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To HIIT or not to HIIT

Updated: Jul 5

Wondering if your crazy workouts are helping or hurting you?


HIIT (high intensity interval training) can help with fat loss, sharpening your memory, aid in muscle building, increase bone density, etc. The proper method of HIIT includes short bursts of high intensity work where you are pushing at or past 90% of your max effort, followed by periods of active rest/recovery. If you are really pushing yourself hard during those high intensity bursts, you wouldn't be able to do that for very long or for two workouts in a row. However, with so many workouts, the those exertion bursts are getting longer and the recovery is becoming nonexistent. It's become the new norm to feel like you are going to pass out the whole time during your workout. Study after study preaches the benefits of HIIT. All these studies fail to mention the potential downside of HIIT. How could something with so many upsides possibly have one? While the benefits of this style of training apply to many people, there's a huge group it could be hurting.


The average person is over stressed, sleep deprived, over worked, bombarded with environmental toxins, and/or consumes too many processed foods. Not to mention, we spend more time sitting and looking at a phone/laptop than the body was designed to which ends up tightening muscles like the hip flexors, hamstrings, chest, lower back and leads to postural issues from all that looking down. In addition to that, there's the blue light exposure from our laptops and phones which interferes with the body's production of melatonin (the hormone that helps you sleep). All these and more are taking a toll on the natural functionalities our bodies should have.


Did you know that exercise is a form of stress? That can be a good thing! Muscle tissue breaking down from strength training and repairing itself not only is a calorie expenditure, but is how muscle gets stronger. Your body cannot tell the difference between real stress (like from a workout or from a bear chasing you in the woods) and perceived stress (like stressing about a fight you had with someone). Your hard workouts combined with less than eight hours of sleep per night and your head spinning with stressful thoughts all take a cumulative toll on your body and health.


Doing these insane workouts frequently is just like the notion of multitasking - you think you are doing multiple things at once when really you are giving partial effort to too many things. The brain was not built to multitask and what happens is it quickly switches from one thing to another. Doing that to your muscles is the same thing. Everywhere is getting minimal attention.


This doesn't mean your HIIT and full body workouts aren't effective. It is for burning calories, but not always for building muscle - which is the biggest burner of calories in the long run. HIIT also causes a lot of stress on the body. If you want your knees and hips to last as long as possible, don't overuse them! From personal experience, I know that my HIIT workouts sometimes leave me feeling extremely hungry. I end up eating twice as much as I would have if I didn't do workout!


Start with a HIIT day once a week and see what happens. You can increase to up to twice a week. If you find your strength and endurance are increasing, then continue like this for sometime before adding another day. Keep the days apart with adequate rest time in between. If you are someone that works out all the time, you can change the intensity of your workout by increasing your load - either the reps you do or the weight. I've found in weight lifting, people are usually over lifting or under lifting. You can also use an interval timer to time your rest between sets. You'd be surprised by how fast a real 45 second break is!

The takeaway? Make sure you make recovery a priority. This includes one of the most underrated components to health and longevity: sleep! Sleep is when every cell, muscle, your brain, etc. are regenerated. Stretching, proper nutrition and hydration, stress management, and rest days are all needed for recovery. Balance out the intensity of your workouts with chill time. Go for a walk, take a bath, write in a journal, play with an animal or volunteer at a shelter or sanctuary farm. These kinds of activities reset your parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system need to have a balance in order to function.


There are many benefits to HIIT training. This style of training was not designed to do everyday or even back to back training days. Remember, the body doesn't like extremes. This doesn't mean you should be cruising through your workouts without getting winding or lifting five pound weights. Finding the balance between safely pushing yourself without UNDER doing it will get you to your goals.


JN

© Jessica Nusbaum 2020 | All rights reserved.