High-Intensity Interval Training is all rage right now. I have come across stacks of tabloid articles and television programs recently espousing the virtues of HIIT training, and for good reason.
There is good evidence to show that training in short bursts of high intensity can yield all sorts of wonderful benefits towards our metabolic health, body composition and fitness markers. My colleague, Hunter Bennett, wrote a great article on this topic that you can read here. This has lead to the creation of Fitness Franchises and individual businesses that focus solely on the HIIT principle.
In my opinion, such businesses offer fitness training to the masses much in the same way that Fast Food Chains delivers nutrition. Cheaply, poorly, and with an unacceptable level of health risk to their patrons.
So what’s the problem, hater?
There are a few, but I will focus on the two major ones that I commonly see:
1) The lack of pre-exercise screening and assessment.
Before you start training at a fitness centre, the staff (who should be adequately qualified) are required to take you through the ‘Adult Pre-Exercise Screening Tool‘ so that the appropriate level of exercise can be prescribed for you based on any metabolic or physical risk factors you may have.
This is in your best interest as if you have a health concern, either diagnosed or undiagnosed you should ease your way gently into an exercise program. This process is a basic requirement for all accredited Fitness Businesses. If you have started training and you have not been adequately screened using this questionnaire I would be highly concerned about the people you have trusted with your health. They have let you down.
Following the metabolic screening questionnaire, we at iNform believe a thorough evaluation of Movement Competency should be completed, so that you can be prescribed exercises that you are able to complete safely and effectively.
Again, if you are thrust into a High Intensity Circuit class without anyone assessing you movement capabilities (and adjusting your exercise recommendations accordingly) then you have been put into a situation that carries an unacceptable level of injury risk.
2) Overly complex, diverse and advanced exercises.
The evidence to support the use of HIIT style training is derived from studies that generally use quite straight-forward forms of exercises- such as sprints on a stationary bike or rower. Or they use pretty simple resistance exercises such as squats, push-ups, bicep curls etc. Also the groups used in these studies tend to be quite homogeneous- males or females aged 18-23; type-2 diabetics; post-menopausal women etc etc.
So we have simple, yet vigorous exercises being prescribed to a group of ‘similar’ people (with unsuitable people being screened out in the participant selection process) to determine the effect of HIIT training over a period of time.
This does not sound like your average HIIT class- where you might find a 18y.o Netballer; a 48y.o. Accountant; a 32y.o. mother of a 9-month old baby, and god knows who else. Surely if you are putting together a session for a group as diverse is this, in the best interests of the participants you would be more conservative with your exercise selection than those conducting the studies are!
So what should you do?
This article probably comes across as discouraging towards group based HIIT classes. That wasn’t my intention. Rather than discouraging, I hope this article can help you make informed choices about who you trust to guide your exercise programming. If you are thinking of undertaking some HIIT training, here are some things to look out for:
- Do qualified staff screen you for metabolic risk and movement capability prior to entering you into a class. If the answer is no, DO NOT TRAIN THERE!
- Are the exercises require a lot of jumping, throwing, swinging etc. If the answer is yes, BE CAREFUL!
- Do your joints hurt during and/or after the exercise session? If so, THIS IS NOT WHAT WE WOULD CALL GOOD SORE!
- Did the staff conduct a thorough one-on-one evaluation of your metabolic health and movement capacity- then prescribe exercises that were appropriate to you level of fitness and capability with a view to gradually build intensity? If the answer is yes, THIS SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE WORTHY OF YOUR TRUST!