It’s been at the top of our fitness radar since 2020, but could it be time to ditch high-intensity interval training?
Few workouts can matchthe meteoric rise ofhigh-intensity intervaltraining (HIIT). It’sshort and sweet pairing brief periodsof recovery with intervals of exerciseperformed at near-maximal effort andhas a host of science to back up itseffectiveness. Need convincing? Researchpublished in the journal Medicine &Science in Sports & Exercise shows thatan eight-week programme of thrice weeklyHIIT workouts could result in a 10 percent greater improvement in aerobicfitness than slow, long-distance training.Scientists surmise that these resultsare achieved because the intense activityrecruits fast-twitch muscle fibres, whichuse up lots of fuel, producing powerfulbursts of energy. There’s also an ‘after-burn’ effect, which sees exerciserscontinue to use energy after a hardworkout, as the body burns caloriesthrough replenishing oxygen stores,removing lactate from the muscles andrestoring body temperature. The net resultis HIIT exercisers boost cardiovascularfitness and may even drop a few pounds.
There’s no doubt that HIIT is a quick andeffective way of achieving weight lossand aerobic fitness. In theory, it can haveimpressive results. With HIIT classespopping up all over the place, anyone cangive the workout a go – and that might bethe problem. ‘Clinically speaking, I’ve seena lot of tissue overload injuries recently– most commonly in the lower limbs –which are caused by people not leavingenough time for muscle-tissue recoverybetween sessions,’ says Doug Tannahillhead of clinic and strength andconditioning at BXR London (bxrlondoncom).
This is due to the high-impact natureof the HIIT exercises performed, includingrunning and jumping. These moves causea “high rate of ground reaction force” (theforces your body absorbs when your feethit the ground). When performed underfatigue, high-impact moves lead to tissueand ligament problems.’For exercise fans, these injuries canbe a nightmare, signalling the need to takea break from activity and, consequently,causing a decline in fitness.
‘The bigproblem is there’s an uptake of noviceathletes, who want to get fit quickly,throwing themselves into this type oftraining,’ adds Tannahill, ‘And it’s not thetype of training that should be used asyour only form of exercise.’HIIT classes also involve performinghighly complex movements (such askettlebell swings or the clean and pressunder load and to fatigue. This causeswhat experts call “technical breakdownsor overloading muscle tissue that isn’tsupposed to be put under stress. ‘Quiteoften, when you fatigue and experiencetechnical breakdown, you’ll get problemsin other tissues and ligaments,’ explainsTannahill. ‘I’ve also seen a rise in shoulderand hip-impingement complaints and,in the worst-case scenario, stressfractures.’ Uh-oh.
The Top Of Our Fitness Radar Since 2020 Photo Gallery
The bad news is that you might not evenrealise you’re on the brink of injury. ‘Mostpeople will normally be able to cope withthis type of training, but some won’t –and often find out after the damage hasbeen done,’ warns Mr Ian McDermott,a consultant orthopaedic surgeonspecialising in sports injuries and knees(kneesurgeon.london). ‘I see a lot of peoplein the clinic with knee pain that hasdeveloped after high-intensity workouts.Pumped up on endorphins, many peopleonly notice a slight twinge at first. However,afterwards, they might develop pain,swelling and stiffness in the joint. Thecardinal sign that there could be an issueinside a joint is if the joint itself swells up.’And, if you don’t experience physicalbreakdown, you could go through apsychological one. HIIT is hard andrequires a lot of mental motivation, whichkeen fitness fans may start to run out ofover time. In a debate published in theInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutritionand Physical Activity, experts argue thatpeople don’t look forward to these intenseworkouts and may not come back.This inconsistent approach to exercisecan thwart results and leave many feelinga bit disillusioned with the benefits ofhigh-intensity training. What’s the answer?The researchers argue that it may be betterto do some sort of daily exercise than toerratically participate in HIIT. Other expertsrecommend taking a more balancedapproach to this type of training by doingHIIT no more than three times a week.
With negative associations running rife,the rumour is that HIIT may have had itsday on the fitness circuit. But it’s hard tobelieve that an activity that’s been rankedby the American College of Sports Scienceas a top-three global exercise trend since2014 might be losing its appeal. In fact,according to the Worldwide Survey ofFitness Trends for 2018, HIIT is still thenumber one way to get fit. According toauthors of the survey, the short-durationbut high-intensity workouts continue to bepopular in gyms across the world becauseof the results-driven protocol.‘HIIT can sometimes get a bad rap but,if you’re after fast results and want to shedfat while building lean muscle, there reallyis nothing better,’ says Joe Spraggan,head trainer at F45 Farringdon (F45training.co.uk). Even those who have seen thedamaging effects of HIIT done incorrectlyagree that it’s unlikely to go anywhere.‘With all of these potential hazards, do Ithink this type of training is a bad thing?And do I think we’ll see a drop off in HIITtraining? I can answer that quite clearly –no,’ says Tannahill. ‘It’s a great form oftraining, but what I’d really like to see isit being applied effectively, sensibly andlogically.’ This means that you must gainexercise experience before attemptingHIIT; perfect exercise technique beforeperforming the complex moves atspeed or under greater loads, andcrucially, leave at least a day betweenHIIT workouts. Capiche?
Will HIIT be off our fitness radar this year?Definitely, not! But we do predict that HIITwill have a makeover in 2018. Moving awayfrom the high-impact moves, such assquats and burpees, that carry a great riskof injury if done incorrectly, HIIT workoutsand classes that incorporate low-impactexercises will be cropping up at gyms andstudios nationwide (see box, left).‘We’ll definitely start to see the riseof high-intensity but low-impact training,’adds Dave Wright, CEO of MyZone groupheart-rate tracking wearable company(myzone.org). ‘High-intensity exercise haslong been a very popular trend, but it canbe hard on the knees and joints, so theidea of training to get your heart rate up,without the impact, is going to be quitefashionable.’ This year, it’ll be win-win.
Low-impact HIIT activities are the workouts du jour. Get your fix with one of these tough sessions…
THE GYM CLASS
Hydro at Virgin Active(virginactive.co.uk).A whopping 42 Virgin Active clubs runthis 60-minute swimming HIIT class.Mixing sprints with water-basedresistance activities, it’s the perfectway to crank your heart rateup without the impact.
THE HOME WORKOUT
Bounce & Burn at ReboundUK(rebound-uk.com).This online platform will give you thechance to do a low-impact but high-intensity workout from your home.There are more than 50 rebounderworkouts, including HIIT, that focuson the downward push of the move,jumping no higher than six inches.
THE FIT MACHINE
Assault Bike at Fitness First(fitnessfirst.co.uk).The assault bike scales to keep upwith you as you push, pull and pedal.You’ll get a full-body workout (HIIT ifyou want) that’s kind on joints, and it’sused in Fitness First’s FGT Boot Camp.
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