Updated: Oct 9, 2018
HIIT training or High Intensity Interval Training is all the rage in the fitness industry boasting claims that it is the fastest way towards fitness, body composition goals, and ultimate health. True HIIT training means pushing hard, and then recovering after each effort, to create an intense, high volume session. HIIT training has a range of well researched benefits (as listed above), and is a brilliant style of training to add into your routine.
But HIIT training isn't for everyone and it isn't the complete answer to ultimate fitness. If HIIT is the only style of training you do, you are missing a range of other beneficial metabolic training styles. In fact, HIIT isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be, especially when you start tracking heart rates, and measuring daily your readiness to train. Additionally HIIT is often not even the best way to train for certain people, or on some days, and it can push you further away from your goals.
HIIT without a Heart Rate Is Probably Not Even HIIT!
Without heart rate tracking, it's easy to see how many think they are doing HIIT training by working, and then resting based on their perceived exertion. But heart rates don't lie, and having trained thousands of people with heart rate tracking, on a daily basis we witness how a clients perceived exertion doesn't match their heart rate.
With heart rate tracking you can quickly see that intentions to train in a HIIT style, often don't achieve what they set out to. For example, we often notice the following in our sessions
Some people can't hit the intensity target in the first place because their daily readiness is lacking, they don't like the move, or are inefficient or over trained.
Some people can't actually recover fast enough in the designated interval period or take longer than the rest of the class, based on daily readiness.
So you can see how in the above instances, a HIIT session might end up more like a low intensity session (if the person can't peak) or a sustained high intensity session (if the person can't recover.) In these situations with a lack of efficiency, HIIT training probably isn't the best option for that individual, on that particular day and it's worth exploring other styles of training. It's important in these instances to avoid the intensity trap, and honour how the body is feeling. In fact for most clients these days, we find that less is more for accelerated results.
Different heart rate patterns and intensities have unique benefits
That there is no one way to get results. We modified this chart for our studio based on the Institute of Motion's Metabolic 4Q Metabolic System, to help explain different styles of metabolic training. Heart rate training can exist along two spectrum's: high/low intensity, and steady state/intervals. Each quadrant has it's specific benefits.
Training in only one quadrant is a key reason for a lack of results. For example too much steady state work (cardio) can break down muscle and connective tissue, and negatively influence hormones and metabolism if it isn't balanced with the other quadrants. For resilience, efficiency, healthy and ultimate fitness, we should aim to train in a variety of metabolic styles, all of which compliment each other.
High Intensity Steady State (HISS) training takes the heart rate well above the lactate threshold into peak heart rate zones, but is only physically sustainable for a few minutes before intensity and form will decline, and catabolic stress rises. Think of Tabata workouts, sprint repeats, circuits with no rest, supersets etc that don't allow for recovery and keep your heart rate really high.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been covered above, the aim is for the heart rate to go above, and below the lactate threshold between 65-85% of your maximum heart rate.
Sub Maximal Intensity Steady State (SISS) occurs with sports like running, swimming, walking or long distance cycling and is what most people think of as 'cardio.' The high repetition of movement with this quadrant, needs to be complimented with the variability and recovery that intervals provide in order to offset breakdown. Read more here about the many benefits of SISS training.
Sub Maximal Interval Training (SIIT) is what most training programs are missing. SIIT programs could be considered as wellness based movement, and replicate light intensity movements we use in daily life, movement preparation, mobility, fascial fitness and recovery drills. Implementing a SIIT program will help combat prolonged sitting with nourishing movements at a low intensity, as well as optimising recovery and allowing the benefits of your other training to multiply. A perfect example is what you will find with our Move It or Lose it program or our De-Stress, De-Fuzz class.
So how do you know which type of training is best for you?
Have a look at the above chart, and look for what your program is missing! The one quadrant that is most undervalued and under utilised for most people is the SIIT category. It's the one that most people don't want to pay for because it's not as glamorous, or they don't yet see the value in it, and often don't get around to performing at home. Just have a look at the benefits for that quadrant to see how important it is for quality of life, and to compliment all the other training systems. Including more sum maximal intensity work into your life will instantly make you feel good, and long term will mean you can keep training all the other ways for longer, with a healthier, more capable body.
It also depends on how you feel each day before you train. While you may plan to have a SITT of HIIT session one day, you may not be best suited to perform it if stress is high, or if sleep, nutrition, hydration are inadequate, or if emotional stress is high. It's about training smarter and not harder. We use the daily readiness scale to determine how hard our members should train on a given day, and then monitor responsiveness to intensity with heart rate monitors to accelerate results.
When you incorporate more variety in your training, you build a more resilient body that can achieve better results all round!