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HIIT training, should you do it?

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

Is HIIT the best? Should I do HIIT? Is HIIT best for weight loss?

You might be wondering whether HIIT training will get you fat loss sooner and whether it is more superior for results. Read on and lets find out!

In this article, I'm going to explain to you the number one reason why I do not recommend HIIT for most people, and the specific people who I might recommend HIIT for. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. What it usually means is you do some really intense work, as much as you can do, at an extremely intense level and then you have a break, and that's the premise of it. You're creating this oxygen debt, you're working harder than what you can actually do for a sustained period of time and then you're having rest after each of the bouts of exercise but not so much rest that you're entirely recovered. Originally, when it was researched, people thought this was going to be the absolute miracle maker when it came to getting fit and getting healthy and all of that sort of stuff because they were finding that you only needed to do something crazy, (like one minute of intense exercise three times a week), and then we're finding improvements in people's health, and that just blows your mind… one minute of exercise! Now first of all, whilst we're getting mentally excited, because a lot of people out there, they don't enjoy exercise as much as I do. Let's put some things into perspective.

If you do absolutely no exercise, then all of a sudden, you do exercise, be it one minute a day, three times a week, golly, gosh, and you get really good health benefits. To me, that doesn't say that, high intensity interval training is the way to go. That tells me that doing anything more than doing nothing is better. I don't really think that that's revolutionary, but I'm really pleased that there's a science experiment that showed it. Now, what they have done is they started to pick apart high intensity interval training and they're like, “How do we know how much to prescribe to people? What's the intensity, duration, frequency?” You know what's the type of exercise as well, just all of these things that would find out the best type of way of doing it and realistically, for athletes and for the general population. Although these are two very different groups, they started to really uncover some very interesting stuff a couple of years ago.

High intensity interval training is better than doing absolutely nothing, and yes, there are varying benefits of more time outside of the exercise than you're actually spending during the exercise. So if you were doing 30 minutes of steady state intervals, as opposed to doing high intensity interval training, for eight to 10 minutes, they're finding that you had about the same benefits and that was just great news for everyone because they could do less and get more. I always loved that idea of doing less and getting more, but when they picked it apart to more in the last two years, they suddenly realized that there seemed to be a threshold for how much HIIT was the optimum amount to do.

They discovered that by spending more than 20 minutes per week in your 90% and above maximum heart rate, (so as a general rule, that heart rate of 220 beats per minute minus your age is your maximum heart rate), if you were spending more than that time, they were actually finding that you weren't really recovering from the exercise. And it wasn't really inferring all of the benefits that people thought they were in the first and the recovery wasn't there either. So they've started to realize that actually, it's not the more the better, which, is the case with a whole bunch of exercise.

Lets see what that means for you, if you were to do HIIT training. So the 20 minutes now, it's gonna take you a while to get into that 90% heart rate and it takes a lot of training to even get yourself there in the first place to mentally “go there”. But that typically equates to doing two high intensity interval sessions a week. During that time, you would include your warmup and cool down. With warm up your session might be like 25 minutes in total, but you may be spending 10 minutes of that each time at that really high level of intensity.

Now, what does that mean for people that are doing HIIT training 4, 5, 6 times a week? Well, first of all, it's kind of showing us that all of our dreams haven't come true by doing not that much and sitting down at a desk all day, and then going and doing a very minimal amount of training. Whilst it's better than doing absolutely nothing. It doesn't have all of the benefits that we thought it was going to have.

The second point is that for all those people that have been doing high intensity interval training each week, six times a week. The question is, first of all, if you are “for sake of argument” able to get into that really, seriously, true 90%, maximum heart rate type of mentality, then you're not getting the health benefits. If that's your goal, the health benefits that you would typically think that you'd get from high intensity interval training, where the other one is, you're actually not doing high intensity interval training. I think a lot of people (more than would like to admit it fall) into that category where they're actually just doing a shorter exercise session, and I am so fine with that, but it's not a high intensity interval session.

Now, why would I not recommend doing a HIIT session? Well, I'm glad you asked me. High Intensity Interval Training has actually been studied most frequently on people who are slightly athletic, and they're under the age of 30 years old, and that tends to be not the clientele that I'm mainly dealing with. So the clientele that I'm dealing with, they may be beginning at the gym or they may have had a whole host of different complications, niggles and injuries and surgeries or musculoskeletal chronic illnesses. Doing high intensity interval training is not going to infer the results for them. There are a number of reasons for that.

  1. The most basic one is even for myself, because I don't do HIIT training that much. When I do it, I actually can't get past that threshold. It takes me about four or five six sessions and I train a lot so I wouldn't need to spend a few weeks to train myself to be able to get into that high intensity interval training zone to be able to get the most bang for my buck from it. So that's going to take me, you know, three weeks to get there with that number of times training a week in the safe zone.

