The Problem With High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

April 2, 2019

If you’ve been in the fitness game for any amount of time you have undoubtedly come across some sort of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

P90X, CrossFit, Tabata, BodyPump amongst many other popular fitness trends are all variations of HIIT and they do work, until they don’t.

There are several issues I have with HIIT and reasons why this style of training stops working and I’m going to cover all of it in this email.

I’m also going to cover what you should be doing instead to ensure the results keep coming so let’s get into it.

First, what is high intensity interval training.  

If you are unfamiliar with HIIT I highly encourage you to Google more info but simply put, HIIT is a time period of going extremely hard on an exercise followed by a short rest or low intensity exercise.

These protocols can be prescribed in many different ways such as Tabata’s famous 20/10/4 – Go hard for 20 seconds, rest for 10 and repeat for 4 rounds.

You also have CrossFit’s complete the workout as fast as possible such as the Fran WOD.  Complete 21 thrusters and 21 pull-ups, then 15 thrusters and 15 pull-ups, then 9 thrusters and 9 pull-ups, as fast as possible.  Quickest time wins.

Or you could come up with your own HIIT using something as simple as the treadmill.  Sprint as fast as you can for 20 seconds, slow down and walk for 60 seconds and repeat for x amount of rounds.

I’m not even going to pretend that these methods don’t work.  They in fact do and I have personally incorporated these tactics into my own programming at Mayhem Fitness.

These methods have long been the “secret sauce,” of producing fast results in body transformations.

So if they work so well what do I have a problem with?

Three issues I have with HIIT.

  1. They are really hard for the beginner (sometimes impossible)
  2. They have a higher risk for injury rate
  3. They stop working when over used

They are really hard for Beginners, sometimes impossible.  This is an issue I would come across many times in the group training at Mayhem.  Beginners would often times find it very hard to “keep up,” with the more seasoned veterans.   They would find themselves getting highly discouraged and often times quit the program.

How the hell am I supposed to help someone if they quit?  Simply put, I can’t so something had to change.  More on this in a second.

HIIT has a higher risk for injury.  In fact, at one time CrossFit had a higher drop out rate than hockey due to injuries.

Wait… what?

It’s true, google it.  My question to you is, when did fitness, something thats supposed to IMPROVE your quality of life, become this animal of crushing people, leaving them in worse position than when they first started?

I really don’t think that’s supposed to be how it works. 🙄

Lastly, HIIT stops working… But you still have fat to lose, what are you supposed to do now?

Being that your body is a highly adaptive organism it will get use to the HIIT style workouts and you’ll find yourself struggling to make any more progress with your “routine,” if that’s what you want to call completely randomized workouts.

Sure, you’ll be able to crush workouts in record time as your conditioning and skill level has improved but at what sacrifice?

Your strength levels have plateaued and you still have those annoying love handles… what are you going to do now?

I often say, there is a difference between exercising and training.

And way too many people make the mistake of confusing pouring sweat, muscle soreness for days and crippling over dying out of breathe as effective workouts… Sorry to inform you, they’re not.

An effective training program allows you to become a stronger, more fit and healthier version of yourself with an end goal being accomplished.

An effective training program should help you reach all of your goals.  Whether that means keeping up with the kids, stepping up on a bodybuilding stage, competing in a strength sport or simply hitting a new personal record in the gym.

And hey, if your current program is doing all of that for you and you’re happy then there’s really no more I need to tell you.

However, if you are still struggling and can’t seem to figure it out keep reading as I’m about to uncover exactly how an effective training should look and how you can still incorporate HIIT into it without the risk of injury or hitting a plateau.

As I mentioned above, HIIT works and it works really well but only when used in conjunction of a solid Strength and Conditioning program (and of course nutrition).

In order to keep your results coming and not become burned out or injured, your strength and conditioning program needs to be well rounded that includes the following:

  • Mobility
  • Strength
  • Conditioning
  • Nutrition

Take a good hard look at that last one, Stress Management. Way too often THIS is the missing ingredient in ones attempt to lose weight and get in great shape.

We are bombarded with stress on a daily basis and if you don’t find ways to reduce this, you’ll never win the battle of the bulge.

And guess what, high intensity interval training often times causes MORE stress in the body.

In fact, most training causes higher stress, except for steady state cardio such as a daily walk – which is perfect for stress reduction.

More on that in a second but when you’re continuously focused on hammering the body hard and coupling in a caloric deficit you’re simply over stressing yourself to the breaking point both physically and mentally.

This will lead to either injury, quitting on your training, nutrition or both or even getting sick – the bodies way of saying enough already!

This is typically where the weight comes right back on and you are left feeling defeated and frustrated again.

Sound familiar?

It sucks and I don’t want that happening to you ever again.

So with all of that said, here is exactly how a well rounded strength and fitness routine needs be structured.

  1. Each week focus on mobility and flexibility – Yoga is something I incorporate into every warmup of my own workouts to help with this.  I’ll also do a long, 1 hour session of Yin Recovery Yoga 1-2 times per week.  This also helps with Stress Management.
  2. Focus on getting stronger FIRST!  If you are continuously striving to get stronger, you’re workouts take on new meaning and you’ll automatically challenge yourself week after week, year after year.  Getting stronger comes in many different forms such as being able to Deadlift or Squat more weight than the last session or being able to do the same weight for more reps in your last workout.  But it doesn’t stop in the weight room.  You could also focus on swimming more laps than your last pool session or sprinting up a hill faster, throwing a large rock further, etc.  Start tracking your workouts and try to out perform your last session – this is how you get stronger!  Of course, don’t be stupid with your strength training and sacrifice your form or use momentum.  Make sure you are training with impeccable form in each strength training session.
  3. Conditioning – YES!  You still need to get that heart rate up and HIIT will fit right along here however I HIGHLY recommend mixing it up so you don’t become over stressed, burned out or hit those plateaus.  Instead of doing HIIT every day, limit it to 1-2 training sessions per week, 10-20 minutes at a time.  When done right, this is all you really need!
  4. Take a Daily Walk!  I use to think walking was for the slackers who couldn’t train hard in the gym.  That was when I was young and dumb.  Walking could be the #1 thing in your training arsenal that will help you lose more fat than anything I’ve already mentioned above!  Read that again.  A daily walks helps insulin sensitivity (especially taking a 10 minute walk after eating), reduces stress, helps your mental state, boosts your metabolism, burns calories and so many other fitness and health benefits.  If you do nothing else today, take a walk and get outdoors when you do so to soak up some natural Vitamin D (something I learned recently, experts aren’t referring to Vitamin D as a vitamin any more as they realize it is a much needed HORMONE for the body).
  5. Get your nutrition right.  I won’t go into great lengths here but remember, you simply cannot out train a bad diet.
  6. SLEEP!  Manage your stress better with getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night.  Couple this in with Mediation, Yoga and a daily walk and I guarantee you’ll be on the right path to reducing your stress levels.

So there it is, your complete Strength and Fitness Battle Plan.  If all of this seems too simple, that’s because it IS!

Stop over complicating things, take it one task at a time, one day at a time and stop the excuses.

Of course, if you need help with any of this, hit me up and I’ll make sure you get on the right track.

Keep Pounding


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