Why High-Intensity Training Is Overhyped, and What to Do Instead

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become extremely popular since its introduction to the fitness scene in the early 2000s. But is HIIT training the best option for you? Scientists are finding that too much HIIT may affect mitochondria — the body's energy storage within cells. As a result, this type of training may not be the best thing for our bodies.

Key takeaways:
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    HIIT is a form of exercise where you perform maximum-effort movements for short bursts with minimum rest.
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    HIIT has enormous benefits, including muscle gain, fat loss, increased fitness, and cardiovascular health.
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    However, HIIT training comes with more risks and higher injury rates than other forms of exercise.

The high-intensity hype

High-intensity interval training involves repeated bouts of intense exercise performed with minimal rest. This type of training has been popularized by exercise programs such as CrossFit, Tabata, and Insanity. In addition, most commercial gyms in the US even offer HIIT group, fitness classes.

It’s easy to understand why it is popular, as research has shown that HIIT training can increase muscle mass, decrease body fat, improve metabolism, and challenge your cardiovascular fitness.

The downside to HIIT training

If what HIIT offers is so beneficial, we should all be doing it daily, right? Well, not so fast.

While HIIT training has significant benefits, it also comes with considerable risks.

The risks are so significant, in fact, that the US Military studied them. These HIIT programs — which they call extreme conditioning programs — were evaluated for safety for service member participation.

The military put out a report with recommendations on participation for service members that site a significant concern regarding the high rate of musculoskeletal injuries. The government researchers also pointed out that it's important to gradually introduce such high-intensity training to allow the body to grow accustomed to such extreme workouts.

Another concern with HIIT-style workouts is how easy it is to overdo them. Most fitness professionals today do not recommend exceeding 2-3 intense workouts per week as the risk for injury and over-training far outweighs the benefits, especially in women over 40.

Too much exercise of any kind can increase cortisol, a hormone that is released when your body is stressed. Evidence shows that chronically elevated cortisol levels can harm health by increasing blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and headaches.

Too much HIIT — especially for middle-aged women – can place your body into a state of stress that works against your health goals.

What to do instead

Many HIIT participants may also be under-eating for their nutritional needs. Experts recommend that those who take part in regular, intense exercise should eat more — especially after their workouts.

Remember — carbohydrates and protein are essential for muscle growth and fueling metabolism. HIIT training is a proven training method that can help you reach your fitness goals, but one that should be incorporated carefully in the minimal effective dose.

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