Benefits of HIIT + How to Get Started According to a Physical Therapist

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High Intensity Interval Training, also known as HIIT, is a form of interval training that alternates between short periods of intense anaerobic exercise and less intense recovery periods. It took the number one spot on the list of major workout trends for 2018, but this probably isn’t news to many. 

Benefits of HIIT classes include:

  • Burning tons of calories
  • Boosting metabolism
  • Time efficient workouts
  • Make quicker cardiovascular gains than with longer, less intense workouts
  • Can slow down aging at the cellular level by increasing mitochondrial levels
  • Creating a judgement-free community where everyone is excited to workout

As HIIT has made its way to the mainstream, more and more people end up trying it. The biggest problem I have with this is when new or “untrained” individuals jump into HIIT classes without any prior experience. There should be some understanding of fundamental exercise techniques such as the ability to perform a squat, hip hinge, or overhead press before jumping into a class.

four key factors to watch out for when doing a HIIT class

  1. Inadequate warm up or preparation. Every one of us has different needs whether it’s mobility or stability, and jumping right into a program without addressing those needs can have negative effects.

  2. Bad programming or instruction. Unfortunately, not all coaches and trainers are created equal. This can lead to programming mistakes such as working the same body part or motion repeatedly over back to back classes and not giving enough rest time either in or between workouts. An example of this is that CrossFit HQ recommends that workouts consist of 1 strength/skill exercise OR a metabolic conditioning workout with a 2 days on, 1 day off or 5 days on, 2 days off schedule. However, most boxes will schedule a strength AND a conditioning workout 6 days per week.

  3. Improper Form. This is the biggest risk, especially for newer exercisers. The intensity and speed of the class will not allow you to focus on proper form, and this is where injuries can happen. That’s why individuals beginning a HIIT class should have a solid understanding of fundamental movements patterns beforehand.

  4. Not enough recovery. While you might think you need to work out every day, this can increase the risk of overtraining. Many people who utilize this type of training will work out above their maximal recoverable volume, which is the highest volume of training an athlete can do in a particular situation and still recover. While they may progress for a while and hold up for a period, eventually it catches up to them in the form of an overtraining injury. It’s recommended to attend these classes 3-4/week MAX. There should be time spent working on imbalances and restorative activities such as yoga, foam rolling, and strength training.

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With all that said, here are some ways to stay safe when trying out HIIT training:

practicing HIIT at home

One of the best things about HIIT is that you don't need to be in a gym to do it. However, if there is a move that you haven’t done before or don’t feel comfortable with, it’s definitely best to go over it with a trainer or instructor first. Even simple moves like push-ups and squats are commonly done wrong, so there’s nothing wrong with a form check beforehand. Also, maintaining form is even harder when you begin to add weight to that exercise. That means if you're incorporating dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or any other type of weights into your at-home workouts, it's a good idea to check your form with an expert first. The last thing you want to do is be in the middle of a workout (whether you're at home or at a gym) and have no idea how to do a certain move when you’re already tired from everything else.

taking on a class

Being in a class gives you the advantage of having a teacher or trainer who ideally will be watching you. It's definitely a plus having a trainer or instructor who is experienced and can make sure you're doing everything correctly. And if you're new to HIIT, definitely let your instructor know so that they can keep an eye on you! Also remember to listen to your own body and go at whatever speed and intensity is comfortable. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement and competitive nature of these types of classes, but there’s no need to be a hero. No rep, time, or personal record is worth getting injured.

At the end of the day, there are a real LARGE number of benefits to taking these classes, but there are risks. It comes down to how prepared people are as well as the instruction they’re given!

If you’re in the Washington DC area and trying to stay healthy and fit but can’t because of pain stopping you from exercising, or if you’re worried an injury will prevent you from doing activities you love like CrossFit, Bootcamp, or Spin Class, contact me and let’s talk about the right plan of attack for you!


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Dr. Mike Yasson received his Doctor of Physical Therapy honors from the University of Scranton. Prior to his time in physical therapy school, Mike worked as a Strength and Conditioning coach in the New York Yankees organization. It was here that he saw the quality of treatment that these professional athletes received. His mission at Big League Performance and Rehabilitation is to make sure that everybody has access to this high level of treatment that is typically reserved for the best of the best. 

Emily Smith