It is now popular all over the world: HIIT – High-intensity interval training, a high-intensity workout. You do sport intensively and in short intervals and take small breaks in between. It’s often advertised as the most effective way to get fit, stronger, and leaner.
But: The much-praised benefits of HIIT are actually not as great as we learned in conversation with experts. The claims we hear so often about HIIT originated in a study of elite athletes in the 1990s. Their results would have been better not transferred to the average person.
What many people think they are doing HIIT is not really high-intensity exercise at all. But the workout sells well. So, if you’re having a lot of fun with HIIT, then it’s okay to keep doing it – just not too often. But if that’s not the case, then you have a number of better alternatives to choose from, whether your goal is to lose weight, build strength, or endurance.
It all started with a misunderstood study
The HIIT myth goes back to a study by the Japanese sports and health scientist Izumi Tabata in 1996. He carried it out on elite athletes. He let half of them pedal for 60 minutes on an ergometer, with moderate intensity. Means: at 70 percent of your so-called maximum oxygen intake, i.e. 70 percent VO2Max.
The other half of his test subjects had Tabata do an extremely intensive workout, but only for two minutes. For seven or eight laps, they cycled for twenty seconds at 170 percent of their maximum oxygen intake. They took a ten-minute break between the units. So the workout lasted up to four minutes in total. One day a week, half of the test subjects also pedaled for half an hour at a moderate 70 percent of their maximum oxygen intake.
Both groups trained in this way five days a week for six weeks. At the end of the study, it came out that the group that had trained at extremely high intensity had burned more calories.
“It’s almost impossible to imitate”
And now the problem follows: the results cannot be transferred to the average person. A “normal”, non-professional athlete does not even achieve 170 percent of the maximum oxygen capacity, explains movement specialist and elite personal trainer Luke Worthington. “This intensity of 170 VO2max who they did sports is just impossible for anyone but an elite athlete, ”he says.
According to him, even reaching 100 percent of your own maximum oxygen intake means “complete exhaustion”. “That’s where people can’t go on,” he explains. “Then they often vomit. The point is very difficult to reach. “
In the study, the athletes went beyond this point by up to 70 percent. “It’s almost impossible to replicate,” says Worthington. Theoretically it is of course conceivable – but there are not many living people in the world who would make it, says the personal trainer. The study participants did the workout for three and a half to four minutes, after which they could no longer. So if your HIIT class lasts 45 minutes, for example, then it’s not really HIIT, at least not the one from the study.
HIIT, the lengthy cardio course
The biggest myth about HIIT training is actually that you train at high intensity all the time. That’s what Christina Montalvo, certified personal trainer and strength and endurance coach, says. “That’s not true! You can’t do a real, High Intensity‘ session over a whole training hour without a break, ”she says.
“The more time goes on, the lower the intensity becomes. You may then do intervals, but they are most likely not as intense as you think, ”explains Montalvo. “Most people don’t have the aerobic or anaerobic capacities to keep their heart rate high enough for high-intensity exercise. What is called, HIIT ‘, is often just a lengthy cardio class – which is okay, but not HIIT.”
HIIT has become so popular for a number of reasons. The promise of incredible results in just seven minutes of workout was easy to sell. It’s also an extremely simple concept that is easy to do on a large scale – whether in an Instagram Live or in studios around the world.
For trainers, HIIT courses are easy
“A HIIT class is very easy to give, which is why so many trainers do it,” says Luke Worthington. The hurdles that have to be overcome to gain a foothold in the fitness industry are few, he says. This is why some trainers simply do not have the knowledge that is needed to understand what HIIT actually means.
Christina Montalvo agrees. HIIT allows coaches to be “lazy” in designing their programs. “A trainer can simply put together a few exercises at will, with a certain ratio of workouts and breaks. As long as the participants feel that this is a challenge for them, then they have the feeling that it is a good training ”, she says. “Do you know how easy it is to exhaust and tire people through workouts? Super light!”.
Often times, HIIT is portrayed as the ultimate fitness workout that burns calories and burns fat. This is another reason why it has become so popular. “Most people mistake physical sensations for effectiveness,” explains Montalvo. “You walk out of a fitness class or a workout and feel like you are totally exhausted. You’re dripping with sweat, you’ve been out of breath the whole time, every muscle in your body is tired. That must have been a great and super effective workout, right? But it’s not that easy. Fitness consists of so much more than sore muscles and sweat. “
The trainer believes another problem is that HIIT is so often sold as something that is good for everyone. “It’s often presented as a the The ultimate solution for the general public to get fit. ”In reality, however, the majority of people need an individual training plan that covers a lot more and helps to train in different energy systems.
If your goal is to lose fat, HIIT shouldn’t be your choice. “To maintain muscle mass and lose body fat, you have to continuously burn more energy than you take in and do weight training,” says Luke Worthington. “It won’t change the percentage of fat or muscle in your body when you take a HIIT class. It may make you train, but nothing more. ”If you want to lose weight, says the personal trainer, watch your diet.
Being broken and sweaty doesn’t mean you’ve exercised well
Because it is a workout that consists largely of endurance exercises, many believe that HIIT classes will improve their fitness. This is only true if someone really hasn’t moved at all beforehand. However, if you want to improve your endurance, then the following applies: Just because you are totally exhausted at the end of each workout does not mean that you have come one step closer to this goal. “You may feel completely exhausted, but you won’t be fitter afterwards,” says Worthington.
Both he and Christina Montalvo believe that HIIT is not the best way to build strength either. “Real strength training is methodical and usually at a much slower pace than people are used to,” she says. “If your trainer doesn’t give you units, repetitions, and rest times that develop over time, then you’re not doing strength training.”
Luke Worthington sees it similarly and has a tip. “If you want more strength, you should focus on lifting weights that get heavier over time. If you want to get fitter, start running or cycling – or any other endurance sport you enjoy. “
Even if you do not come close to the values of the original HIIT study: Five to six fitness units per week can put a lot of stress on your body and make you more prone to injuries, for example, if you are not careful. “People rarely pay attention to flexibility and motor skills. So there is a great risk of injuring yourself, even in the long term, ”says Luke Worthington.
Once exercisers have found pleasure in the endorphin rush after a workout, this can lead to them becoming more and more stressful. This in turn can also increase the risk of injury. “Many people are much more stressed than they even realize,” says personal trainer Christina Montalvo. “If you then do HIIT as your primary or even your only workout, there is the potential for a real disaster.”
She observed the side effects more and more often: an increased risk of injury, an overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, burnout, extreme fatigue. “That doesn’t mean that everyone gets all of this, of course the physical requirements are individual for everyone. But it is a matter of time before everyone has their negative experiences with a HIIT training plan.
If you really enjoy HIIT, then there’s nothing to prevent you from doing it occasionally. However, you should not succumb to the illusion that it will help you achieve your fitness or weight loss goals. “If you like being yelled at and jumping jacks and burpees, that’s okay. But HIIT isn’t a miracle solution, ”says Worthington. “You just move around and sweat, which is fine. But if someone wants to influence their fat and muscle percentage, then they have to pay much more attention to their own energy balance and strength training. ”
Training can do so much more
Putting together a workout that leaves participants sweaty, sore muscles, and tired is not difficult. Basically, that’s all HIIT training does. It won’t give you the advantage that most of us are after.
“You can’t push your limits for weeks, months or years with every single workout,” says Christina Montalvo. “If the only thing your trainer or studio can do for you is always sweaty and out of breath – then you’re missing out on a number of great things that training can do too: from improved mobility to healthier joints to a whole new quality of life. “
This text has been translated from English. You can find the original article here.