High-intensity interval training is extremely popular right now. Several franchise businesses have opened up across the country to help eager exercisers with fast, intense workouts that are supposed to have amazing long-term benefits and results.

What exactly is high-intensity interval training?

Many people think that it is very similar to boot camp exercise training, but it is actually quite different. They involve some of the same aspects but high-intensity interval training (or HIIT), such as the popular CrossFit franchise, incorporates Olympic style lifting and gymnastics exercises. If you train with a high-intensity interval training gym, your workout will also be tracked which can help you see the benefits of the exercise program that you’re doing.

In February of 2013, The Greatist published a post referencing studies on the effectiveness of high-intensity interval training. They noted that:

“Researchers recruited 16 young sedentary males with an average age of 21 to compare the effects of endurance training and sprint interval training. Some of the participants did six weeks of endurance training, (40 to 60 minutes of cycling five times per week). The rest did high-intensity interval training, (four to six repeated 30-second “all-out” sprints on bikes interspersed with 4.5 minutes of low-intensity cycling, three times per week).”

The results demonstrated that both forms of exercise were equally as effective in reducing the overall risk of heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.

The Greatist also stresses the safety of high-intensity interval training for people of all ages. It is more efficient than endurance training and can be done in groups or alone with a proper plan. It can also be customized to work for a variety of people with differing abilities.

Following up in August of 2014, The Greatist offered suggestions for developing your own HIIT program at home. It is important that this type of workout feature the following aspects:

  • Functional movements, such as lifting trash bags or bringing in the groceries: These are the natural movements of our every day and the lifting done in a typical HIIT workout mimic these motions.
  • Variation in the workout from day to day: The muscles respond better if you consistently change the motions. Each day is different but supports the same movements.
  • Short bursts of high energy form the cornerstone of this type of workout: The high-intensity nature of this type of training can provide the same benefits as longer term endurance exercises but it takes much less time.

The Greatist suggests a formula for combining the right types of movements into your own high-intensity interval training program including body weight exercises, equipment lifting exercises, and conditioning movements. You can refer to their infographic to learn more.

Potential drawbacks to high-intensity interval training

It is important to note that while high-intensity interval training is generally safe, there may be additional concerns for someone who is already dealing with the effects of various chronic pain conditions.

High-intensity interval training may not be right for someone who has joint pain, osteoporosis, or other conditions that limit range of motion. The very hallmark of the workout, the intensity, can actually increase stress on already affected joints and bones. There are also possible cardiovascular risks depending on existing health conditions. While it will strengthen an already healthy heart, it could cause unnecessary stress on a heart already affected by any number of conditions.

In many cases it isn’t the actual exercise that causes damage in joints and bones but rather an incorrect technique. High-intensity interval training, especially when done at home, can easily be misinterpreted and performed poorly. Most experts will recommend working with a trainer who is experienced in the right technique. Unfortunately, in most places it doesn’t take much to become certified as an HIIT trainer so it can be difficult to choose the right professional even among the big name training businesses.

It may be the very intensity of the exercise that will drive many people away from the concept, especially if they are already suffering from pain caused by chronic conditions. Because of the increased stress on joints, rather than a focus on gentle movements that increase muscle strength over time, there can be more damage and pain in the long-term.

None of this information means that high-intensity interval training can’t work for certain chronic pain patients. The important thing is to approach it appropriately, vet your training, and consult with your medical specialist before making any decisions about or changes in your workout routine.

This is especially true for people dealing with the following conditions:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Knee pain
  • Hip pain
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Certain heart conditions

Because these kinds of conditions increase the pain present in the joints or bones, they can make high-intensity interval training more dangerous than helpful. Other, lower-impact exercises may be more appropriate for some people. Since the intensity of this type of workout also affects the muscles of the heart, it is extremely important that someone with a pre-existing heart condition proceed with caution before becoming involved in HIIT exercise routines.

High-intensity interval training is neither inherently bad nor good. Like with any exercise program, it all depends on the way in which it is learned, monitored, and executed. If you do decide to pursue high-intensity interval training talk with your medical specialist as well as several local trainers to find one who will work best for you and your specific needs. The concerns related to HIIT and chronic pain should not be taken lightly or you may risk additional long-term damage.

We want to hear from you. Have you had an experience with high-intensity interval training? Was it a good or bad and would you recommend it to someone else dealing with the effects of chronic pain?

Image by CrossFit Fever via Flickr


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