Hi Intensity Interval Training [HIIT] refers to workouts performed close to and at all-out intensity. On a Rate of Perceived Exertion [RPE] chart, HIIT is the red zone:
Problem is, if you flip the pages of any triathlon, running, or swimming magazine or click between sport specific websites, you will find a plethora of HIIT workouts, in fact you will find nothing other than HIIT workouts. Even base training is becoming a mild variation of HIIT, lasting weeks, with intensity increasing as early as the second week, devoid of any drill work.
Problem is, HIIT has become synonymous with training, becoming portrayed as the training method for anyone seeking a personal record [PR] in the coming competitive season.
Problem is, that unless you have a massive base of training, unless you have developed the physiology, the technique, the form, the skill sets, and the psychology then proceeding to the Red Zone, proceeding to the Blue peak of the Long Term Athlete Development Model [LTAD] pyramid is to start at the finish.
Athletes who become consistent peak performers do not start their training at the finish line, and then work to backfill all their gaps. It doesn’t work that way, never has, never will. Why? It is no different than building a sandcastle. Who builds a sandcastle by first building the peak, and then tries to lift the peak in order to insert additional layers and levels of sand underneath the peak? Even if you build a pyramid structure by digging out around the peak, the peak would never move higher, it would remain at the same elevation. Whats the point in that? The entire point of progress is to press for higher levels of performance, not hold and dig yourself into a ditch.
Athletes wonder why they make no progress, why their training doesn’t stick, doesn’t build year to year, why improvement eludes them… because they don’t realize that they are trying to build sandcastles upside down.
But HIIT does yield results – and the research is quite convincing – so why then does this blog constantly rip into the obsession with HIIT?
Because HIIT is not synonymous with health. Health requires physical activity, not HIIT.
Because to proceed to HIIT without having health, is to write your own death sentence.
[As an aside: the ‘convincing’ research on HIIT is subject to the same research fraud and publication bias which impacts research in all aspects of health care, including clinical trials of drugs. To understand how lopsided outcomes are in favour of commercially viable options click here for a TED talk by Dr Ben Goldacre on this issue. The lopsided research on dehydration and the need for electrolyte beverages coming out of ‘labs’ sponsored by Gatorade (parent co. Pepsi) and Powerade (parent co. Coca Cola) cannot be considered research. Its all biased.]
HIIT peaks a base of training, but the majority have little to no base (i.e. orange and yellow levels of the LTAD pyramid), thus have nothing to peak, therefore have absolutely no need for HIIT. Athletes without a base can PR (i.e. set a Personal Record) for many consecutive years simply by improving technique, skills, posture, form, breathing, self-awareness, proprioception, kinesthesia, flexibility, agility, balance, coordination, aerobic condition and fat burning capability, their narratives, beliefs, focus and drive. HIIT makes absolute perfect sense once an athlete has practiced and refined these fundamental abilities, but not before.
HIIT is a method to develop a peak in fitness, to peak base training, to peak for performance.
HIIT does not encompass all that there is to training, its simply one aspect of training. Furthermore, over the lifespan of an athlete’s career, HIIT is the smallest sliver of training. Unfortunately, it is marketed as the primary training tool of amateur and professional athletes by the fitness industry, coaches, trainers, and factories producing so-called nutritious sports products. Why? Because there is loads to sell with HIIT (i.e. equipment, apparel, sports nutrition products, gym memberships, etc…), as opposed to other forms of training.
HIIT is unsustainable over the long term as it depletes base: an athlete’s ability to recover, their flexibility, their drive, their focus. When HIIT is sustained for too long, athlete’s become susceptible to illness, to injury, to exhaustion, to fatigue. When HIIT is sustained for too long a period – holding the athlete in a peaked state excessively – mental stability and emotional perspective lose their grounding, their connection with reality. It is in this heightened state that athletes can be manipulated into using PEDs, and it is in this state that athletes decide to commit suicide.
HIIT leads to an experience of having a peak performance, a mountain top, of reaching a pinnacle. Performance peaks have breathing taking views, but what is not disclosed with HIIT research is that they are full of risk. These moments require significant skill, expertise, stability, and background to be experienced safely. Those who understand these risks and want to live to see another day, train extensively (i.e. years and years) AND hire a sherpa (i.e. a coach) to ensure that their travels are rewarding, and that their return home is safe.
HIIT is trade-off training: to gain fitness (i.e. speed, strength, endurance) there is a cost. The cost of HIIT should be funded by a massive base, a physiology and psychology that has been developed over years, millions of meters, thousands and thousands of kilometers. A physiology and psychology prepared to withstand HIIT. Without a base, the cost of HIIT doesn’t disappear, it still must be paid. For these athletes – the majority of amateurs and age groupers – the cost of HIIT is covered by their health. The number of injuries, nagging colds, and the prolific use of NSAIDs, pain killers, muscle relaxants and rehab appointments proves how ill-prepared, under-trained and untrained, unhealthy amateurs are (yet sold on the hype that to compete requires HIIT training, and that completion of a road race or triathlon is somehow indicative of health).
HIIT is like the final climb to the summit of Mt Everest… highly risky, with death a real possibility, where the all clear to summit is possible only when numerous checklists confirm approval of conditions, and even once the summit is achieved, there is no guarantee of safety as the descent can be riskier than the ascent. No one climbs to the peak of Mt Everest without a sherpa, and without years of training and preparation, learning everything from weather patterns, to safety protocols including avalanche and crevasse rescue techniques, to proper training to be able to traverse the distances, to endure the elevation.
Mt Everest is out of reach for those who want to hack at climbing, but HIIT has made all the risks of peaking accessible to anyone without any of the side-effects, consequences, and risks fully disclosed. Death on Mt Everest is understood, but death by training with the intensity as if climbing Mt Everest (i.e. HIIT) whether that is at home, in the gym, in the pool or on the track is dismissed as a random event, likely the effect of environment, genetics or something completely out of our control. Isn’t it curious how we conveniently excuse death differently to suit our beliefs?
If your training was actually making you healthier, then… shouldn’t you actually be healthier?
If training was actually making you healthier, then you should not have injuries, nagging pains, soreness, illnesses and you should need fewer drugs, meds and fewer health appointments.
Injuries are not par for course that comes with any form of exercise. Illness, runny noses, colds, and flus are not par for course that comes with training at the appropriate intensity. Numbness, tingling, chest pain, pelvic floor and bowel dysfunction are not par for course while exercising or as a side-effect of exercise. Anxiety, depression, mood swings, waning motivation, a lack of inspiration are not par for course that arise from the focus and consistency of a training routine. Weight gain is not par for course with healthy training.
If you are not becoming healthier, then you are not training healthy.
If you are interested in health, wellness, improving your fitness, then find and work with a coach who will guide you safely to your potential, and your performance peaks. Don’t settle for one who is willing to risk your well-being to profit off your enthusiasm and excitement over starting a program, and your ignorance of what it takes to actually succeed.