Because its become the short cut of short cuts for everything from burning calories quickly, to gaining quick fitness, to pretending that we are truly healthy. HiiT allows us to cosmetically change our image so as to give the appearance of health. As a result, HiiT has become the short cut for those unwilling to put in the actual time and effort to truly regain and restore their health.
Does HiiT burn an inordinate amount of calories per workout? Yes
Does HiiT cause rapid changes in fitness? Yes
But the question that should be equally asked, is at what cost do we obtain these short cuts?
Benefits of HiiT come at the cost of your health, not the benefit or restoration of your health.
It may not make sense, how exercise can be detrimental to your health and well-being, but it can. Too much of a good thing is not good-er, if anything its bad. Too much water, too much air, too much food – even if its non GMO, organic, free range, grass fed,… – too much is too much.
Lets start with what exactly is HiiT (hi intensity interval training). HiiT, also called maximum or sprint level effort, all-out intensity, and it also goes by the name of red zone training, and for good reason…
…because on RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) charts it is literally coloured red. With the colour red typically correlated with danger, red zone training should be approached with knowledge, experience, wisdom, and an healthy dose of respect that it is training which can be dangerous to your health when performed incorrectly, excessively, and/or for excessive periods of time.
For whom is HiiT appropriate? There is an entire chain of posts that detail when and who should perform HiiT sessions found in the Blog Library under the heading of “Posts on Physical Training”. If you are serious about training, serious about performance, serious about your health and well-being then you are encouraged to read all the posts.
For the purpose of this post and to cut a long story short, HiiT is suitable for athletes – i.e. those individuals who have developed the physiology and psychology from years of base training – who have the health, the conditioning, the flexibility and the sport specific technique and who are specifically preparing to peak and taper for am upcoming competition. That’s it.
For anyone else… there is absolutely no need to exert yourself at such extreme intensities in order to lose weight, to regain your health, to gain fitness, to train for a road race, a grandfondo, or triathlon event. In fact, it is absurd thinking that HiiT is appropriate for any group of athletes except elite or pros, or age groupers attempting to qualify for national team membership and international events.
For anyone in pursuit of health, regaining their health, losing weight (permanently, not yo-yo), then HiiT is the exact the type of training NOT to do.
For anyone with any pre-existing health conditions, HiiT should be avoided at all costs. The risk of cardiovascular accident is simply not worth it (recall, its red-zone training, as in dangerous level of exertion especially for those with health conditions). In most of these cases, the short cut that is HiiT ends up becoming a much much longer road to recovery as the short cut sets the individual further back as a result of suffering pain, injury or illness from exerting themselves repeatedly at their limit, and then encouraged to push that limit has far as possible.
There is another way to look at the red zone…
If you have ever revved your engine, then you have heard the “working speed” of your car engine roar, and then reduce to its idle as soon as you take your foot of the gas pedal. If your car has a tachometer – a instrument which measures the “working speed” of an engine typically shown in revolutions per minute (rpm) – then you are able to watch the rate to which your engine roared.
This is an excellent example of RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion), because your car engine just like your engine has a red zone, a danger zone.
What exactly is “The Red Zone”?
Its a range in which the car engine can enter, but it should only be in the zone for a fraction of a period of time. Why? Because your engine can only operate up to a particular rate of “working speed” beyond which mechanical damage is inevitable. In the red-zone, the timing of the engine cannot be maintained to remain orderly and what typically happens is that the valves and the piston collide mid-stroke and it becomes an extremely expensive lesson. In plain language, red-line or red-zone your car engine, and kaboom. Since red-zoning your car poses such a risk, most cars have rev-limiters which prevent the car engine from even entering the red-zone. Engines will cut the gas from being injected into the car engine, so as to prevent further acceleration in the “working speed”.
The human body works in a manner not dissimilar, there is only one difference… the rev-limiter in an athlete is their brain, but the problem is that when we enter the red-zone our brains are not typically working in a rational decision making state. As a result, our rev-limiter which should make the decision to cut off fuel to our body and slow down effort, tends to make the exact opposite decision. When we should be holding off the fuel, we do the opposite. Inexperienced athletes and coaches with little to no understanding of how to train properly, instead of easing back from HiiT, go full bore into it, fueling their HiiT effort by reaching for the liquid rocket fuel which is their neon coloured sport drink, energy drink, or gel.
Whereas we limit machines to stop at the red-line, preventing them from entering the red-zone, the entire sports nutrition industry is obsessed with only one thing: giving you the products to fuel yourself so far into the red-zone that the only fuel you can use is their products (the fact that you should not be training in the red-zone is clearly not in their interest to market).
In the red-zone your body can burn and use only one type of fuel: liquid sugar (aka “sports nutrition products”).
Wonder why there is so much emphasis on HiiT in the health, fitness and sports nutrition industries? Its because one fuels the other which then fuels the other… HiiT requires liquid sugar, and sales of liquid sugar require HiiT workouts (i.e. spin classes, bootcamps, Tabata workouts, etc…) to be of any value.
Wonder why you cannot lose weight or are not losing weight and may in fact actually be gaining weight with all those wonderful HiiT workouts? Its because you are un-training your body from knowing how to burn anything other than liquid sugar. Wonder why you have crazy cravings for sugar? You are training in a manner which is teaching your body to burn sugar and only sugar, so guess what happens when you need fuel… having taught your body to burn only sugar, it craves what you have taught it to crave! After gorging on sugar, you feel like crap, feel crappy about yourself… so guess what you do… back to the gym, back to the CrossFit WOD, to punish yourself with another HiiT workout perpetuating the cycle, slowly deteriorating your health, and encouraging dis-ease.
The engine of the human body like a car engine can tolerate a short period of exertion in the red zone, but it is not a zone for training, its an overload zone, a safety barrier with a bit of extra capacity for when you are inadvertently pop over the red-line (like accidently downshifting in a car with standard transmission while driving… oops).
HiiT is not a long term training strategy, it is not a pathway to health.
HiiT is to be used exclusively by highly trained hi performance athletes under direct and experienced supervision, that is it.