High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been extremely popular in the exercise realm for the last five or so years. High-intensity interval training consists of exerting maximal physical effort for an exercise set or period of time (typically less than two minutes) followed by a period of active recovery. The back-and-forth cycling between tough exertion and lighter movements has been proven to be a time-efficient way to exercise. HIIT can be done for anywhere between 15-45 minutes, meaning you “get it done” in a short period of time. Most notably, HIIT workouts produce excellent results because they target lots of muscles and burn calories both during and after the actual exercise bout. Not too shabby, I must say.
While HIIT workouts seem like a sure-fire answer for quick weight loss and time efficiency, they’re not for everyone. Let’s review who should do HIIT workouts and who should approach them with caution (or avoid them entirely).
Who Should Participate in HIIT?
HIIT is an excellent workout option for people of all ages who are in good physical health. Generally speaking, as long as someone doesn’t have an injury or medical reason to abstain from exercise, they can do HIIT.
Most of the time when people hear the word “HIIT,” it conjures up thoughts of doing box jumps, wind sprints, burpees and squat jumps. Ahhh, the glory days of every athlete. But HIIT encompasses a scope much broader than this. A”HIIT workout” may look very different for a 50-year old woman who is working with a trainer to get her heart rate up and down. She may power walk on a treadmill incline for her high-intensity portion and then do slow hip bridges lying on a mat as her active recovery. A 20-something group exercise participant may comfortably do lunge jumps with dumbbells for the high-intensity portion followed by sit-ups for the active recovery. Everything about HIIT, and exercise at large, is subjective.
What feels tough for one person is not the same for the next person. Just because HIIT can be modified for an individual’s personal level of fitness doesn’t mean it’s the best idea for certain people. I’ve seen too many folks walk into HIIT-style workouts and overexert themselves to the point where they risk injury. No bueno. I’ve also seen plenty of people come out of HIIT workouts hating life. Well…hating exercise, at least. Sometimes that’s just what people need to get jump-started in fitness and, at other times, that’s exactly why people walk out of the gym and never return. The point remains: HIIT is great, but isn’t ideal for everyone.
Who Should NOT Participate in HIIT?
The following groups of people should probably avoid HIIT workouts, at least until their health changes:
- People who are injured
- Women who are pregnant
- Women who are in the first 3-6 months postpartum
- People who are immune suppressed and/or sick
- People who have a heart condition or have recently undergone cardiac surgery
- People suffering from osteopenia or osteoporosis
- People with any form of incontinence, prolapse or pelvic floor weakness
- *People who are brand new to exercise
- *People who have no foundation of knowledge for how to perform exercise basics in proper form (ex: squats, lunges, push-ups, planks, etc.)
Most of these groups are relatively self-explanatory. The last two groups of individuals, marked by the asterisk (*) are up for a bit more debate…
People who are very out of shape or brand new to exercise can greatly benefit from HIIT programs. In fact, throngs of women line up to participate in Instagram-famous personal trainer Kayla Itsines’ Beach Body Guide (which focuses on HIIT workouts) and see fabulous results. More power to ’em! The challenge is that a lot of people will embark on HIIT workout programs that are overly grueling and unsustainable for the long-term. HIIT workouts must be done responsibly to avoid burnout and over-training. Trust me, I’m a professional AND I’ve overtrained! Unfortunately, too many people do too much HIIT, suffer the negative consequences, and subsequently get turned off from exercise.
The last group of individuals; “people who have no foundation of knowledge for how to perform exercise basics in proper form,” must approach HIIT workouts with caution. If the instructor isn’t giving cues for how to keep the body aligned and safe during each exercise and doesn’t offer any modifications to make exercises easier or harder, then it may be best to find a new instructor or workout. While it may seem like you’re getting a great workout if you sweat a lot, there can be long-term, significant repercussions from inappropriately stressing your knees, neck, wrists and back. Sweat is not the only indicator of an excellent workout. Can you tell that I’m the exercise world’s policewoman about proper form?!
Just remember: Exercises done the wrong way break down your body. Exercises done the right way build it up.
Stay strong, friends! Sweat hard. And treat your body with respect.
Yours in health and wellness,
PS – If you have more HIIT questions, please don’t be afraid to ask!
This article incited a lot of discussion on social media. Makes me happy that people are thinking through what’s best for them with regards to exercise versus blindly following along. One key point I’ve been talking about with people is that there is a large grey in exercise.
-HIIT can be done safely when modified for some pregnant women, to exclude high-impact jumping and jarring/rapid movements, and while keeping heart rate within a safe range.
-Heart rate training can be done as an effective way to rehab people with cardiac challenges, under safe monitoring by an exercise physiologist.
-A man on Under Armour’s Record app mentioned that he has arthritis and can enjoy HIIT to en extent but that it bothers him if done for too many consecutive weeks.
The bottom line: Make sure exercise is safe and effective for YOU, regardless of “the rules.” Love the engagement, friends. Thanks!
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