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Kara Glasco, MS, RCEP, HFS

There is no denying that high intensity interval training (HIIT) really works and I am a huge advocate for this style of workout.  The general idea is to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time with small periods of recovery.  Essentially, anything can become a HIIT style workout whether it is cardiovascular training such as running or strength training based.  HIIT workouts will increase your cardiovascular endurance, muscular endurance, decrease time to fatigue, decrease body fat and increase lean muscle mass. This may sounds like the perfect exercise routine, but there are some potential issues with this style workout.  See my comments below before beginning a high intensity interval style workout.

Tendons, Muscles, and Joint OH MY!

Now comes the ugly truth of extreme HIIT workouts such as T25 and P90X.  I’ve known my fair share of friends and clients that have injured themselves during these programs.  I had one client tear his achilles, two blow out a knee meniscus and countless other pulled muscles, especially the lower back.  This type of workout can be extremely rough on the joints since most include tons of body weight exercises such as push up, pull ups and lunges.  Tendon and ligament injuries can occur in the shoulders, elbows, wrists, knees and ankles due to the high amount of stress placed on these joints.  Due to the repetitive nature of HIIT dvd programs, tendonitis can be a real problem for overworked joints and may require physical therapy.

Muscle injuries are probably the most common issue with extreme HIIT programs.  Most DVD series generally start with a warm-up period, but even the warm-ups may be too intense for some participants.  Certains stretches could be more harmful than helpful for some clients especially if they have pre-existing joint issues.

Some DVD warm-ups may be too lengthy, include too many ballistic exercises and accumulate too many repetitions on already overworked joints.  Muscular fatigue from the warm-up also could cause potential problems during the rest of the workout. Fatigued muscles can cause issues with form, balance and joint stabilization.

Muscles adapt and recover quicker than tendons and ligaments do after a HIIT workout.  A tendon’s reduced ability to recover after exercise can increase your risk of injury and joint damage.  Muscles recover quickly because of their increased blood flow, demand for nutrients and muscle-specific biological processes.  As you age, your ability to recover and rebound from exercise decreases.  This makes it especially difficult for middle-aged participants to complete the HIIT DVDs without getting injured.

The joints can also take a beating from HIIT DVDs and most participants experience painful and swollen joints at some point during the program.  Shoulders, wrists, ankles and knee joints are at the greatest risk from extreme exercise DVD programs.  Most DVD programs do an excessive amount of repetitions and have participants bend in every which way.  The sheer number of push ups and pull ups is almost the equivalent of asking your wrist, shoulders and elbows to run a marathon!

Think before You Jump

One of my favorite sayings is “It is better to do a QUALITY workout than to do a QUANTITY workout.”  Now, I am not saying that HIIT DVD workouts are a one way ticket to tendonitis, joint damage or muscle injuries.  But, if you have any other pre-existing conditions or lifestyle demands,  high intensity interval training may not be right for you.  I would never recommend an office worker with overexerted wrist muscles from typing perform multiple sets of wrist-supported exercises.  I would also caution sedentary office workers from moving through extreme ranges of motion like most DVDs require due to potential weak hip and back muscles from prolonged sitting.  My last sentiment is that it is illogical for a participant to further tighten muscles that are already excessively tight.  My example is, once agai,n the sedentary office worker with rounded and hunched shoulders resulting bad posture and very tight pec muscles.  Push-ups, planks, and other chest dominant exercises will only further these problem without solving the posture problem. Stay tuned for my next article on alternative exercises to do during HIIT DVDs that are safe and effective.

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