High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a system of training characterized by high-intensity resistance or metabolic training with short/incomplete rest periods in between working sets. An example of HIIT is often advocated by Crossfit WODs (workout of the day) and other similar programs.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, HIIT is now the most popular fitness trend. HIIT has tremendous appeal to those looking to shed unwanted body fat and ‘lean up’ or ‘get in shape’ quickly because of its ability to burn body fat more efficiently. HIIT has been shown to produce greater improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic capacity with less overall training volume when compared to individuals who only perform steady-state aerobic exercise. In the public eye, a huge upside to these workouts is they typically take less than 30 minutes to complete. Sounds too good to be true, right?
However, what is rarely if ever mentioned, is the number of injuries sustained by participants.
In my opinion and experience, which may be similar to what others are also observing, the number of injuries associated with HIIT appears to be on the rise. What is especially significant to note is that these injuries are often debilitating in nature.
Not only is HIIT growing in popularity among the general population, but it also seems to be a growing trend among athletes. The point of this article is to discuss why HIIT is not an appropriate training program for athletes and provide some insight into why athletes should avoid programs that advocate high-frequency application of HIIT methods.
Why Athletes Should Avoid HIIT
First and foremost, when training with heavy weights or performing complex motor skills (i.e. jumps, throws, sprints) it is highly critical that proper technique is learned during the initial stages of training. This is the key to not only continual development in regard to strength and all other physical abilities, but is fundamental to injury prevention.
Proper technique is the key to ensuring that strength developed becomes more useful not just in athletic skills, but also in everyday activities. For athletes, proper technique serves as the foundation for efficient execution of sport-related movement skills.
So why does HIIT fail athletes?
What appears to be most important in HIIT is overcoming a prescribed amount of resistance or finishing a prescribed number of reps in a designated amount of time, regardless of how it is done
. From the start, HIIT does not place technique as the number one priority. For your viewing pleasure, Youtube provides numerous examples of this. I can recall watching a Crossfit workout during which a young female participant is doing her best to finish an overhead press. She had to contort her body in every way imaginable in her attempt to get the bar locked out overhead. Needless to say, I did not like what I saw.
What was even more disturbing to me was hearing the other members of the class cheering
her on and applauding her when she finally locked out the bar overhead. They were encouraging her effort with absolutely no attention or care about her technique and safety. This is just one example of many that indicates how overcoming the weight was more important than how the lift was performed.
Other daily workouts may prescribe high-intensity metabolic conditioning that often requires participants to train to the point of exhaustion and, sometimes, to the point of throwing up. The mindset and main objective is primarily focused on overcoming a specific quantity of work as opposed to expressing quality in the work.
It is this mentality that can be detrimental to athletes and the general fitness population as well. There is a reason why physical therapists and chiropractors love Crossfit and other HIIT programs. HIIT programs are pretty good at producing patients.
Another unwanted factor associated with HIIT is the high degree of fatigue and lactate training loads. For athletes, how can they master movement and skill execution or build speed and strength in a fatigued state? The answer is they cannot. This is something the majority of coaches and trainers must understand. Lactate-based training is widely over-utilized and misplaced. This ultimately cuts into more productive training methods and increases the need for recovery. When it comes to HIIT programs, recovery is often not sufficient and will potentially push participants into a chronic state of fatigue or create an over-trained individual. Keep in mind, injuries are more likely to occur in a fatigued or over-trained state.
When it comes to HIIT, training principles regarding periodization, progressive overload, mastery of technique, specificity of training, and individualization of training are completely ignored. These principles, among others, are highly important when it comes to the safety and effectiveness of training athletes. They have been proven to be foundational in producing the most effective results from any training program.
Training and sport science tells us that HIIT programs or any randomized high-intensity program is not conducive for efficient training and development of athletes in regards to strength, speed, power, and other physical abilities. Sure it may be trendy, but ask yourself does the program or exercise routine provide the development you want? Remember, development is always specific to your training demands. Also, ask yourself if your current training methods are more likely to make you a better athlete or a patient.
Interval/Sprint Training vs Cardio: Which is Better for Fat Loss and Physique Development?
Training Hard vs Training Smart
Have You Mastered Your Movement?
2 Reasons For Your Lack of Results
Training for Elite Athletes