With the holidays coming around, many of you may want to get fit as fast as you can. We all know deep down that’s not the best solution. But, part of improving your fitness quickly probably includes some kind of speak of high intensity interval training (HIIT). As with anything, there are pros and cons of HIIT and I’d like to educate you on making an informed decision of whether or not it’s appropriate for you.
What is HIIT?
You may be asking yourself what is HITT ? It is essentially a vigorous activity, followed by a low to moderate intensity activity in an interval format that is often done between five to 30 minutes, and the intervals can range from 15 seconds to two to three minutes. There are many options to perform HITT such as using bodyweight, calisthenics, free weights, or even a machine like an elliptical or stair climber.
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First, it can help to decrease body fat, as well as improve overall metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is really important because it helps you to burn more calories throughout the course of the day when you’re not working out, which is really powerful. Second, it can help improve oxygenation, which is the muscles ability to use oxygen. This means if you do 60 minutes of HITT training versus 120 minutes of steady state cardio you can have the same benefits. This leads me to my next point, which is that you get maximum benefit for decreased time investment. Since we are all super busy and stressed for time, and can’t find the time in the day to exercise, this can be very valuable. It has been shown to also increase muscle growth, however, that is not the gold standard of muscle building. Strength training always wins. Even though there has been shown some benefit, it’s not the most valuable way to build muscle.
Let’s shift gears now and talk about some of the disadvantages. First, it can lead to a higher injury risk. Some of the reasons why I think this happens is because many people that choose to do HITT training are often deconditioned at first and they think ” this is a fast way to get in shape”. So, they begin doing it at a high volume, high intensity and often do not have a solid movement foundation, or even a fitness foundation to support it. This is why I would recommend starting out slow and then gradually building yourself up. Second, recovery time is always important in exercise, but it is especially important in HITT training. This is because it is a physical stressor on your body, so you need more time to recover. HIIT four to six days a week is extremely high because the it may take two to three days to recover from a session. I typically recommend my patients and clients do it no more than two to three days a week if they are an appropriate candidate. Lastly, if you are training for a sport or a movement skill, you need to make sure that you’re really focusing on the specificity. HITT training is not geared towards specificity whatsoever. It is general conditioning, so you may want to consider that with your training goals.
- Stress? Are you experiencing a tremendous amount of acute or chronic stress in your life. If so, I do not recommend HITT training, because again, it is a significant stressor, a physical stressor. This can contribute to a constant cascade of stress hormones which also can further impact hormonal and immune health.
- Beginner? If you are a beginner, I do not recommend HITT training. Learn how to develop the proper movement patterns, learn about your body, and really understand what’s happening to be able to recognize if you are feeling discomfort or pain. Tune in through mindful movement and develop a basic level of fitness first before volume and intensity is added.
- Intermediate to Advanced? If you have been working out for a while and you want to take things to the next level to really boost your cardiovascular fitness and fat loss, then I think HITT training can be really valuable.
Nothing is black and white. It’s really about understanding the different pros and cons of this or any other fitness program to see if it is appropriate for you at this time in your life. If it is not appropriate for you at this time in your life, then just hold off and revisit it later. It will always be there. Movement is a skill that you keep refining your whole life. There’s so much to learn. You really want to continue that journey forever, so there’s always room for improvement.
If you are not sure where to start, please reach out to schedule a private session to begin your movement journey.