The High Stakes of High-Intensity Training
With the growing popularity of fitness apps and group classes, it’s common practice to go to extremes while working out. HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is one of the modalities most often used to push to these extremes. Whether it’s promises of a massive calorie burn or lean muscle mass increase, a 30-minute HIIT workout can supposedly accomplish a lot in a very short time.
We are drawn to the idea that we can accomplish a lot in a short time span. Everyone seems to be busy and unable to dedicate 2-3 hours per week to their fitness goals. This idea that you can gain the cardiovascular and strength benefits of longer workouts with a 30-minute at-home HIIT routine sounds too good to pass up. But is this a sustainable form of training? Are there possibly negative outcomes that come from pushing yourself to the limits without much thought about why you’re doing what you’re doing? In this article, we’ll take a look at why the negative consequences of HIIT training outweigh these supposed benefits and how Functional Patterns offers a more balanced and intentional approach to building fitness.
The Hype Behind HIIT Workouts
HIIT training includes short bursts of alternating periods of high-intensity movement with rest or low-intensity exercise. HIIT workouts commonly consist of short bursts of high-intensity exercises, such as sprints, high-repetition weight training, or intense bodyweight movements, followed by brief rest or low-intensity periods. HIIT training is hailed for its benefits in cardiovascular fitness and potential improvements in metabolic function.
Advocates of HIIT training claim that you’re able to achieve much more in a shorter amount of time. One of the main benefits of HIIT training is said to be EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This is the idea that so much breakdown was stimulated during the training that a higher demand from the metabolism will be prompted post-workout to initiate recovery. Proponents of HIIT training claim this ultimately leads to a greater calorie burn and higher metabolism.
While all of this sounds beneficial and even desirable on the surface, there are deep drawbacks to this intense form of training. It’s important to remember that physical activity is a stressor on the body, and while your body will rebound well in response to most stressors if you’re healthy, some things will only dig you into a hole.
A Short-sighted Approach to Training
During intense exercise, your adrenals release the stress hormone cortisol to help you push through your workout. Cortisol plays a role in everything from hydration and metabolism to immune regulation.
HIIT workouts lead to very large cortisol spikes. (2) Cortisol spikes are not huge issues when there is adequate recovery, mentally and physically. The problem arises when cortisol never has a chance to reach baseline levels due to chronic stress or excessive exercise. Remember, exercise is a stressor, and HIIT training is an intense stressor. Short-term stressors are healthy and help the body make a positive adaptation, but chronic stressors, as in the case of 4-5 HIIT workouts per week, may result in a number of health detriments.
According to a 2021 study, excessive HIIT workouts lead to impaired mitochondrial function and impaired glucose control, suggesting that HIIT workouts are not a healthy option for long-term training. (3) Other studies demonstrate that elevated stress hormones lead to a suppressed immune system function, which results in slower recovery ability and an increased risk of viral and bacterial illness. (4)
Dehydration is another worry with excessive HIIT workouts. As with any exercise, participants will experience increased volume loss through sweating, but due to the excessive elevation of cortisol in HIIT training, there may also be a risk of electrolyte depletion, a reduced perception of thirst, and higher overall fluid requirements. Unfortunately, this link between elevated cortisol and dehydration is a catch-22 situation. As dehydration persists, cortisol elevates, and each reinforces the other.
If you’ve ever performed even a 30-minute HIIT workout, you know it’s extremely fatiguing, both mentally and physically. As you progress through a HIIT workout, it becomes harder to maintain proper exercise form because of the intensity involved. As your form deteriorates, joint misalignments will happen, putting stress on the joints and potentially leading to injuries.
Given these considerations, it’s obvious that HIIT training is simply another brand of fitness hype. The idea is to push yourself as hard as possible in short amounts of time with the empty promise of extraordinary fitness benefits. HIIT workouts are a short-sighted approach to training with no regard for health-building or longevity. Is your only goal with training to burn an immense amount of calories? Are you comfortable putting your joints at risk in order to get more done in less time? Is the goal to break the body down or build the body up? From a health-building perspective, it’s unclear whether HIIT training plays any beneficial role.
A Long-term Approach to Building Health
In comparison to HIIT training, Functional Patterns offers a significantly more balanced and intentional approach to building health and fitness that is meant to evolve and develop as you progress. The Functional Patterns 10-week course, for example, consists of very progressive protocols meant to hydrate your fascia for better ranges of motion, teach you how to align your body for better posture, and how to integrate your core, glutes, and thoracic erectors into corrective techniques.
The Functional Patterns Functional Training System takes these lessons to the next level. Here you find yourself entering into more dynamic ranges of motion while still integrating the same structural principles learned in the 10-week course. You’ll add layers of complexity as you progress to continue challenging the body and your dysfunctions. Utilizing a progressive system like this allows you to learn and build on fundamental concepts that have infinite potential for growth.
Humans have a specific movement blueprint that differentiates us from other animals. This blueprint is defined by functions such as standing, walking, and running. These are fundamental movements we frequently perform in life, and in order for these movements to be efficient, there needs to be a clear intention to improve the alignment and form of all exercises during training, as well as using purposeful exercises that emulate these fundamental functions.
While HIIT training can include a wide variety of different exercises done with intensity, the only purpose behind a HIIT workout seems to be burning calories. HIIT workouts can be very challenging and may even provide short-term gains, but over the long haul, they do little to help you achieve any fundamental health improvements.
In conclusion, while HIIT training may offer the allure of quick and intense workouts, it falls short when considering the long-term impact on overall health and well-being. The negative consequences of excessive HIIT workouts outweigh the supposed benefits, as evidenced by impaired mitochondrial function, impaired glucose control, compromised immune system function, dehydration risks, and increased likelihood of joint injuries. HIIT training's emphasis on burning calories and achieving short-term gains neglect the importance of a balanced and intentional approach to building health and longevity.
Functional Patterns presents a more comprehensive and sustainable alternative to HIIT training. With its focus on progressive protocols, hydration of fascia, postural alignment, and core integration, Functional Patterns offers a path towards improved movement efficiency and fundamental health improvements. By embracing the movement blueprint unique to humans and incorporating purposeful exercises that emulate essential functions like standing, walking, and running, Functional Patterns provides a foundation for growth and development.
In the pursuit of fitness, it is essential to consider the long-term implications of your training and prioritize health-building rather than solely chasing immediate results. While HIIT training may seem enticing in its promises, it ultimately misses the mark by neglecting the holistic approach necessary for sustained well-being. Choosing a balanced and intentional training system like Functional Patterns can lead to lasting improvements in physical fitness, movement quality, and overall health.
- Hill EE, Zack E, Battaglini C, Viru M, Viru A, Hackney AC. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest. 2008 Jul;31(7):587-91. doi: 10.1007/BF03345606. PMID: 18787373.
- Lina C. Nilsson, Senna Tais, Björn Ekblom, William Apró, Filip J. Larsen. Excessive exercise training causes mitochondrial functional impairment and decreases glucose tolerance in healthy volunteers: Cell Metabolism.
- Jeanette I. Webster Marketon, Ronald Glaser, Stress hormones and immune function, Cellular Immunology, Volume 252, Issues 1–2, 2008, Pages 16-26, ISSN 0008-8749, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cellimm.2007.09.006.