You’ve made the decision. You’re ready to get moving and take your fitness to the next level. Whether that means getting off the couch for the first time in a long time, or making your fitness routines more challenging, you’re on the right track.
Many experts agree that consistent exercise has several benefits. According to Professor Steven Blair in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, activity can cause “reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.” On the other hand, inactivity can cause a host of health problems, including decreased life expectancy.
But before you run out and join a gym or start a new exercise program, you may want to know a little more about the dangers of one trend: HIIT.
What is HIIT?
High Intensity Interval Training. Essentially it’s pushing your body to the max for a short burst and then taking a quick rest. The total workout can last anywhere from four minutes to a half hour according to Men’s Health. In a culture that values the most results in the least amount of time, HIIT sounds pretty appealing.
Oh, and it’s everywhere: from YouTube videos to Crossfit to P90X. HIIT workouts continue to pop up. While working out with such high intensity might be good for you, it can also lead to injury if not done correctly.
What’s Wrong With HIIT?
Well, nothing…if you build up to it and do it correctly all the time with supervision, but that’s unlikely.
The problems start when you get tired, and that’s pretty common, considering one of the goals of HIIT is to push your limits. That’s when your form often starts to suffer and you’re at a higher risk of getting hurt. According to the International Sports Sciences Association, “Poor exercise choices combined with more reps at higher speeds can lead to both overuse injuries and acute injuries, both of which will negatively impact the participant.”
Furthermore, workouts like Crossfit have even been connected with a deadly condition called rhabdomyolysis, the New York Post reports. It’s essentially a breakdown of muscle fibers that leaks a protein into the bloodstream and can cause kidney damage. Overexertion is another issue. BBC presenter Andrew Marr attributes a stroke he suffered in 2013 to his intense time on a rowing machine. These aren’t everyday occurrences, but here’s one question you may want to ask yourself before doing HIIT: is jeopardizing your long term physical health worth the short term gain?
How to Prevent Injury
Your answer to that question is probably yes, considering you’ve read this far, so the next logical step is injury prevention.
If you’re an athlete, you or someone you know has likely been injured at some point. In fact, nearly three and a half percent of people in the U.S. are injured in sports and recreation activities every year according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s nearly nine million people.
If you’re jumping into a training program, there are a few things you can do to prevent injury. First off, make sure stretching is a part of your exercise regimen. It loosens your body up and helps with range of motion. Next, build up strength and endurance slowly. That’ll allow you time to focus on learning proper form. It also gives your body time to adjust. Thirdly, remember that moderation is key. Let your body rest so it has time to rebuild. If you don’t want to take an entire day off of exercise, you can go for active recovery days, which include light activity.
Just to clear the air — experts say if you’re moving from couch potato to HIIT buff, you’re probably not going to be able to push yourself far enough right away to cause serious damage.
Is It Worth it?
That’s up to you. Once you feel like you have a very good base fitness level, it might be time to start considering HIIT. It can help with cardiovascular health and fat loss, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, perhaps more effectively than other forms of exercise. That’s because it can burn more calories during the workout and bump up your metabolism for hours after.
If you do choose to go for it, just remember: keep your high intensity training to no more than three or four times per week.