Rutgers faculty reveals possible risks of high intensity interval training
Though fitness trends come and go, researchers at Rutgers are hoping to test their effects, both short and long-term. One type of exercise that has been trending is high intensity interval training (HIIT). Its popularity has been soaring in recent years, with articles from Shape and Time Magazine praising its benefits.
“(HIIT) is growing in popularity due to the attractiveness of efficiency,” said Bethann Wittig, a fitness and personal training coordinator at Rutgers. “Everyone wants the biggest bang for their buck.”
This style of training involves short spurts of high intensity work, typically 30 seconds, with even shorter breaks in between. One can do 4 to 6 “cycles” of HIIT and build similar endurance to those who do steady state cardio for 90 to 120 minutes, Wittig said.
Despite its popularity among gym-goers, researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) published a study recently about the potential harms of practicing HIIT.
“These workouts are marketed as ‘one size fits all.’ However, many athletes, especially amateurs, do not have the flexibility, mobility, core strength and muscles to perform these exercises,” said Dr. Joseph Ippolito, a physician and researcher in the Department of Orthopedics at NJMS, to Rutgers Today.
The study pulled data from 3,988,902 injuries, from the years 2007-2011 and 2012-2016, and measured HIIT’s increasing popularity through Google Trends. The most common groups with injuries that had a correlation of interest in HIIT were men between the ages of 20 to 39 years old.
The study also found that there was an 125% increase in knee and ankle sprains and an 124% increase in strains of the upper body, with a 274% increase in HIIT interest.
Despite these statistics, Dr. Ippolito does not want to discourage people from doing HIIT in the gym.
“With an increase in participation in any sport or activity, we recognize that injury rates are likely to increase similarly. Exercise with HIIT has numerous benefits for participants. We advise all participants to know their body, prioritize proper form and seek appropriate guidance from fitness professionals and trainers,” he said.
Wittig came to the same conclusion through her experiences with clients using HIIT, and recommended HIIT for clients based on their “readiness, exercise form, fitness level and desire to workout at an uncomfortable level.” She also offered advice to those interested in this effective workout style.
“Start with bodyweight movements and low-impact cardio to build stamina and endurance,” she said. “Injuries usually happen when proper form cannot be maintained due to fatigue and exhaustion ... I would recommend doing an HIIT workout every other day at the most to ensure you are not overtraining and limit overuse injuries.”
Both the NJMS researcher and personal trainer agreed on the importance of self-awareness when it came to physical capabilities.
“The key is to be honest with yourself that you are ready for the intensity of an HIIT workout and you maintain proper form throughout the entire interval,” Wittig said. “If you begin to feel any pain or discomfort you should stop and reassess.”
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