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Time to HIIT it?

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By Crabby McSlacker

In the last few years, you’ve probably heard the same unwelcome advice quite a few times: for optimal health, you should be adding some High Intensity Interval Training to your weekly routine.

But all too often, nutrition and exercise research gets overhyped and exaggerated. Just let enough time pass, and other studies can come along to soften or even reverse recommendations that all the excited “experts” were so adamant about.

In the case of something as odious as High Intensity Interval Training? It makes a lot of sense if you’ve been waiting to be absolutely sure it has merit before jumping on the bandwagon. Especially since you’re supposed to be jumping on that bandwagon with such speed and vigor that you may faint, vomit, or burst into tears before you’re done.

And what if you’re middle aged or older? You may be thinking: don’t I get a pass? Hell, I should be getting extra credit for doing any sort of exercise at all, given how sedentary everyone else my age is. Surely I’m not expected to be sprinting up hills, busting out burpees, or pedaling all out on a spin bike until I’m struggling for breath so mightily I can’t even toss out a few choice obscentities?

Well, a new study has a little more information to add to the discussion. And of course I have some thoughts to contribute too, since I always have thoughts about everything whether I know what I’m talking about or not.

High Intensity Exercise: New Study Says Older Folks Should Torture Themselves Too

Sorry, but the research keeps rolling in with more and more health benefits you can get by cranking things up full throttle for short bouts of extreme torture.

A recent study had more good news about HIIT. According to a write-up in the Globe and Mail, researchers found it “puts the brakes on important markers of aging at the cellular level.”

Cool, huh?

The study followed sedentary volunteers doing HIIT workouts for 12 weeks.

In the HIIT group, the younger participants between 18 and 30 saw a 49-per-cent boost in their mitochondrial capacity. But even better: the 65- to 80-year-old group saw an increase of 69 per cent.

Of course the reason the old farts gained so much more was because their mitochondria’s energy production totally sucked before the study, according to researchers, though that’s not quite the way they phrased it.

Mitochondria, you may recall, are “the energy powerhouses” in our cells, like “tiny digestive systems, converting nutrients from food into the main energy source for most of a cell’s functions.” So according to the researchers, these sort of mitochodrial gains could affect a person’s longevity.

Also, HIIT appears to increase endurance capacity. And why do we care about that?  “The higher your endurance capacity, the lower your mortality – in diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension.”

There are tons of other health benefits that come with high intensity intervals as well. Better blood glucose control, higher VO2 Max, boosting your metabolism, fat loss, muscle growth, etc. Plus, these workouts are way quicker than most other workouts, which helps with the whole “having enough time” barrier to exercise.

Here are a few more Highly Intense links for those who are curious:

Mayo clinic clinical updates on HIIT


ACE Fitness on HIIT

So What’s the Catch?

Well, if you listen to some of the mainstream news reports on High Intensity Interval Training, there’s no catch at all!

I saw at least two news stories on this in which enthusiastic fitness professionals were talking about how simple and even “fun” HIIT workouts could be, how much people love them. One fitness dude on an ABC news segment did a couple of grinning lunges and assured people that if they just mix in a little cardio and body weight resistance together, they could go at their own pace get a great HIIT workout.

I’m sorry, but unless you’re concurrently ingesting PCP, I don’t think anyone’s “own pace” conforms to the demands of HIIT.

He then showed the audience an example of what looked like basic aerobic exercise, not HIIT.

And sure, if you’re old and out of shape, what’s considered High Intensity is relative, and it’s a lot less demanding than what an elite athlete would do. But the point is that even relatively, it should be DIFFICULT. Once the novelty wears off, people who are not masochistically inclined do not find repeated bouts of high intensity exercise to be pleasant.

Here’s an elucidating quote from an interview in Science News with Charlotte Jelleyman, a more sensible exercise physiologist at the University of Leicester in England. “It should feel hard. For people who are more used to it, it can be all out. Your legs hurt, your lungs hurt, you absolutely cannot go on anymore once you’re finished,” she explains.

So yeah, that’s a pretty serious downside. It is not the job of Cranky Fitness to soft-pedal harsh truths: You should do HIIT because it’s really good for you, but it’s not “fun” and you’re not gonna love it.

Three Tips on HIIT From A Whiny Middle-Aged Layabout Who Thinks if She Can Do It, You Can Too

Note: at this point we’re going to abandon the Land of Science for the much more subjective and possibly mistaken impressions of one opinionated exerciser.

1.  Unless You Absolutely Love it, Don’t Make Yourself Do it More than Once or Twice a Week.

2.  Remind Yourself Constantly Of the Amazing Health Benefits and How BadAss You Are for Pushing Yourself So Impressively Hard

3. Mix Up Setting, Timing, and Exercises

This “setting” one was the reason I had intervals on my mind.

We are fortunate enough to live in a beach town, and recently moved from the west end to the east end. This, alas, takes us farther away from the gym, and I find myself driving some of the time instead of walking or biking.  But on the plus side, we’re now closer to the beach (perhaps the subject of a future exercise post). And we are closer to a beautiful trail winding through some rather daunting…

Sand dunes!

Okay yeah, I was playing with the camera settings. It’s pretty there.

But my point is more like:

A camera can’t really capture steepness, but holy hell, take my word for it. Running uphill in soft sand, then down, then up, then down… it’s a perfectly hideous horrible excruciating wonderful way to get an interval workout.

Note: “Running” uphill in sand actually ends up looking a lot like forward-tilted walking with your arms flailing, but screw that. Even if you can’t always get enough foot-loft for it technically to be running, you know damn well it is.

But if you have no handy sand dunes, there are plenty of other types of exercises that will do the trick. Just google.

Some timing options to play with? There are tons. Try the speedy Tabata option, or the 10-20-30 interval protocal, or even the Cranky Fitness regimen, a flexible way to get that S.H.I.I.T. done. Or again, just google, or invent your own.

Do you guys do anything High Intensity? Or No Way in Hell?

About Yury Zvyagolskiy

Yury Zvyagolskiy
In almost all American movies there is a bad guy who is usually Russian and his name is Yury. If the bad guy is not from Russia, his last name usually starts with Z. So here I am - Yury Z. My specialty is personal effectiveness. I am an expert in goal achievement, personal effectiveness, relationships and effective thinking.

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