High-intensity training can be fast road to fitness or injury, experts warn
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the latest exercise trend to promise fast fitness results. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) endorses it as a way to “realize remarkable results in a short amount of time.”
But both ACE and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) caution that HIIT may not be safe for everyone, and people should be careful when adding it to their exercise plan.
“The key to safe exercise is moderation,” said Letha Griffin, MD, an AAOS spokesperson. “Individuals shouldn’t be deterred from pushing their bodies to the limit because that’s how you build strength and endurance. However, pushing too far, too fast, leaves the body prone to traumatic injuries, such as sprains and even fractures.”
HIIT involves alternating short bursts of extreme effort with more moderate exercise. For instance, you might jog for two minutes, then pick up the pace for 30 seconds, then slow back down to a jog. The whole workout might last only 20 minutes or so, according to ACE.
Ratcheting up the intensity of your exercise can increase your risk for injury and even heart problems, ACE acknowledges. You should always check with your physician before upping your exercise efforts, especially if you haven’t been active for a while or you have a chronic health condition.
There also are steps you can take—before, during and after exercise—to help stay injury-free, such as these offered by the AAOS:
- Decide on a program that fits your fitness level. If you’re a beginner, 30 minutes of a moderate exercise (like walking) is a good starting point. You can break that up into two 15-minute sessions if necessary.
- Be sure you have the right gear, including proper shoes, for your activity.
- Start with a few minutes of warm-up. Jog in place, or slowly practice whatever movements you’re planning to do.
- Gently stretch your muscles. Hold each stretch for about 10 to 20 seconds before slowly releasing.
- Drink plenty of water. The AAOS recommends you down a pint of water before and after your workout, plus take a drink every 20 minutes or so.
- Cool down by gradually slowing your movements. Your cool down should last about twice as long as your warm-up.
You might also consider working with a trainer who is HIIT-certified, suggests ACE.