Don’t let the ubiq­uity of high­in­ten­sity train­ing pull a fast (then slow, then fast) one on your health. In­ter­vals could be all pain, no gain

Men's Health (UK) - - Contents -

One ex­pert ar­gues that slow­ing down may be the key to ac­cel­er­at­ing your fat loss

In­creased car­dio­vas­cu­lar func­tion, faster fat ox­i­di­s­a­tion and main­tained mus­cle mass – all re­alised by spend­ing less time in the gym. It’s no won­der high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing (HIIT) con­tin­ues to make an im­pact, top­ping the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Sports Medicine’s 2018 sur­vey of world­wide fit­ness trends.

Squeez­ing all the ex­er­cise you need into your lunch break is an ap­petis­ing prospect. But, truth be told, HIIT is a ter­ri­ble tool for fat loss – all ex­er­cise is, re­ally. Burn­ing a marginally in­creased amount of fat is re­dun­dant if you’ve not also cre­ated a calo­rie deficit – most ef­fec­tively achieved by mak­ing good nu­tri­tional choices – in or­der to lose more than you con­sume.

HIIT’S dom­i­nance is more to do with the power of mar­ket­ing and peo­ple’s de­sire for a min­i­mal-ef­fort magic pill. But a one-size-fits-all work­out, how­ever slickly pack­aged by a boutique stu­dio, can only do so much good – and maybe even some harm. There’s no “best” work­out: only the most ap­pro­pri­ate given your goals and ex­pe­ri­ence, plus your lev­els of re­cov­ery and stress. A less sexy sell, ad­mit­tedly.

Per­son­ally, I never do more than two HIIT ses­sions per week, be­cause I am not an elite ath­lete. Un­less you are, you prob­a­bly shouldn’t ei­ther, be­cause they’re se­ri­ously de­mand­ing. In the orig­i­nal study by Pro­fes­sor Izumi Ta­bata, who lent his name to the trend­set­ting Ta­bata pro­to­col, Olympian test sub­jects were wiped out af­ter per­form­ing the eight de­bil­i­tat­ing rounds of 20 sec­onds on, 10 sec­onds off. That’s in­ten­sity 1 . The dif­fer­ence be­tween medicine and poi­son is the dose – or, in this case, the al­lo­static load (the “wear and tear” on your body). Your brain doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate be­tween phys­i­o­log­i­cal and neu­ro­log­i­cal kinds of stress. So if you’re un­der the cosh at work, ham­mer­ing your­self with HIIT will only ex­ac­er­bate the is­sue 2 – as will HIIT alone if you lack ad­e­quate nour­ish­ment and re­cov­ery. It’s vi­tal to let your body heal from stress – in life and in the gym. Ex­pe­ri­enced gym-go­ers are con­stantly sur­prised when they re­turn stronger af­ter a rest week 3 . HIIT can be even more harm­ful for the unini­ti­ated. A FASEB Jour­nal study found that high-in­ten­sity ex­er­cise halves the func­tion of the mi­to­chon­dria that pro­vide your cells with en­ergy to keep them alive.

Mean­while, the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Medicine doc­u­mented cases of rhab­domy­ol­y­sis – a con­di­tion caused by mus­cle fi­bres break­ing down and leak­ing their con­tents into the blood­stream, lead­ing to kid­ney fail­ure – in sub­jects fol­low­ing their first spin class. New­com­ers to HIIT also face higher in­jury rates, if the sheer un­pleas­ant­ness doesn’t put them off ex­er­cise al­to­gether. Most classes in­cor­po­rate ex­plo­sive move­ments or heavy loads in or­der to in­duce fa­tigue. But cram­ming 40 peo­ple into a dark room with deaf­en­ing mu­sic and one in­struc­tor isn’t ex­actly con­ducive to good tech­nique. And while you may feel as though you’ve had a great work­out as you lie on the floor in a pud­dle of sweat, you’d likely de­rive greater ben­e­fits from do­ing some­thing safer at a lower in­ten­sity.

What you need to do is move more, pe­riod, with higher qual­ity and va­ri­ety. In­ten­sity should be the last thing you con­sider. This is the surest route to sus­tain­able health and fit­ness. First, how well can you squat, crawl or run? Hone your skill and con­trol be­fore you ramp things up, whether that’s through adding load, rep­e­ti­tions, or both. In other words, don’t sprint be­fore you can walk.

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