HIIT Workouts – the pro’s and con’s

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts seem to be a lot more popular lately. Well, maybe it’s not that they’re more popular but the term “HIIT” itself is more popular. For me it’s been popping up a lot more so I figured I might as well write a post about it 🙂

A couple examples of HIIT programs are:

  • P90x
  • T25
  • Bootcamps
  • CrossFit
  • Tabata

In a basic sense, HIIT workouts alternate between periods of high intensity with periods of rest. The length of each period can vary greatly depending on who’s writing your program or hopefully what you’re training for.

HIIT workouts can have a lot of benefits too:

  • Improved anaerobic capacities
  • Improved aerobic capacities
  • Shorter workout times to fit busy schedules
  • Sustained increase in metabolic rate for longer periods after workouts
  • Reducing risk factors of Cardiovascular Disease
  • Improving Insulin sensitivity
  • Generally less boring than sustained state workouts

As you can see, there are many reasons to use a high intensity workout in your routine. In fact, I’m always looking at how I can help my clients increase the intensity in workouts, ONCE they’ve reached an appropriate level of fitness.

My main concern with any workout program is to make sure that it’s appropriate for the desired goals and current fitness level of the individual. All too often I see something like a HIIT workout being given to a client who’s not ready for it. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Just because it CAN have a ton of benefits doesn’t mean it the right thing to do.

I say CAN have a ton of benefits because sometimes I feel it may not be worth it. There are risks that come along with intensity and it’s important to make sure your body is ready for the challenge.

Some of the cons of HIIT workouts are:

  • Increase toxicity in the body
  • Extreme muscle soreness
  • Risk of injury

These risks are generally greater for anyone just starting into a fitness routine. If you’ve been consistent with a routine for a while, then a HIIT workout program might be a great option for you.

It’s the intensity itself is the main risk for beginners.

By pushing your body too fast, too far, too soon you’re setting yourself up for failure. Injury is the biggest concern because usually your joints aren’t strong enough and your technique isn’t solid. As you push intensity, it’s going to challenge anyone’s technique. Poor technique at a high intensity is a recipe for injury.

Also, high intensity produces a lot of metabolic breakdown of muscle and fat tissue in your workout. This can lead to extreme muscle soreness lasting many days and potentially challenge the body’s ability to effectively filter the toxins out of your body leading to major health risks.

I don’t want to stop anyone from using a high intensity routine, I just want to inform people so they know when to use it.

In my opinion, intensity is where the results are. I’m a strong believer in the value of high intensity workouts.

That being said, intensity is relative. If you’re starting from couch potato status, walking or cycling for 30 minutes is an increase in intensity. There’s no need to be doing 400m repeats on day 1.

As always, progression in your workouts is going to be your best bet for long term success.

What HIIT workout programs have you tried and what have been your results?

Is Your Workout All or Nothing

I work with a lot of clients who really struggle to be consistent with their workout routines. Actually, for MOST of my clients, the #1 thing we focus on in the beginning is developing their consistency. I’ve written about it recently.

A big struggle they have comes from a belief that seems very common.

I call it that All or Northing belief.

The basic principle is that my clients believe they need to be all or nothing. As in, when they workout, they need to do the whole workout, at 100% capacity for it to be worth it. Otherwise, what’s the point. There’s some level that they SHOULD be able to achieve and if they can’t then there’s no point.

Have you ever thought this?

You had a 60 minute workout planned, you only have 30 minutes so there’s no point. Right?

Many people think they need to do the program 100% to get results. They need to be able to get a personal best or put in their best efforts for it to be worthwhile.

If they’re sore, they need more rest.

If they don’t have enough time, they need to do it later.

Often, these are really just justifications for why you can’t do it now. The problem is that this creates negative habits that get harder and harder to overcome as time goes on. You get so used to putting it off that you really struggle to get up and do it when the time is right.

You end up doing nothing.

To get a different perspective, let’s do some simple math:

If you have three 60-minute workouts in a week and you do none of them, how much time have you spent working out?

Right, ZERO!

Now, if you have three 60-minute workouts in a week but you run out of time in each one and only do half, how much time have you spent working out?

Right, 90 minutes!

Now, go ask a 5th grader: which is bigger; 90 or 0?

Right, 90!!

My point here is that you’re going to be better off in the long run even if you only do half of your workouts. Half the time or even half the intensity. It’s not worthless if you can’t do the full thing.

JUST DO IT.

Besides, reduced capacity workouts are actually a great thing for your body and mind. It can help the muscles recover and you get a sense of accomplishment, not failure.

Doing 50% of a workout still feels like you at least did something.

Doing 0% of a workout feels shitty.

If you’ve ever run into this thought pattern, break it immediately by doing something. As I wrote recently , the perfect program is the one you’re doing. Stop thinking you need to do it all or nothing and just get out there and do what you can.

Have you ever done this? Share your experience in the comments below.

The Perfect Program

When you start a new fitness program, you probably want to know the best way to get the result you want right?

Of course!

It seems reasonable: You have a goal you want to reach, you’re not sure how to get it, so you ask if anyone can help you get there. Or maybe you do a google search.

The good news is that there’s a ton of options out there. The bad news is how do you know which one is right for you?

Which one is that perfect program?

Which one is going to get you the results you want the quickest?

Unfortunately, everything out there seems to claim it is the best: 6 minutes this, high intensity that, “The #1 secret you’ve been missing…”, “6 pack shortcuts” and “The ultimate fat burning program”.

If you follow their plan, you’ll look just like their models!

We’re taught to believe that the perfect program exists. And we’re taught to believe that the it’s the perfect program itself that will get us the results we want.

There is a little bit of truth in this. A good program that fits your needs is important, but that’s not usually the problem.

When I start coaching someone, the problem isn’t that they aren’t doing the RIGHT program, it’s that they aren’t doing ANY program. Or at least they can’t stick to any program for a reasonable amount of time.

Let’s say I create the perfect program for you. It targets everything you want to target and will get you all the results you want to get. Sounds pretty sweet right?

Now what if you don’t do that program?

If you’re not doing it it doesn’t matter how good the program is. It’s useless.

It doesn’t matter how perfect the program is, you’ll never get any results if it just sits there collecting dust.

For most people starting out, the perfect program is the one you’re actually doing. It’s the one that progresses you effectively, meets your needs, and helps you achieve success so you’re motivated to keep pushing yourself further.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

When you’re getting started in a workout routine, often it’s less about WHAT you’re doing and more about the fact that YOU’RE DOING IT.

Once you’ve built yourself to a point where you’re exercising consistently (3+ times per week for at least 6-12 months in a row) THEN you can become more concerned about the specifics of the program. At that point your body is adapting to the program you’re doing so you’ll need a smart, targeted plan to help you reach the next level.

When the level you’re trying to reach is Level 1, worry less about finding that perfect program and focus on just doing something.

Do you have experience with this? Share your story in the comments below.

– Chad

Head Fitness Coach and Founder