If you want to tone up, try ton­ing it down

After years of ex­haust­ing, high-in­ten­sity work­outs, Lau­ren Clark finds out why many fit­ness en­thu­si­asts now be­lieve that low is the way to go

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - BODY MIND -

ace your­self,” is not a phrase you of­ten hear be­ing barked by gym in­struc­tors in classes around the coun­try, where sky-high heart rates and burn­ing abs are the cur­rency. But in the new LIT class at Fly LDN, slow and steady wins the race.

Over the past decade, those seek­ing to get fit have been en­cour­aged to em­brace a no-pain-no-gain ex­er­cise phi­los­o­phy. But now, LIT – or low­in­ten­sity train­ing – is at the peak of a new wave of work­outs that tighten and tone but won’t grind you down.

Lead­ing Lon­don gym Third Space has re­cently un­veiled its low-in­ten­sity Pulse class, while other big stu­dio launches – in­clud­ing BXR’s Form & Fo­cus, Psy­cle’s SOS and Core Col­lec­tive’s Stretch – all run along sim­i­larly nur­tur­ing lines. Then there’s the con­cept of “pre­hab” – mo­bil­ity and flex­i­bil­ity classes to pro­tect your Ly­cra-clad limbs from in­jury – which is now a fix­ture at Gym­box and Ten Health & Fit­ness.

In­deed, it’s now cool to be kind to your body. “There has been a move to a more holis­tic ap­proach to fit­ness,” says Shona Vertue, a gym­nast turned per­sonal trainer and yoga teacher, and founder of The Vertue Method. The Aus­tralian reg­u­larly treats her 308,000 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers to body-weight work­outs where she stresses “form” over rep count.

Back in my LIT class, I can see ex­actly why many are now swap­ping high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing – or HIIT – for some­thing gen­tler. As we glide at a sta­ble speed be­tween walk­outs, ket­tle­bell squats and TRX lunges, I re­alise that, although I’m chal­leng­ing my body, I’m not push­ing it to its lim­its. “Peo­ple are re­al­is­ing that, to look after them­selves phys­i­cally, they need to tone down their work­out in­ten­sity a notch,” notes Katie An­der­son, LIT in­struc­tor at Fly LDN. “Pre­vi­ously, they have been scared to stray from HIIT, but the ben­e­fits of stretch­ing, and hav­ing time to cor­rect form be­fore grad­u­ally build­ing up weight and reps, are clear.”

As LIT’s dom­i­nance in­creases, so our ob­ses­sion with HIIT eases. The idea that sign­ing up for daily ses­sions of the lat­ter could be counter-in­tu­itive to our gym gains is be­gin­ning to take hold. Granted, it was sci­ence that deemed pun­ish­ing work­outs su­per-ef­fec­tive. One study found that a sin­gle HIIT ses­sion raised lev­els of irisin – the hor­mone that turns bad white fat into good brown fat – by 12 per cent. An­other showed how ex­plo­sive move­ment can trig­ger a wave of hu­man growth hor­mone.

But Luke Wor­thing­ton, sports sci­en­tist and head of trainer ed­u­ca­tion at Third Space, be­lieves ea­ger­ness for re­sults and lack of time has led peo­ple to overindulge in HIIT. “Stress­ing our bod­ies out with mul­ti­ple ses­sions a week is leav­ing us men­tally and phys­i­cally burnt out, be­cause it’s un­sus­tain­able,” he ex­plains. “There’s no ex­er­cise quick fix.”

Wor­thing­ton is now look­ing to the United States, where the low-in­ten­sity move­ment is al­ready in full swing and where “fit­ness” now takes into ac­count breath­ing, move­ment and rest, as well as emo­tional well-be­ing, sleep and ap­petite.

A key LIT buzz­word is “re­cov­ery”. “If you don’t give your body a break from ex­er­cise, it won’t have the op­por­tu­nity to ‘cash in’ on the ben­e­fits,” says Dr Nicky Keay, sport and dance en­docrinol­ogy spe­cial­ist. She warns that, while an hour of HIIT may force your body into a tempt­ing fat-burn­ing and calo­rie-bl­itz­ing mode, it can also flood it with the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol.

“In short bursts, it helps us be­come stronger and fit­ter,” Dr Keay ex­plains. “But if it stays high, you can run into trou­ble, with an in­creased like­li­hood of ill­ness from

a com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tem.”

Iron­i­cally, re­search has also found that HIIT can cause you to re­tain fat, while other long-term risks of over­train­ing in­clude is­sues with re­pro­duc­tive hor­mones, bones, gas­troin­testi­nal func­tion and the ner­vous sys­tem, as well as in­creased risk of in­jury.

Which takes us back to LIT – and why a good old-fash­ioned jog is of­ten the best medicine. “What very wired, largely seden­tary peo­ple re­ally need is low-in­ten­sity, steady-state work – the longer walks, cy­cle rides, row­ing or runs,” says Wor­thing­ton.

In­deed, LISS – or low-in­ten­sity steady-state train­ing – has evolved into a bur­geon­ing fit­ness trend, thanks to the likes of Vertue and her fel­low Aussie, the In­sta­gram star Kayla Itsines. “LISS puts healthy de­mands on your car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem in a way that’s eas­ier for your brain to cope with, but doesn’t strain your ner­vous sys­tem,” ex­plains Vertue. It also comes with en­dor­phin-fu­elled psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits. And a re­cent Uni­ver­sity of Bath study found LISS as ef­fec­tive as HIIT for weight loss.

Fin­ish­ing my LIT class feel­ing in­vig­o­rated, I’m con­vinced I’ll be see­ing far more post-work­out glows rather than red-faced ones in the chang­ing rooms. “A lot of fit­ness has be­come about how hard we can push our bod­ies,” con­cludes Vertue. “But it shouldn’t come at a cost to our health.”

NO PAIN, ALL GAIN Lau­ren Clark takes it easy with a low-in­ten­sity train­ing work­out

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