  2. Another one is exercise is stress on the body, and it's a good type of stress, but the body doesn't really treat it differently from other types of stress on the body, and your maximum recoverable volume is diminished. If you have a full time job, if you're over the age of 30, If you have kids that are keeping you up, if your sleep is suboptimal, if your family is stressing you out, if you're having menopause, all of these things are actually causing your body to experience stress.

By adding HIIT to your workload for the week, you may not actually be able to recover from that because the majority of the studies that have shown that two sessions were 10 minutes each session, you're in that range. It’s actually been done by people that are university students that are typically 20 years old. They don't have much to worry about *no offense*, than getting their assignments in on time. Not about you know, keeping the house over everyone's head. Also making sure you're spending time with the kids while you're working 100 hours a week, so they don't have the same level of stressors. Nevermind the considerations when it comes to different injuries and complaints that you might have after you reach the age of 30. Because there's a very small minority of people that have absolutely no complaints when they reach that magical number of 30 years old.

  1. Another consideration, which is my mantra is trainers should not be getting anyone to be moving fast until we can get them moving really slow, because as soon as you get an exercise that's new to you or you haven't quite got the stability for as soon as you do that movement faster. The movement and pattern of firing in the body breaks down. If we have not done the proper movement patterns, mobility, strengthening and that sort of thing, we're going to end up probably more injured and more likely to be injured from the silliest of things. That's really going to ruin a high intensity interval session, if you hurt your ACL as a result of doing the high intensity interval session.

  1. Another reason that I probably wouldn't recommend doing HIIT training is to do with the amount of time that we spend sitting and being sedentary each day and exercise for me when I'm training people that are over the age of 30 and have a few things going on. Exercise is to go over and reestablish really great firing patterns in the body and we can't do that if we're not practicing often. Practicing often is spending time doing squats, spending time going through all of these movements in a controlled environment so that they have crossover in our day to day life. Because when we can control all of the things that don't usually get controlled in our day to day life, like the floor and that sort of thing, but we work on stabilizers, we work on balance so that we can have crossover, we are more likely to remain injury free and remain injury free for longer. We can also get stronger when we're lifting from a more stable place in terms of our body, our stabilizers, but also when the environment is really stable as well, so the floor is not moving. You know you're not in a park where there's like a hole in the ground because somebody's dog has just dug up the ground, that sort of thing. So the gym provides a really controlled environment for us to be able to practice movements in day to day life. And if we're only practicing for 10 to 15 minutes a day, 20 minutes max as opposed to spending that longer time going through those really good, good patterns.

Well then how are we supposed to get better and infer exercise related benefits?

  • High intensity interval training tends to be cardiovascular work, but at a certain style of cardiovascular work. So what that means is we don't get the opportunity to build that extra strength that we need. So we need a bit of a balance in terms of programming. We need a little bit of cardiovascular stuff, keeping our heart healthy, but we can't ignore doing the strength training. Strength training is going to have all of the great benefits of increasing our bone density and increasing our core strength. But we can't do that if we are constantly doing bodyweight exercises and doing Heidi's and jumping star jumps and that sort of thing.

Some ways that people might see that HIIT training is not for them,

  1. Despite your best efforts to lose weight and your nutrition being on track. You're not losing weight. Check out my post on the possible reasons why.

  2. Feeling anxious when you're working out.

  3. Getting injured often.

  4. Niggles in your back or leg or hip or knee.

  5. Only looking towards sessions where you are getting sweaty. Sweat is not an indicator of how fat you are or how hard you worked.

  6. Feeling stressed before or after your exercise session as a result of your session

  7. HIIT either being the only form of exercise that you're doing or taking up more than two sessions per week. Here are some other exercises you can do to get a good workout.

If any of this resonated with you, and you're finding that this is totally contrary to what you may have read before, I totally get it. I have a number of clients that I worked with that when they started training with me we had to gradually reduce the amount of HIIT training that they were doing so that they felt more comfortable and empowered with their results. However, upon removing all HIIT sessions, we actually were able to achieve their goals sooner. Some of these goals included feeling more in control of their body for some of my clients that were menopausal. For others whose main goal was weight loss, they started losing weight faster and in areas that they prefer to lose weight in. And for others, they found that there were greater mood benefits for their workouts, and that they felt less stressed and were less prone to injury. If you're feeling uncertain, and you want to reach out and discuss this a little bit further, just reach out to our team. We're more than happy to help. We've been helping people for years. find their way in exercise. So let's find your happiness and let's get you to your best health using science.

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