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When HIIT training loses the 'interval'

You’re probably well versed in high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a form of training that utilises interval training of near maximal intensity followed by periods of low-intensity recovery. Possible benefits of HIIT are improved anaerobic capacity, anabolic hormone up-regulation, heart-rate recovery, and an increased max heart rate, all during a shorter workout period (fewer than 30 minutes).

A-Career -In -Fitness -Polaroid -14It has become very popular over the last few years as numerous products and services are promoting high-intensity training such as Insanity, boot camps and CrossFit. It has created an ever-increasing demand on the fitness industry to promote high-intensity training where the consumer feels like they are working to maximum effort and exhaustion. Unfortunately, this high-intensity training (HIT) has lost an ‘I’ for ‘interval’ in translation.

An interval can be defined as ‘a pause or interlude, as between periods of intense activity’. In many of the high-intensity programmes being utilised today, there is a lack of a pause or the pause has become insignificant relative to the amount of intense work being done. The work to rest ratio has become so high, the exercise programme is really moderate-high intensity steady state cardio (aka continuous endurance cardio): the opposite of interval training. In other words, we’re not training for the desired adaptations of HIIT.

To reap the benefits discussed above, a true high-intensity (above 90%) interval will require a short bout of exercise (5-45secs, think of weightlifters and sprinters) followed by a period of rest that allows the body to recover into an aerobic state (typically below 65-80% intensity for most people). Maintaining a high-intensity state without appropriate rest periods can yield a wide variety of consequences.

Possible consequences of continuous high-intensity training

1. Catabolic effect

According to Borer in the textbook Exercise Endocrinology, continuous high-intensity exercise has a catabolic effect on the body, increasing production of catabolic hormones such as cortisol. While a vital hormone to the body, excessive production of cortisol not only increases protein degradation in muscle and connective tissue but also truncal and facial lipogenesis and fat deposition (creates and stores more fat around the face and waist). When considering how stressed most clients are (physiologically and psychologically), we must consider if this style of training is conducive to their training goals.

2. Heart failure

Repetitive stress on the heart (a combination of high-intensity steady cardio, nutrition and psychological stress) can lead to a condition called athletic heart syndrome, a state in which the heart has enlarged in response to this stress. This can create an irregular heart rhythm, cardiomyopathy or even heart failure. It can also lead to over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is known to also increase cardiovascular disease when overactive. More and more heart disease is being found in runners, as well as other athletes having to endure multiple bouts of steady state high-intensity exercise. It begs the question: is there a possibility that some people are doing too much exercise?

3. Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is the rapid breakdown of muscle leading to kidney failure. Numerous cases have been reported in arenas that incorporate high-intensity steady state exercise, such as the training of professional athletes, the military and even firefighters. It’s one thing to push one’s mental and physical limits to new heights; it’s another to put the body and one’s life at risk, especially for an exercise programme.

High intensity with ViPR

Both steady state and interval training are valid forms of training, provided they are utilised in an effective manner for advancing an individual towards their training goals. As ViPR trainers, and trainers who believe in whole-body integration, we must be aware of the following:

1. The neurological, skeletal and tissue demands of ViPR exercises – the three-dimensional nature of these exercises while under load greatly increases the intensity of the exercise.

2. Caloric expenditure should never be prioritised over the importance of movement quality. Continuing to push one’s body after fatigue has set in to burn more calories is an isolated approach to weight management and should be reconsidered to integrate movement quality and the neuroendocrine’s responsibility in metabolism.

3. Adequate rest is just as important as how hard one exercises. The higher the intensity and volume of an exercise programme or workout, the less chance the client will have of maintaining the integrity of movement. If you’re looking to create an anabolic response in your client’s body, provide an exercise environment with high-intensity work followed by the same amount of rest or even more. Avoid doing more work than rest for the majority of their programme.

Vitality, performance and reconditioning are all achievable as long as we stick to scientifically sound exercise principles. For a successful and intelligent exercise experience, combine whole-body integrated ViPR exercises with tools such as heart rate monitors to gauge intensity along with the perfect amount of rest.

Remember: rest is your friend, not your enemy.

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