Extreme Fitness: Have We Gone to Far?

April 28, 2014

   High intensity workouts have been proven to work but may not be the magical solution they're cracked up to be.

   High intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, can push your heart rate up to 75 percent of maximum or more and has been proven to increase metabolism and burn more calories. Another type of workout called Tabata boasts similar benefits.

   Just where did HIIT Training or Tabata begin and why are they so popular?

   Here's some background on the two systems. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise, developed to improve running performance by German coach Woldemar Gerschler in the mid1930s. It consists of bursts of intense exercise lasting as long as 4 minutes with recovery periods in between. HIIT sessions may vary from 4 to 30 minutes. Gerschler's system enabled greater intensities because the periods of rest or easy running allowed partial recovery. This training faded in the 1940s then reemerged after Czech long distance runner Emil Zatopek won three gold medals during the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. Zapotek had used the technique in his training.

   Tabata was established in 1996 by Izumi Tabata of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Japan. Tabata studied Olympic speedskaters and the body's ability to efficiently use oxygen during extreme exercise. Tabata is a form of high intensity exercise, again, based on short intervals of ultra intense training lasting about 4 minutes.

   So, does the average athlete or fitness person need this high intensity style of exercise in their regime? Well, what we do know is if you're already fit, your body can adapt to more extreme workouts with adequate recovery. Also, we live in a society that believes and values "more is better" and that "hard work = success."

   Different stresses such as sleep deprivation, nutrition, medications, work, kids and life also play a part in how much energy and time we have to devote to our exercise regime, as well as how it effects us afterwards. Many people like this kind of exercise because they can get fit in a short amount of time. But they're also at increased risk, resulting in orthopedic injuries or cardiovascular complications if they aren’t accustomed to this kind of exercise. I do believe it can be beneficial if the program is designed for the individual person doing it. Safety should be an important consideration.

   Here's the thing: high intensity workouts are appealing because... who would want to walk/run 4 hours a week when you can spin like a maniac and get the same results in 12 minutes?

   There's a valid reason for either choice or even a mix of both. I exercise not just for the results but also for the beauty and feeling of bodily movement. A long run or walk makes me feel energized and fulfilled. That's something I can't get in 12 minutes of HIIT. But I can also appreciate a results oriented-workout. HIIT may not be fun, but the results are satisfying.

   The ultimate decision of how you're going to exercise and what you're going to do is yours. You know your body. Listen to it. If it tells you you're overdoing it with consistent aches, pains and injuries then maybe it's time to take it slower or not so intensely.