Is high-intensity interval training actually good for weight loss?
High-Intensity Interval Training, or H.I.I.T for short, seems to be the new It-training methodology in health and fitness these days. It's a method that has been further popularised and perpetuated by "fitness influencers" who bombard social media with new (and if I'm honest, stupid and dangerous) workouts designed to leave you a sweaty mess by the end. On the one hand it's awesome for pushing people to work outside their comfort zones. But it's only awesome... until it's not.
Because what these so-called "experts" often fail to mention is that this style of training is certainly not for everyone, and from what I've seen, none of these people seem to add in disclaimers about who shouldn't be trying this at home -- just that "go hard", "feel the burn", "more is better" mentality. And it's ruining peoples' health.
So, I think it's important that you know a few things about HIIT training; the many benefits, the potential dangers, how it can be best included in a training routine, as well as what to watch out for to ensure you're not missing out on results you deserve or injuring yourself in the process.
High-intensity training is a fantastic way to get the most bang for your buck in workouts. Among the many benefits include: improves your cardiovascular performance, you'll burn calories at a higher rate, you'll have an increased metabolism post-workout, it requires little to no equipment, and it takes much less time than many other methods of training. Yep, it is a pretty awesome tool.
The potential dangers
On the other hand, the potential dangers of HIIT training when it comes to both your health and fitness generally come in the form of 3 things: fatigue, sickness, and injury.
Because although you might initially feel like this type of training is a stress relief, if you're not careful and don't give your body adequate rest and recovery time between these workouts then your results will quickly diminish and be replaced with tiredness and fatigue, joint pain, muscular strains, and illness.
I often watch people make the mistake of thinking that if what they've been doing has been getting them a result, then more of that thing will give them even greater results. Which is completely wrong. Because it's never about how hard you can train, it's about how quickly (and consistently) you can continue to recover that will be the key factor in whether you continue to get results, or you begin to lose them.
This misunderstanding in the importance of recovery is the main reason people stop advancing in their results. Then to make things worse, the vicious "guilt cycle" begins as they try to break through these plateaus by dieting more and training even harder at the very point where they should be slowing down.
How to include HIIT training for maximum results
HIIT training is amazing when thought of as a tool in a tool belt, but it shouldn't be the only tool. Because I'm sure we can all agree that if you want to build something strong and sturdy then it often requires more than just a hammer, right? So, simply hammering away every workout with only HIIT will quickly lead to overtraining and injury unless you start to "cycle" it in a program that's more suited to you.
What I mean by "cycling" is using it in conjunction with other types of training to get the maximum benefit for your health. My personal favourite way to cycle it into training is a day of strength training, a day of HIIT training and follow them up with a "recovery day". This has worked well for the majority of my clients over the years, as you're able to continue to push and challenge different systems of the body whilst also being able to as well as recover in a way that continues to improve the body whilst also maintaining your health.
Now, what I mean by strength training is resistance training with weights or bodyweight with the focus on building muscular strength and size - this should be done with perfect technique to help ensure you learn proper form and mechanics; something which is usually missing from HIIT as you often do things so quickly and with so much repetition that you can easily develop bad habits and injury.
And what I mean by recovery days is to do things which will help restore balance in the body and clear out metabolic waste by-products resulting from training. This could include yoga, swimming, mobility/stretch sessions, walking, tai chi, meditation etc. These things will help reduce stress in the body and restore balance to ensure you get the results you've been looking for.
What to look out for to ensure you're not missing the results you deserve
As I mentioned above, it's not about how hard you can train but more about how quickly you can recover. This is where you need to become more self-aware and try to listen to your body (not your ego) when it comes to how you're feeling on a daily basis and then adjust your training accordingly as the best program isn't the best program unless it continues to get you results.
So, a few of the key things to watch out for in your body are:
Good pain versus bad pain: Some muscular pain is often a part of the process of becoming stronger. But there's a big difference between muscular pain and then pushing through joint pains and muscular strains - if you're injured, it's a strong sign to slow down and fix it.
Lack of motivation: If you begin to lose the motivation to exercise then it's one of the first warning signs you're overtraining. Sure, you might not want to train every day, but if you're struggling to even think about training then it's your body's way of pushing you towards rest.
Decreased training performance: If your performance and output start to deteriorate it's a sure sign you're overtraining and/or under recovery. Remember that more isn't better -- only better, is better.
Sickness: As I mentioned earlier, exercise is just another form of stress on the body so eventually this chronic stress without recovery will spill over into sickness as your bodies way of forcing rest.
At the end of the day, these are just a few things you try to become more aware of when it comes to ensuring you get the best and healthiest results for your body. Because it doesn't have to be high-intensity, all the time for it to benefit you - it should be scaled based on how you're feeling on that day based on your life, not someone else's. Have fun, train hard, and recover harder!
P.S - I completely forgot to mention the importance of quality nutrition for both performance during workouts as well as the recovery process. Nutrition is the key ingredient to allow the body to work at high intensities as well as replenishing what was taken. Again, this is something that you'll have to become more aware of as if you're not getting enough calories and expecting to outperform then you'll quickly find out the hard way that it's sadly not the case.Lack of motivation: If you begin to lose the motivation to exercise then it's one of the first warning signs you're overtraining. Sure, you might not want to train every day, but if you're struggling to even think about training then it's your body's way of pushing you towards rest.
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