Hi Intensity Interval Training [5]

Research consistently reports that intense exercise (e.g. Hi Intensity Interval Training, aka HIIT) increases the risk of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URTI) and Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).

HIIT is not synonymous with health.

Health benefits (i.e. improvements in cardiovascular and respiratory health) occur with exercise of moderate intensity. The following charts show the ‘J’ curve relationship between exercise intensity and URTI, and the reverse ‘J’ curve relationship between exercise intensity and CVD.

J curves

Its not only intensity of physical exertion, but the intensity of the mental drive (i.e. passion which morphs into obsession) which is equally unhealthy.  A study in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport connects mental intensity to athlete’s permissive attitude towards the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Emotional intensity towards training and competing has the potential to leave athletes contemplating suicide or into addictions or into any number of syndromes and disorders when performance is linked to self worth, to worthiness of love.  A balance is required: there is a time to train and race with abandon, freeing yourself into the experience, but there is also a time to withdraw, evaluate, meditate, rest, recover, and most importantly sleep. Balance in training, balance in mindset, a balanced perspective of winning and losing, success vs failure are all required for consistent peak performance. Getting out of balance is easy, getting back into… now that’s what separates champions from the pack of pros.

HIIT does deliver results, it can yield strength, endurance, speed and power, but what is left out of the discussion is at what cost do these improvements come?

HIIT comes at a cost to your health.

Hi intensity training depletes health, the results from HIIT are a trade-off against health. This is why HIIT is not a sustainable methodology of training, this is why HIIT should be limited to those athletes who have the physiological and psychological maturity to be exposed to HIIT, why HIIT should be reduced (if not eliminated) from pre-varsity level training programs, why HIIT should be administered by highly trained and experienced coaches in partnership with physical and mental health professionals who are able to assess, diagnose, and guide both athlete and coach in the pursuit of peak performance. HIIT is not training for novice or intermediate athletes, and definitely not for individuals with medical conditions even if those conditions are being managed. No, performance is not indicative of health; in fact, performance can come at the cost of your life.

HIIT and all of its variations (e.g. spinning, bootcamps, Tabata, CrossFit, weight training) when performed excessively and without adequate recovery weaken the immune system, elevate risks of developing food and environmental sensitivities, reduce range of motion and flexibility, increasing risks of injury, pain, physical and mental impairment, and emotional instability.

A HIIT lifestyle is an unhealthy lifestyle.

Ever notice on whom HIIT research is performed.  It is rarely the middle aged male or female, single or married, with kids, with a career, commuting 1.5 hrs a day, prior to driving kids to piano, guitar, hockey, soccer, swimming, who runs errands in their spare time, and who in their spare spare time are trying to improve the quality of their life by exercising and eating healthy?

HIIT research is typically performed on university age athletes who have already accumulated thousands of hours of base training, who are preparing for national or international level competition, and who have few responsibilities outside training.  To take data, research, and conclusions performed on this population and to apply it to Boomers, Gen X or Y is misguided. It is no different than expecting an age group or masters athlete who is full-time in school, or has a full time career, is a spouse, is a parent, who is not a full time athlete and expect them to keep up with Phelps, Galen Rupp, or Melissa Bishop in training… not only is it nutty, it is unhealthy…physically, mentally and emotionally.

What has happened to our pursuit of health? Health has become yet another measuring stick of lifestyle, and to keep up, you need to look like a pro athlete, you need to train like a pro athlete, heck, you need to globe-hop and compete like a pro; otherwise you cannot possibly be healthy. Sports media, event companies, and coaching websites have jumped on the opportunity to monetize our insecurities, stoking a competition of egos, conveniently changing (for themselves) the definition of health from moderate physical activity, into a lifestyle which resembles that of a pro athlete. We need a healthy dose of reality…

There is no short cut to health.

Physical activity is appropriate to gain health benefits, but there is little to nothing to sell to be physically active.  You can walk, even run in almost any pair of shoes (in impoverished countries many have no shoes and end up Olympians), and in any clothing.  There is no need for performance apparel to be physically active.  But for the fitness and sports nutrition industries desperate for revenue and profit, physical activity alone is insufficient to drive sales.  To profit, these companies need the masses to move beyond simple physical activity, they need the masses to engage in maximal exertion, heavy sweating, heart palpitating HIIT where the product list becomes endless… apparel, shoes, hydration, heart rate monitors, and so forth.

Somehow athletes from countries with developing and emerging economies, without paved roads, without using GPS, HRMs, or Bluetooth/ANT+, without top of the line shoes, apparel or equipment, without neon sugar energy drinks arise to the level of Olympian, whereas those in Western countries with every piece of technological hardware and software imagineable can’t make Olympic qualifying times. What does that say about all the stuff that we can’t live without?

It says that our way of training is wrong. It means that our priorities are backwards: it says that we are obsessed with how we look when we train, what our data is when we train, who we are beating, concerned only to whom we can boast.  What is important – the how – isn’t in the top10.

We have been seduced by materialism in sport, preyed upon by companies seeking to profit from our insecurities of body image, size, beauty, fitness, health and performance capabilities convincing us that their products and services are the short cut, we fall willingly for the fantasy they pander of instant health, instant beauty, instant fitness.  Seduced, we acquire every piece of gear, all gadgets, consume sport nutrition which are anything but nutritious.  Its got to the point that pro athletes market equipment, instead of proper training, diet, and recovery.

I implore you to slow down, stop, think, and ask yourself for a moment does all that stuff that you have bought, to train, to compete, to look like a pro, has it in fact made you healthier, improved your qualify of life, quality of rest and sleep, has it helped you achieve any goal?

What RoT have you gained? If its only injury, pain, suffering, an addiction to sugary sports products, frustration and disappointment then maybe its time to re-evaluate. Maybe it ain’t you, maybe you don’t need to try harder, dig deeper, press into more pain, find your supposedly elusive willpower. Maybe you dont need a bike that weighs 100grams less. Instead, you may need to consider that the entire concept of what is training, what is sold as healthy is wrong.

What if there is another way to train?  A way that’s fun, engaging, a learning experience, a journey of discovery of potential.  A path which requires time and sacrifice but once taken leads to health, and function which can never we taken away from you.  Seek healthy training: develop base, a massive foundation of physical literacy, of FUNdamentals, of movement ABCs. Seek encouragement from those who want to see you healthy, alive and living an abundant life. Seek training partners and a coach who want to see you improve in skill, in ability, in function, who do not measure you as a person by your times, your position, or athletic rankings.

References:

  1. Exercise, upper respiratory tract infection, and the immune system.
  2. Sick and Tired Athletes
  3. Exercise for Health and Longevity vs Peak Performance
  4. Exercise, Over Indulgence and Atrial Fibrillation
  5. Exercise and Mortality Reduction: Recurring Reverse J- or U- Curves
  6. How much exercise is too much?
  7. Eating ‘Healthy’ Food May Not Make You Fit
  8. Why We’re Afraid of Carbs and Confused by Fats
  9. Exploring Relationship Between Passion and Attitudes Toward PEDs