How to do High-Intensity Exercise the Right Way
High Intensity Exercise Explained
Do you love doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT)? Are you into CrossFit? Well, it might be one of the most popular types of workout programs around, but it’s important to do HIIT the right way.
Research suggests that there is a limit. Interval training can boost your performance when the workout routine is finely tuned to your fitness levels. Yet, it can stagnate your gains and damage your overall health if you do too much.
How Much Is Too Much?
The important thing to remember about high intensity workouts is that they are intense. It takes a toll on your body in exchange for quick boosts to weight loss and power. The key is to cash out before you do too much HIIT.
You can flood your system with too much of the fight or flight hormone – cortisol. You could experience increased anxiety, stress, digestive problems, and excessive weight loss. Your body needs glycogen. It’s the carbohydrates that your body uses for fuel.
Glycogen builds back when you rest. If your body is using up all the glycogen for repair and you jump right back into another HIIT workout, then you’re headed for trouble. You’ll feel tired all the time and you’ll actually lose performance power.
You should only do one or two HIIT sessions per week. There was a recent study out of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences about HIIT workouts. The researchers had 11 people do HIIT sessions every week. After some moderate work on an exercise bike, the study participants had positive performance benefits from HIIT.
Then, the study pushed the participants to doing HIIT every day of the week. Right away, they noticed that the participants had stagnating fitness performance, their metabolism started to crash, and overall health declined.
My Personal Story with Too Much HIIT
The study had an extremely small test group, but I observed similar results from my own personal fitness journey. A few years ago, I got hooked on fitness in a bad way. I wasn’t into CrossFit. I just became obsessive about working out. I did parkour and tumbling one day a week and martial arts and HIIT the day after. Then, I’d do an intense total body workout with weights a few days later.
It didn’t seem like a lot at the time. I had just turned 30 and I didn’t count parkour and martial arts as forms of high intensity interval training. Parkour and martial arts are forms of high intensity exercise because you do very explosive movements in short bursts. Then, you typically have to wait a few seconds or a minute or two to make another pass.
I was doing high intensity workouts three days a week. To be fair, nobody has ever suggested that you should do three to four days of HIIT. I was just on a fitness kick and I got really involved in the community that sprang up around my local gym. I really enjoyed being around those people, so the sessions would last for hours.
After a few weeks I started to notice that my weight was dropping like crazy. I switched up my diet for more protein, but that didn’t work. Next, I tried more carbs. It didn’t matter what I was eating. I was doing all of these explosive lower body and core movements, but I never saw gains in the weight room. In fact, I felt weaker when I tried to lift weights. I knew that something was wrong, but I didn’t stop or make any adjustments to my routine until I got really sick.
My immune response went down. I was having muscle spasms. I’m not a personal trainer or a health and fitness professional, but I noticed that there is a limit to how much you can safely do high intensity exercise. After a brief recovery, I spaced out my workout sessions a bit more. I also reduced the time that I spent doing parkour and martial arts. I did 90 minute sessions instead of sticking around for several hours.
Things got better for me quickly. My weight went up and I saw more gains in my weight lifting routine after I cut down on the high intensity workouts. For me, it’s a tricky balance to maintain even to this day. On top of it all, I’m a hard gainer. So, it’s doubly important for guys like me with high metabolisms to avoid excessive cardio and excessive high intensity interval training.
Related: Here’s Why You Should Workout with a Partner
Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
HIIT workouts are great at burning calories and helping you lose weight. You burn calories while you’re exercising. You also burn a lot of calories after your workout is finished. This phenomenon occurs after intense workouts because your body is burning more calories to heal and repair the body.
HIIT builds muscular endurance and overall power. The same thing that burns calories during HIIT workouts also facilitates more muscle growth. Most HIIT workout routines feature explosive movements like push-ups, burpees, and squats. These exercises target multiple muscle groups at the same time.
A scientific study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience in 2017 highlighted the cognitive benefits of high-intensity workouts. In the study, 95 participants did high-intensity workouts for 6 weeks. In just that short period of time, the participants showed big improvements in their memory and cognition.
The researchers found that the 20 minute intense workouts increased protein levels that support the growth and function of brain cells. The study author Jennifer Heisz noted “Improvements in this type of memory from exercise might help to explain the previously established link between aerobic exercise and better academic performance.”
HIIT workouts are like a power punch to your fitness routine. You get a boost in weight loss and strength building. Most guys can reap those benefits from two HIIT sessions a week with a day or two to recover.
Yet, HIIT workouts can be oddly addictive. CrossFit is a lifestyle; it’s not just a fitness plan. Martial arts and parkour are lifestyles. You just get sucked into them. The average guy isn’t looking to become a high-performance athlete. So, there’s no need to do HIIT all week long.
If you’re the type of guy who is spending way too much time at the gym, and building a lifestyle around your workout, then you should be cautious, especially if your workout of choice is High Intensity Interval Training.
Try bringing a timer with you to the gym or try setting an alert on your phone. Give yourself full rest days and don’t beat yourself up about doing a bit less. HIIT can leave you depleted. Without adequate rest days, you won’t keep what you earned. So, take care of yourself and always workout with a mindful intention.