What You Must Consider If You Enjoy High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT workouts.  I do them most days, and have for years.  I do them because they are efficient, and I can use them to target personal goals, like jumps and lands.  But, truth be told, patients rarely tell me that they want to work on jumps and lands, so why the obsession?  

While there are mixed claims about the cardiovascular and fat burning benefits of HIIT, the most alluring benefit to me is actually just the satisfaction of pushing to one’s own limit. Still, as a physical therapist, it becomes hard to ignore the high stakes for injury.  What’s fascinating about HIIT- related injuries, as with many fitness-related injuries, is that they are often masked and unclear.   For one thing, adrenaline is a pain inhibitor. This means, often a person feels great when working out and shortly thereafter. Perhaps later that night, they may feel some hip pain, and attribute it to something harmless, “I was only out walking my dog.”  I hear stories like this all of the time, and it’s a difficult conversation to get real about.  No one wants to hear that what they love doing is causing them injury. Sadly, I’ve been guilty of talking around this truth with patients, because I think deep down they already know it’s not the dog.  

There is a concept in physical therapy that we call “irritability,” and while the name is a bit confusing, what it means is that certain pains show up late.  Sometimes even 1-2 days late.  Also, with so many myths about core strength and stability in the fitness realm, patients can get hurt just by listening to well-intended guidance on peak form and posture. 

So then, how does a person enjoy the benefits of a HIIT class without getting injured?  The best answer is that to LEARN the movements first. It’s quite simple.  It’s like learning an instrument or a new art form.  You learn SLOWLY at first.  You learn how to do it COMFORTABLY first.  You build internal confidence.  You don’t rush.

What I’m saying is not just a theory.  Muscles need time to adapt to new commands or new direction.   By doing movements slowly and with awareness, you give your body time to adapt appropriately. You teach your muscles how to work most efficiently.  Slow movements encourage the muscles that are designed for stability and control.  Those are the muscles that protect you from injury. Fast movements encourage muscles designed for propulsion and speed, but they can’t work alone.

Nowadays we are exercising at high intensity in small spaces, but we have learned by now that the body doesn’t open up and expand well in confined space. Apply rapid movements to small spaces, and you are more likely to suffer from repetitive stress or just simply overuse syndromes.

So, if you want to go all out. Which is an amazing thing to do. First, take your time. Go through the movements slowly. Do them poorly at first.   Build your own movement vocabulary. Find out what feels good to you. It doesn’t have to look like the person on the screen.  Once it feels comfortable to you, it will look even better, because it will look like you OWN your body.  Don’t do movements rapidly just to get through them. Pay attention and build speed over time.  And most of all, if something hurts or feels out of control, stop or slow down, and try again tomorrow.  This kind of work out may be about peak highs and lows, but the results should always be a steady upward trend.