where better to start than the poster child of bodybuilding himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger:

The 7x Mr.Olympia winner is one of the most famous names in bodybuilding, and for good reason. Arnold’s physique is typically seen as the ideal result of bodybuilding training. Small waist, broad shoulders, little to no fat and well-defined muscles are staples of the bodybuilding experience.

That being said, something you’ll need to take into account about bodybuilding is the goal oriented mentality you’ll have to embrace. Things like cardio and caloric restrictions are still going to be important aspects of your training regimen, but the long-term goal is always going to be building visually impressive musculature.

That impressive musculature isn’t only for looks either – it can help with the fat loss objective too. That’s because resistance training (a.k.a lifting weights) can actually help you lose plenty of fat on its own. A study by the Department of Exercise Science showed that just 10 weeks of resistance training can reduce your fat weight by 1.8kg–and increase your resting metabolic rate by 7%!

Bodybuilding and Body Composition

We’ve already established what a bodybuilding training program prioritizes– building visible muscle while keeping your fat content low. Of course, the real question is: what does this mean for your body composition?

Well, to fully understand what bodybuilding does for you, let’s take a look at a study published by the University of South Australia’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory.  The scientists studied elite bodybuilders by breaking down their body compositions and took measurements twice before a competition, once 10 weeks out, and again 5 days before.

Why does the time period of the study matter? Simple: with a competition on the horizon, the athletes had no choice but to focus on achieving their ideal physique.

Their most noteworthy find? A 4.1% reduction in body fat with a 6.91 kg loss in body mass. How much of that mass was fat, you ask? A whopping 64%, suggesting that bodybuilding can be an effective way to reduce your fat content.

Another study by the University of Alabama’s Department of Health Education yielded similarly promising results.

This time, the study monitored twice as many bodybuilders 12 weeks before a competition. While there were significant decreases in body mass, once again fat-free mass showed little change with a 5% loss in body fat.

So, what does this mean for you, the average person trying to get into bodybuilding? Basically, it means that if your focus is on building visible muscle while keeping a low body fat percentage, bodybuilding is a great choice.

One of the biggest concerns that people have with bodybuilding is the belief that it’ll make them look bulky. Fortunately, the data speaks for itself and shows that the ideal bodybuilder body composition has a focus on keeping your fat content to a minimum without compromising any other components.

HIIT 101: What to Expect

On the other end of the spectrum, we have High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT). With popular training programs like CrossFit using HIIT exercises regularly, while the differences between these two training programs might seem minor to the untrained eye, their goals and ideal end results actually differ quite a bit.

Right off the bat, there’s the fact that HIIT doesn’t shy away from cardio. While it’s true that lifting weights can certainly aid in the fat loss process, its main focus remains on building muscles, not burning fat through cardiovascular exercise (although it does help).

The longer you look at HIIT as an overall training program, the more you start to notice a trend. Exercises are short, loaded with mini-breaks in between sets and just about every exercise in the HIIT arsenal is designed to make you sweat.

As its name implies, the focus is on intensity, not reaching personal strength records like a bodybuilder might shoot for. In fact, HIIT is so intense that professionals recommend you only train 2-3 times per week, to avoid putting too much stress on your body.

So, how does it compare to bodybuilding? Well, that’s the point: it doesn’t really. They’re distinct exercise disciplines. While you might be doing a few of the exercises that bodybuilders do (squats, push-ups, tricep dips), you’ll be doing them with a very different goal in mind.

The priority of HIIT is predominantly reducing fat, while also trying to develop some muscle along the way. Remember: there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, as long it’s in line with your goals.

HIIT and Body Composition

Now that we’ve established how bodybuilding affects your body composition, it’s time to take a look at the HIIT body composition situation.

For starters, let’s look at a study done by the Ohio State University. Scientists observed more than 40 subjects from all levels of aerobic fitness. Over the next 10 weeks, subjects completed a variety of HIIT lifts (squats, deadlifts, etc.).

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After careful observation, the scientists realized that not only were people developing a more capable cardiovascular system, but their body fat percentages were dropping across the board!

If your only concern is getting stronger and losing weight, then bodybuilding seems to be your best bet. That being said, if your main goal is to have a healthier cardiovascular system and to lose some serious weight without caring too much about building size, HIIT is for you.

No matter what training program you choose to follow, remember that having a body composition you feel comfortable with is the most important thing.

Also, if you’re an average person who isn’t a professional athlete and just wants to make positive changes in their health, there’s no reason why you can’t incorporate both of these strategies in your workout routine.

Living a healthy life can be challenging, but the benefits are absolutely worth it.

By Brian Leguizamon – Contributor to 

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