Fitness

The good and the bad of HIIT workouts

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Fitness – like just about anything these days – goes through fads or fashions. One of the latest to gain traction is HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training. Although the actual concept of interval training is nothing new, HIIT is now being marketed in pretty much every gym, it’s all over internet-based training sessions, and it’s becoming a staple in group training and bootcamps around the world.

But just like anything that comes into fashion there are pros and cons to it. Read on to clue yourself up on the benefits of this type of training and why you might want to include it in your workout repertoire.

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What is HIIT?

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a form of interval training that aims to get you big results in a short period of time.

Your typical HIIT workout is divided into a series of timed intervals alternating between intense work periods (when you are exercising and your heart rate picks up) followed by brief rest periods (when you take a break, you have a chance to slow the heart rate and recover). You can choose however long you want your work and rest periods to be.

This method of training has been scientifically proven to help rapidly increase athletic fitness, improve strength, and reduce cardiovascular disease risks.

What are the benefits of HIIT?

You’ll get a decent workout no matter how long you have to exercise. One of the most common exercise excuses I hear as a personal trainer is, ‘I don’t have enough time’. Your HIIT workouts can be as short or as long as you like. For example, you could do a 5 minute workout with 50 secs of work, 10 secs rest across 5 exercises such as squats, alternating lunges, burpees, press ups and abdominal crunches.

You can use any exercise or piece of equipment to do it. And this means you can get creative with your training. You can do bodyweight-only exercises like those suggested above, or you can use equipment such as medicine balls, dumbbells, slam balls or cardio gear. As long as you have a way of timing yourself, you can exercise anywhere and at any time. This also means you can stick to your workout routine whether you’re at the gym, at home, or travelling.

As you’re training within a set time, you only do as many reps as you can handle. This means if you’re feeling sluggish or are having difficulty with an exercise and need to slow it down, you may only complete 5 reps within your allocated time. On a good day you might complete 20. Anything is fine as long as you’re moving the whole work period.

Why wouldn’t you want to do HIIT?

You’re more likely to get injured. Ask any physiotherapist and they will tell you this form of training has led to a rise in injury rates. As these workouts tend to move quickly and most fitness professionals seem to be asking people to crank as many reps of an exercise as they can in the shortest time possible, there’s less time to pay attention to joint alignment or to correct exercises that are being performed incorrectly. It also means it’s probably not the best form of exercise for you if you are an exercise beginner or recovering from an injury or medical event. This is all the more relevant with the online/app-based workouts appearing everywhere these days which are often inadequately instructed and provide no feedback as there’s nobody to see what you’re doing in person. Try to keep tabs on how your body is feeling throughout your workout – if you’re getting pain in your joints, dizziness or something feels just plain wrong, just stop otherwise you may end up with an injury. You don’t need to do an exercise quickly to get the benefits; just try doing a super slow push up and you will get the picture! This may take the ‘high intensity’ out of the HIIT, but in my personal opinion, as long as you’re continuing to move for the duration of the interval you’re still going to get a decent workout and in a much safer way. Oh, and always do your proper warm up and cool down 😉

One of the benefits of HIIT is that you maximise your results from a shorter training time – but should we be cheating ourselves to be moving less? Modern living is slowly removing all movement from our daily lives. We use remotes instead of getting up to turn on/off the TV. We sit in cars and buses instead of walking or cycling. We hire gardeners instead of doing the gardening ourselves. We get delivered takeaway food instead of making it ourselves or walking to pick it up. If you feel shattered after doing 2-3 HIIT sessions a week to the point where you don’t move on the other days, perhaps you would be better off physically and mentally doing a more moderate form of exercise most days of the week instead. I always like to relate it to brushing teeth; we don’t expect good dental health from brushing 2-3 times a week for 10 seconds, so should we be expecting the same from our general body health when it comes to physical exercise?

Which brings me to the next point. From a yoga teacher’s perspective, HIIT is likely going to hit your nervous system hard. Think your nervous system isn’t important? Most of my personal training clients these days are constantly busy, on the go, stressed out, tired, feeling run down, or keep getting sick; any of the above means your nervous system is being challenged all day every day. Then imagine the effect a high energy workout is likely to have on that when you add it all together; you’re going to be permanently wired into fight or flight mode until you reach burnout. If you think this may be you but still love the idea of HIIT training, just make sure you counter it with mindful relaxing activities throughout your week to give your nervous system a break (slow flow or yin yoga, stretching with breath work, tai chi, meditation in any form, or walking outdoors in the fresh air will all help. Television, laptop time and phone gaming don’t count!).

Image / Pixabay (scottweb)

Ange is a personal trainer, yoga teacher, wife, and mother (with second bubba on the way!) based in Auckland, New Zealand.

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