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Has HIIT Failed You? Maybe It’s Time For A Change… - Tucson Personal Trainer Blog

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Has HIIT Failed You? Maybe It’s Time For A Change… - Tucson Personal Trainer Blog

By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder

If you’ve been around as long as I have, you’ve seen many fitness trends come and go. It’s usually even the same trends with new names. Aerobics programs are a great example. How many of you remember Zumba? Probably most of you since it’s still around. How about Jazzercise? Billy Blanks’ Tae-Bo? Richard Simmons’ Sweating To The Oldies? Jane Fonda? Have I lost anyone yet?

Dr. Kenneth Cooper published the first book on aerobics in 1968, and frankly, not much has changed since then. Soon there will be a new product, but it’s really just the same old stuff recycled into new stuff.

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training is not much different. The first HIIT was pioneered by Arthur Jones, an eccentric inventor, who in 1970 designed some fancy machines, called Nautilus, coupled with an exercise program that required a fraction of the time to complete than most workouts during that time.

While most gym rats of that era, heavily rooted in the Arnold Swartzeneggar-style bodybuilding culture, spent hours in the gym, a typical Nautilus workout could be completed in less than 25 minutes, thanks to the “high intensity” and “short rest” periods. Sound familiar?

Similar to aerobics, even today these programming principles have been cleverly repackaged into a wide variety of exercise fads. The names keep changing, but the concept is the same. The smartest guys in the room have debunked the superiority complex held by this style of training. But despite that, HIIT lives on. Why? Let’s talk about that…

The tragedy of HIIT

First and foremost, the biggest tragedy of HIIT (and the reason this trend continues to stick around) is that it works… at least for a little while. Of course, everything works for a little while. My absolute least favorite saying of “Well, at least he/she isn’t sitting on the couch!” definitely applies here.

Speaking of which, can we please remove “sitting on the couch” from the continuum of fitness? I get it, we need to encourage people who don’t move to get moving. But “it’s better than sitting on the couch” is a cup of pretty weak tea, is it not?  If that’s the only thing you can think of to justify your ineffective regimen, it’s probably time for a change.

Unfortunately, ‘a little while’ is often about as much time as most will dedicate to an exercise program. So, the almighty HIIT lives on. What most short-sighted fitness goers (in search of the quick fix) don’t think about is the long-term metabolic damage that comes with this type of training.

There are other problems too…

Lack of focus on movement skill

Contrary to popular belief, most bumps and bruises suffered in gyms do not come from lifting too heavy. In most cases if a particular weight is too heavy, what happens?

Absolutely nothing. That’s what happens.

You put the weight on there, thinking you could lift it, but couldn’t. You hang your head in shame and walk away.

In my experience, injuries don’t come from lifting too heavy. Injuries come from either a) Lifting poorly, or b) accumulated fatigue from insufficient rest, which causes form to slip due to not being properly recovered.

Let’s talk about the first one: When most folks do a HIIT workout, they skip over the critically important first step of mastering the skill of the movement. My first music teacher used to tell me, “If you can’t play it slow, it means you can’t play it fast.” This is the reason we don’t allow ‘drop-ins’ into our classes. Private instruction on form and technique is a prerequisite for all of our programs.

Jumping into a high intensity program without at least covering the basics of proper technique is irresponsible. It’s like the instructor (I hesitate using the word “coach” here) saying, “See this exercise you can barely do? OK, now we’re gonna turn on an interval timer and see how fast you can do a bunch of them in a row really fast! What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Ready? Go!” 

The ‘worst that could happen’ is that you would get injured, but this isn’t always the case. Since the loads are significantly lighter in these types of workouts, you may continue to doing them haphazardly for months. At some point, something on your body will start to nag you, but you can’t pinpoint how or why.

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Writing a bad software program

Every time you move your body, you are writing a software program in your brain. If you move poorly and keep moving that way, your brain starts to think it’s ok to do that. If you deadlift poorly in the gym, that substandard movement pattern will carry over into the things you lift in life, and you’ll start lifting stuff around the house the same way. Next thing you know, you’re 40 and have back pain all the time, and can’t figure out why. “Maybe I’m just getting old…”

Meanwhile you see a 70 year-old on my Instagram lifting a weight that makes your back hurt just looking at it.


Excessive fatigue is the enemy

In some cases, despite good general technique, injuries can still arise if there is insufficient recovery between sets/reps. Let’s be honest, if you’re tired, technique can slip. The rule in our gym is that we don’t combine ‘high intensity’ with ‘technical lifts’.

Is it ok to take the gloves off periodically and enjoy a nice burner? Sure! On those occasions where we program something at a high intensity, it’s done with very safe and non-technical exercises. These sessions also tend to be pretty short… 20 to 25 minutes tops. The really nasty ones are even shorter.

One of my favorite questions to ask new people is, “Let’s say you start exercising two days per week, or about 8 to 9 sessions per month. How many of those workouts should be ‘BEAST mode’, how many ‘moderate’, and how many ‘easy’?”

The most common answer I get from new folks is, “All of them should be BEAST mode!”

I completely disagree. Answers can vary for a variety of reasons, but here’s my favorite:

80% of the workouts should be moderate, 10% hard, and 10% fairly easy. If you decide to do more hard ones, increase the easy ones by the same percentage.

Inversely… as Pavel says, “If you don’t have hard days, you don’t need easy days.”

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Welcome Back!

We are currently in a season where our gym is finally starting to get busy again (woo hoo!). We’re seeing new faces, as well as some old faces returning to us. To you, I’d like to say, “Welcome back!” As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the one blessing to come out of COVID is that people have found a new appreciation for smaller facilities that put people’s health and safety over profits.

If you’ve been away from the gym for a while, my advice is this: Your goal for the first 30-60 days is to “Live to die another day.”

The risk of injuring yourself in the first month (or two) is exponentially high. Please don’t exacerbate this by attempting to do what you ‘used to do’ or what you think should be able to do. Ease in. Your body will thank you.

Until next time,

Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached "Team Protocol" to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Marie. To subscribe to his blog, click here.

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