I’m somewhat ashamed to admit I actually used the words “drop and give me 20!” and meant it. I say somewhat because being a personal trainer was a fulfilling career at the time and I say ashamed because a lot of the fitness industry is built on the idea that fitness should be harrowing, torturous, and a brutal smashing.
I’m happy to say, since hanging up my lycra tights I’ve found that high intensity training is not for me at all. In fact, once I abandoned it, I noticed the difference in my body immediately.
High intensity interval training (HIIT) can best be described as short periods of all out, maximum effort followed by short periods of active rest. Active rest meaning to perform low impact exercises like holding a plank or body weight squats rather than resting completely.
In theory, the body is working harder than it would during a continuous workout (like a spin class for example), which we can all agree is very appealing, especially if you’re time poor. By working out at your top level of exertion, you burn more calories in a short time frame compared to that of other workouts. What’s more, your metabolism continues to exert itself for hours after you’ve finished.
What I found hard to hear was when my clients were disgruntled or disheartened if a workout didn’t leave them feeling shattered, the apparent measure of a good workout. It otherwise didn’t feel worthy of their time or money.
The biggest problem I have with HIIT is the stress it causes. While most people exercise to de-stress, the reality is that HIIT can actually make you feel more anxious. In fact, too much HIIT training can eventually mimic stress by releasing the stress hormone cortisol. Combine that with a heavy to do list and it can; disrupt your sleep, put strain on your immune system and ruin your appetite (particularly if you’re taking ‘cheat day’ far too literally.)
The second biggest problem is after speed is intensified, the first thing to go is technique. All of my carefully selected adjectives, adverbs and metaphors to help describe the feeling of perfect technique went out the window as perceived winning and tally scoring were suddenly more important than the reason for exercising in the first place.
The hard truth is that HIIT training often goes hand in hand with over-training. Something I saw a lot of, oh those poor stressed out office bodies; undernourished, overtrained, over indulged and ever restless. I’m sorry to tell you, forty-five minutes of intensive exercise does not equalise nine hours of sitting. It puts an incredible strain on your nervous system, joints and muscles; especially if you are overweight and unfit.
Online Health Coach Max Lowery nailed it when he summarised: ‘HIIT’s rise in popularity is symptomatic of what is wrong with the fitness industry as a whole: a brazen disregard of the fundamentals, and a detrimental “one size fits all” mentality.’
The four dangers of HIIT as I see it are: Failing to adequately warm-up, trusting ill qualified instruction, settling for poor technique and an insufficient or non-existent cool down.
It’s not all doom and gloom, high-intensity interval training offers loads of benefits, but it’s not designed to be an everyday workout. If you find it works then that’s brilliant, but you should avoid more than two or three sessions a week and spend other days doing complimentary exercise such as yoga, dance, sports, mobility and fascia releasing exercises.
I think we can agree that HIIT really is an effective form of exercise. However, it’s important to acknowledge if it’s not for you, because it certainly wasn’t for me.
But I think the message is clear: be kinder to yourself and listen to what feels good and what doesn’t. If you’re starting out after an extensive break from HIIT, maybe start with some low impact cardiovascular exercises like walking, cycling or swimming, while adding flexibility and mobility practices to your daily routine. Do this for a month or so to condition your body, and then add HIIT classes, once or twice a week. Despite how alluring the four week introductory offer is.
My belief is that you should re-think why you do what you do to keep physically fit. Connect deeper with your body and if you feel like your body would appreciate Netflix rather than a castigating workout, then do it, I sure do! I couldn’t really understand what it was like to be an office worker trying to keep fit, until I was (and still am) one. Now I get it!
For me, it’s goodbye and good riddance to HIIT. I’ve added a variety of movement into my loose schedule. I’ve fallen hard for barre classes and pilates, I’m playing social sports and funnily enough when I didn’t have the pressure of racing against someone, I’m happy to admit: I even started to fall in love with running… and Netflix.
Lexi has a certain penchant for exploring the globe and has an incurable case of curiosity. Whether it’s surfing in Mexico, hiking the Himalayas, motorcycling around India, trekking the Kokoda trail, skiing in New Zealand, Volcano boarding in Nicaragua, snorkeling in Costa Rica or just kicking back here in Sydney she’s always intrigued and always learning. You can read more of her work on her travel blog and on Instagram.