Is HIIT for Everyone?

HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is something of a fitness unicorn.  Many aren’t quite sure what it is, everyone wants to try it, and there’s a whole lot of misinformation out there.  I can’t tackle every HIIT question in this post, but if you’re dying to know something more about HIIT or Tabata training that isn’t included here, let me know so that I can address it soon!

What is HIIT?

HIIT is a workout format that mixes periods of high-intensity work with low-intensity rest.  That’s kind of like saying “a horse is a four-legged animal”, but just like there are a thousand more things I could say to describe a horse, there are entire books to be said about HIIT.  So let’s keep it simple today.

Why is HIIT so trendy?

Some studies have shown that HIIT helps certain populations lose body fat faster than “standard” (LISS) cardio.  Finally, we have the magic bullet!  If we look into these studies, however, some key factors emerge: participants work at 90% of their max VO2 and the workouts are short and carefully controlled.

Why are you such a buzzkill about HIIT?

HIIT is popular because:

  • you sound tough! HIGH INTENSITY!!
  • it should be a short workout
  • we are a “more is more” culture in the USA and think that HIGH INTENSITY must be best
  • if done correctly, it can help you drop bodyfat “more quickly” than “standard” cardio
  • if done correctly, it can help improve insulin sensitivity

But, keep reading in that same study I linked above and see that:

  • cortisol (stress hormone) and epinephrine/norepinephrine (flight-or-fight hormones) stay elevated after the workout
  • some of the benefits may be thanks to appetite suppression…and appetite is only rarely (in my experience) the cause of weight gain

HIIT and the Constantly Stressed

If you are constantly stressed, HIIT might not be a good choice for you.

When you’re stressed, whether it’s emotional/mental stress or anxiety, oxidative stress within your body caused by low-quality, processed, or sugary foods, or even physical stress that comes from lack of sound sleep, chances are that your stress and fight-or-flight hormones are already out of whack.

In my experience as a trainer, HIIT is not a good choice for the constantly stressed who are not actively working to reduce their stress.  In these individuals, HIIT typically shows the OPPOSITE of the desired response – instead of viewing the stress of your workout as a positive stressor that promotes change, your body may view the workout as a threatening stressor that requires the storage of more bodyfat.

Reducing Stress?

You can’t shame, shout, or force your body to be less stressed.  If you think you fall into the “constantly stressed” category but want to add HIIT to your workouts, you may want to try:

  • Consuming an anti-inflammatory diet (the very basics of this idea are here, but I am always happy to answer questions about this!)
  • Getting sufficient rest and sleep.  Rest AND sleep. Not a typo. Your body needs time to feel that it is “at rest” – calm, relaxed, and at peace – outside of time spent in sound sleep.
  • Working out – properly performed, both strength training and other forms of cardio (besides HIIT) can help regulate your stress hormones and insulin response, provide an outlet for emotional and mental stress, and boost your body’s “happy” chemicals

Other HIIT Contra-Indications

ALWAYS check with your health professional and personal fitness professional before modifying your workout routine.  In general, HIIT might not be for you if:

  • you are pregnant and did NOT been engage in HIIT workouts before your pregnancy
  • you are recovering from surgery or another major trauma
  • you have any cardiac or inflammatory conditions
  • you take medication that alters your heart rate

How do I know if HIIT is legit?

Wondering if the HIIT workout you found on Pinterest is worth your time?  Ask me, or put it through these tests:

  • Do the “work” periods require me to work HARD, at about 80% of my max heart rate without compromising good, safe form?
  • Do the “rest” periods allow me to catch my breath somewhat?
  • Is the workout hard enough that I can’t imagine going past 20 minutes without at least a 10 minute break?
  • Does the workout make sense?  Is it tough for a good reason, or did the author just cram in as many jumping moves as possible?  Who made this workout, anyway?

Keep your HIIT questions coming, and get a taste of high intensity interval training in a personal training workout session with me at the Tiny Fitness studio if you’re interested!

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