High Intensity Interval Training (HITT): Is it right for you?

imageNicole Lark - Personal Trainer

The Acupuncture Turning Point collaborates with Nicole and Len, owners of Breathe Fitness, to help our clients be at their best.

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by Nicole Lark BHK, PTS, TSCC-3

You may have heard or read about one of the recent trends in the ever-evolving fitness industry: High Intensity Interval Training (HITT).  HITT workouts are often shorter in duration (e.g. 25 to 30 minutes) and the format is to complete a number of very short, high intensity bursts with a longer recovery period between intervals.  For example, someone may go for a run or spin where they do 8 – 10 sets of 30 seconds as fast as they can with 30 seconds to one minute at a very light intensity in between to recover.  Many athletes have incorporated this format of training into their program for years to optimize performance; however, it is starting to become more and more popular amongst the common exerciser.

There is growing evidence to support the benefits of intense interval training and that our previous mentality of having to do an activity at steady-pace for a longer duration of time (e.g. moderate paced run for 45 to 60 minutes) may actually be less effective.  A McMaster University research group has published papers revealing that even as little as 4 x 30-second intervals with up to a 4-minute rest in between has produced a “doubling” of the subjects’ cardiovascular endurance.

Many people do not feel they have enough time to fit adequate exercise into their daily or weekly routine.  However, regardless of the recent research literature supporting the many benefits of HITT style workouts, I only recommend it to SOME clients — not all!

My major concern with this style of training (sometimes involving plyometrics, where muscles are exerted to their maximal tensile strength and length) is that the higher intensity increases the risk of injury, especially with individuals who are new to exercising or have not exercised regularly in recent months or years.  It is not reasonable to ask the body to go from zero to full-capacity output at the snap of the fingers when you have only been challenging it to go from zero to only 10-30% for the last few years, or even decades.  We need to learn to be patient and satisfied with taking small steps forward when it comes to reclaiming our health and fitness.  Over time, when the body is familiar with regular physical activity and being pushed a bit more, then and only then, would I recommend incorporating HITT workouts into a weekly routine.

Furthermore, even seasoned athletes cannot perform HITT workouts all of the time; everyone needs sufficient recovery time allowing the body to rebuild and recover. They intersperse lighter workouts with harder ones.  If athletes (or anyone for that matter) only did high intensity training, injury or burnout or illness would certainly follow, which in the end would only set you back further than if you approached training incrementally, building on more when your body was ready.

HITT workouts certainly can cut the amount of time someone needs to dedicate to working out so that you can spend more time with family and friends; however, for those who are new to exercising or for those whom exercise is not a regular habit, HITT will not be a shortcut; indeed, it will most likely set you back.  Instead, safely start with mild or moderate intensity UNTIL the body is ready to endure the greater demands of higher intensity exercise.

If in doubt, seek informed guidance from an exercise professional.  The highly qualified trainers at Breathe Fitness offer personal training, or alternatively, a functional movement screen, which allows for the creation of a corrective workout plan.  This comprehensive program is specially designed for your current fitness level and can be performed either in your own home or at the