Jessica Bento, Physical Therapist (Creator of DVRT Restoration, Level 1 & 2 Certifications, DVRT Rx Courses For Shoulders, Pelvic Control, & Shoulders)
It seemed like the fitness industry went from everything being HIIT workouts to now condemning the use of HIIT workouts for the average person. All of the back and forth can make anyone’s head spin so who is right? Well, as with most things we have to be a little more thoughtful than looking at things in terms of just black and white, so let’s examine some of the issues that can impact our decision on HIIT workouts.
Are HIIT Workouts Helpful/Appropriate For Those Not Already In Great Shape?
Some of the backlash against HIIT workouts comes from the idea that the average person starting a workout program is already stressed from life, a diet that isn’t providing great nutrition, sleep issues, and so on. Therefore, the theory goes that most people shouldn’t use HIIT workouts as that only stresses the nervous system and body to a greater level. However, does that stand up to the research?
A 2011 study (HERE) found that even small bouts of HIIT was able to provide great health benefits, “Two weeks of low-volume HIT, involving only 30 min of vigorous exercise within a total time commitment of 75 min/wk, lowered 24-h average blood glucose concentration, reduced postmeal blood glucose excursions, and increased markers of skeletal muscle mitochondrial capacity in individuals with T2D. The total weekly training time commitment in the present study was 50% lower than recently revised guidelines that call for 150 min of moderate to vigorous exercise per week.”
We have this 2007 study (HERE) that showed how exercises intensity played a big part in heart health! “Exercise intensity was an important factor for reversing left ventricle remodeling and improving aerobic capacity, endothelial function, and quality of life in patients with postinfarction heart failure. These findings may have important implications for exercise training in rehabilitation programs and future studies.”
There are more and more studies demonstrating exercise intensity at higher levels organized the proper way can have great health benefits to newbies and experienced lifters alike. Even for those that have low back issues seem to benefit greatly from higher intensity training. This 2019 study (HERE) found, “High-intensity training proved to be a feasible, well tolerated, and effective therapy modality in chronic non-specific low back pain. Moreover, it shows greater improvements on dis- ability and exercise capacity than a similar ET performed at moderate intensity.
What’s The REAL Issue With HIIT Workouts
I think where there is a legitimate criticism about HIIT workouts is how they are programmed and overall organized. For example, if you are doing an hour of HIIT, then you are not really doing HIIT and probably setting up your body to have issues. You can’t sprint a mile as the saying goes, so real HIIT workouts are probably no more then 15-20 minutes to really stay true to HIIT guidelines.
Exercise selection is another big part of what makes for appropriate HIIT workouts or not! As HIIT became more popular so did a lot of power movements like kettlebell swings, burpees, box jumps, olympic lifts, etc. Now by themselves I have no issues with these lifts, but there are considerations we should make about who they are appropriate for in training.
-The complexity of the movement: the more complex, the more time learning and teaching an exercise requires. So, it may not be proper for HIIT workouts for some time with the average person.
-Power drills need a bigger foundation: in order to generate power, people need LOTS of stability, mobility, and strength. This is not only true in our ability to generate a lot of power, but to absorb it as well. Again, this takes some time to develop and would keep people from using HIIT workouts for some time.
-Coaches proficiency in teaching and understanding more complex movements: if you can’t acknowledge the pros and cons of an exercise, as well as understanding all the aspects of an exercise, it may not be something you can have you or your clients performing.
If we can’t use these more complex power movements, can we still use HIIT workouts? The answer is…OF COURSE! How?
Introducing HIIT Workouts For Real People
There are several considerations we want to make in having the average person not just survive, but really benefit from HIIT workouts. We can use foundational movements to make workouts plenty intense.
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Adding greater demands in both moving through and resisting other planes of motion like the frontal plane can greatly increase the intensity of our workouts, but also build greater stability, mobility, and strength at the same time.
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Learning to move in different directions, or simply learning how to accelerate/decelerate in more stable environments can serve as a ground foundation to build HIIT workouts that can achieve our goals while not creating many of the issues people face when they make HIIT with too complex of movements.
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You can also take a movement pattern like vertical pressing as I show above and change the body position, or the plane of motion and you will make a familiar movement that much more intense. Combine that with the instability of the Ultimate Sandbag that forces more muscles to be used and more accurate movement and we are really ramping up smarter HIIT workouts.
These are some important and highly effective means of making HIIT workouts accessible to anyone. The key is to understand that a method like HIIT isn’t defined by a specific exercise, but by how we can use the exercises that people have proficiency in to higher levels.