HIIT – the good, the bad and the ugly

by Tauri Kerr

Photo: Stocksy/Viktor Solomin

“Train insane or remain the same” is the mindset of many athletes but is this actually a viable motto?

Lockdown has been a rollercoaster for us all – the ban on certain things meant that our lifestyle had to be altered considerably. I would like to specifically focus on the closure of gyms. This has meant that many people have had to get creative with their home workout programs in order to keep their sanity during these uncertain times.

I started to notice an increase in fitness professionals on social media who claimed to know the recipe to the ‘perfect body’. I am certainly no fitness professional myself, so I decided to do some further digging on the topic of exercise. The most prevalent form of exercise that people seem to be doing at home is HIIT. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a type of interval training where short periods of anaerobic exercise are alternated with recovery periods until an individual is too exhausted to continue.

The reason that this form of exercise is so popular is because of the short time frame in which results are visible. The benefits of this type of exercise are numerous: burning calories, improving your metabolic rate, losing fat, gaining muscle, improving your oxygen consumption, reducing heart rate, reducing blood pressure and blood sugar. When you read an impressive list like this, it is easy to assume that HIIT is the way to go. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

The problem is that an individual usually goes from doing hardly any exercise to overdoing it in a short period of time and this is where it becomes unhealthy. According to Lowery and Bridger, HIIT should not be done more than three times a week because it can be strenuous on your body. Specifically your nervous system, joints, and muscles, due to its high impactful nature. HIIT workouts are intense and if done in excess can mimic stress in the body. This stress will hinder your body from regulating your sleeping schedule as well as ruin your appetite. These factors will contribute to the risk of burnout.

Another issue that I have come to notice is the lack of attention that is given to one’s form when completing a HIIT workout. The focus is mainly on completing the given exercises in a specific period of time which can lead to serious injury if these exercises are not being executed correctly.

I reached out to several people who had negative experiences when it came to HIIT. Torn Achilles heels, long term shoulder injuries, hip replacements by the age of 30 – the list goes on. You cannot tell me that you read that list of injuries and immediately felt the need to go to a HIIT class – their stories certainly deterred me!

With all this being said, I have found some helpful tips to guarantee that you remain injury-free. Ensure that you are eating properly – snacking is ok! Ensure that you are wearing the right shoes – heavier sneakers will slow you down and will not offer as much support as a cross-training shoe. Do not overdo it – keep an eye on your heart rate and make sure that it is not too high. Always warm up – a two to five minute warm-up should be sufficient. Lastly, remember to mix it up – it is not advised to do the same workout two days in a row.

Essentially, HIIT is not sustainable if you are not pacing yourself properly. The issue is not necessarily with HIIT itself but with people’s enthusiasm towards this form of exercise. What I have deduced is that regardless of the form of exercise that you choose to do, educating yourself on the benefits as well as the risks is imperative. If you do not take care of your body, then it won’t take care of you.

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