HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is a popular workout philosophy that promises big results in a short amount of time. However, it also puts its participants at a higher risk for injury. PT Jonathan Meltzer explains how taking a few precautionary steps will allow you to enjoy HIIT workouts safely and effectively.
BY JONATHAN MELTZER, DPT, RAUSCH PHYSICAL THERAPY
In recent years, bootcamps, training groups, and other fast-paced workout classes have become increasingly popular, especially in areas like Orange County where we’re all busy, active people (willing to spend on beauty, health and wellness.) Rather than hitting the gym solo, people have started HIIT—High Intensity Interval Training.
Instead of spending hours at the gym, people are flocking to small, local fitness studios or clubs that offer 30 to 60 minutes HIIT workouts, which is various exercises at short intervals. When you add in the bonus of having a coach or instructor leading you through every session, it’s easy to understand why these independent facilities are so popular amongst people looking to transition off the couch.
In fact, the theory of HIIT is brilliant; it gets the heart rate up, combines cardio and strength into one session, and provides variation to avoid workout boredom. For a society that craves immediate gratification, HIIT is great. I myself was a member of a club for more than two years, and it got me in the best shape of my life.
However, as a doctor of physical therapy, I know how to prepare and protect my body for HIIT workouts, and unfortunately I’ve seen too many patients on my table who don’t.
Understanding the Risks of HIIT Workouts
With the increase in popularity of CrossFit, boot camps, etc. came an increase in the number of HIIT-related injuries I saw pop up on my schedule. HIIT has an increased risk of injury compared to lower-intensity workouts, especially for people who have been living a underactive lifestyle prior to jumping into it.
As a shoulder injury specialist, I see patients with rotator cuff sprains, pinching impingement pain and full blown labral tears because their coach put them through 20 minutes of various shoulder exercises, or had them pressing dumbbells into the air over and over just jamming the joint. Others are suffering pain in their knees, lower back stiffness and pain or stiffness in their hips from doing squat/lunge/burpee-type exercises without having first developed proper hip stability to support their body through these intense workouts.
HIIT workouts focus on global stabilization, which means that bigger muscles (those “show me” muscles) get worked a tremendous amount, but too often it’s without proper local stabilization. Just think, it doesn’t make sense to have a nice big house on the beach if the foundation is made of sand—it’ll be washed away in the first storm. However, if you put in the effort and take the time to build up a strong, stable foundation, your beautiful beach house is going to be able to withstand a whole lot more—and look good doing it!
Prepare Your Body to Take the HIIT
While the risks associated with HIIT workout regimens are higher than low-intensity ones, for some people the results are worth it. Like I said earlier, I was in the best shape of my life when I was doing HIIT, but I remember I had the awareness and knowledge to ensure I was doing it safely. Now I make it a point to educate my HIIT-loving patients to keep them healthy and off my table.
Here are the four things I tell anyone who’s thinking about starting or currently doing HIIT workouts:
- Get a screen by your physical therapist. Before starting any new exercise routine, you should first get checked by a musculoskeletal professional to ensure your body isn’t vulnerable in areas that are commonly injured during these types of workouts. Not only can your physical therapist identify any impairments of flexibility or strength, s/he can help you address it before diving into a new workout regimen and educate you on how to protect your body once you get going (which will keep you off their table in the long run!)
- Listen to your body. Are areas in your body starting to become more sore, tender or not firing the way they should? Usually the body starts to feels slightly different as a warning sign that an injury is about to occur. Being in tune with what you feel in your body will go along way to prevention.
- Avoid repetitive movements for the same body part. Performing similar types of exercises repeatedly will continue to wear out the body because you are creating the same movement patterns over and over. Make sure your workout is never hyper-focused on just one muscle group—opt for a total body workout!
- Workout with an experienced, certified trainer who knows their stuff. I cannot stress this enough! If you are not evaluated or looked at before you start at a new fitness place, you are setting yourself up for failure. Your trainer or coach needs to be detailed, specific and have a keen eye to watch for over-recruitment and poor form at ALL times.
As a results-driven guy, I’m a big fan of high-intensity interval training, but as a physical therapist I also want people to understand the importance of protecting yourself with the necessary awareness and tools to avoid the alarmingly common traumatic and chronic injuries associated with this type of exercise. Luckily, by being aware of your body and taking a few precautionary steps, you can enjoy HIIT workouts safely and effectively and ultimately get in the best shape of your life.
Jonathan Meltzer graduated from the University of Redlands with a bachelor of arts in biology and a minor in physical education. Following graduation, Jonathan discovered his passion for physical therapy while working as a Physical Therapy Aide. After graduating top of his class from Loma Linda University in 2012 with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy, Jonathan began his career at Rausch Physical Therapy and Sports Performance. Jonathan’s goals are to identify limitations and treat his patients with the most recent and innovative techniques in order to maximize functional independence and obtain his patients’ individual goals.