High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a training strategy that integrates short periods of intense exercise with periods of recovery, in rapid succession, until failure or extreme exhaustion. The goal of HIIT is to maximize caloric expenditure while minimizing activity duration. Although activity duration differs, 30 minutes is generally the cap.
Here are two sample workouts:
10-second sprint, 50-second jog
EMOM*, 10 rounds
Jump Squat, Deadlift 80% 1RM, Plank
AMRAP**, EMOM, 10 rounds
*Every Minute On the Minute
**As Many Reps As Possible
This post addresses THREE pitfalls of a weight management program that strictly utilizes HIIT.
First and foremost, when starting a new training program, we need to ask ourselves: can we sustain this activity, both physically and mentally, long term? Health and fitness should be a long-term goal, but quite frankly, HIIT does not allow for this. This is because HIIT requires consistent, high-energy output…even under extreme fatigue. High-energy output under extreme fatigue, more often than not, leads to technique breakdown. Consistent (or acute) technique breakdown will (not can, will) present high injury risk, and ultimately, an injury will prevent the individual from continuing to train. For example, how will your deadlift repetitions look on your 10th round in a workout like the one above? Probably not good.
Next, a training program should be progressive and adaptable because the human body is designed to adapt to the stimuli we provide it. This progression should be realistic. With that in mind, if you start with the intensity that HIIT requires your first week, where will you be in week 10? In a year? For example, you start with 10 rounds of sprints like the sample workout above. Second week, you go to 12 rounds, then 15, then 20… then 60…? Yes, every training program will present challenges and plateaus, but is the risk associated with the necessary training effort worth the outcome? If the answer is no, maybe an intervention is required.
Lastly, a training program should consider an individual’s or group’s overall make-up and goals. Yes, HIIT can burn plenty of calories—but burning as many calories as possible is not an optimal, long-term fat loss strategy. This is especially the case for beginners or individuals with minimal weight training experience. If improving body composition is the goal (getting “toned”), there needs to be a change in mindset. That is, building and maintaining as much muscle and strength is most optimal, and not simply burning calories, as it will not only burn calories but increase one’s Basal Metabolic Rate over the long term, too. Unfortunately, HIIT, in general, does not allow for this, as one can expect to lose almost as much muscle as fat during the process. For example, John Doe, who is skinny-fat, decides to start working out and utilizing HIIT to get rid of belly fat. Burning as many calories as he can each workout, he notices he has lost weight, but he proportionately looks the same (same body composition). Not ideal. Almost always, a strength-training/muscle-building program coupled with a nutrition intervention will work better in this case.
In summary, HIIT can be a short-term training tool for advanced trainees looking to burn fat, as it can help burn more calories than their average workout. However, when combining all of the above reasons, it’s clear that a strength-training program WITH a nutrition intervention will provide better results long-term.
“Quickly come, quickly go.”
Written by: Dawit Girma