Health and fitness is always trending in one way or another - and the direction it trends in largely depends on the media, and the people who take part in the public eye.
In the past year, there is no doubt that the fitness field has taken a hit.
With gyms being closed for extended periods or operating with time limits and lower capacity levels, so too very likely, has your physical fitness and mental health.
At-home workouts have been the primary outlet for most, but this has also been a challenge due to the apparent lack of available equipment - or the most beneficial equipment, anyway.
The biggest trend of late has been indoor cycling - largely Peloton, with other variations of follow-along workouts using large pieces of cardio equipment and motivational videos/music.
Before I say anything else, I want people to know that as a health professional, I would never bash anyone’s choice to try any type of physical activity.
In fact, I’d applaud them.
If it makes them feel good, helps relieve the stress of an uncertain world, and improves their health in any way, I’m happy for them.
But has anyone stopped to wonder why these massive companies can’t make dumbbells fast enough to keep in stock, yet they are pumping out $2000 bikes with attached virtual reality like there is no tomorrow?
Could it be that maybe, just maybe, they are making you believe that it’s the best option?
The only option?
I’m here to tell you it’s not your only choice, and it’s definitely not the best.
Health and fitness should be about learning new skills, developing different movement patterns, increasing strength and endurance, and creating short-term goals that can turn into long-term ones - the ones that constantly challenge you to become a better version of yourself.
So, if you know how to ride a bike - stop doing it inside.
Or at the very least, make it a PART of your fitness routine, and not the entirety of it.
Because high-intensity interval training (HIIT) isn’t what you think it is, and trying to do it is likely causing you more harm than good.
What Exactly is HIIT and How Does it Work?
Most people are under the assumption that HIIT is superior because it “burns more calories” during and after a workout. While there is some evidence to support this, it’s nowhere near as simple as that.
HIIT has been misrepresented for years by the mainstream media as a magic pill that will help shed fat and maintain muscle mass - when it isn’t.
It’s been marketed as “time-efficient” so you could likely find time to do it almost every day - when you shouldn’t.
It’s been demonstrated by “online fitness coaches” as doing an exercise for 20-30s, resting for 10-20s and repeating - when it’s not.
This idea gets skewed for 3 major reasons:
1. "We are going to do 20s of work with 10s rest in between!"
Interval training is more complicated than just listening to a timer (or an instructor) telling you when to start and stop - it’s more related to your current fitness level and how your body is responding while you are exercising (ex. Heart rate levels, recovery time, oxygen consumption)
2. "Athletes do HIIT and they are jacked!"
Real HIIT isn’t sustainable even for elite athletes, which is why they do it periodically, and not all year round. When you start at your maximum effort level, it’s impossible to progress - so there is nowhere to go except a plateau, and eventually, back down the hill.
Also - athletes lift weights, and THAT'S why they jacked.
3. "When you do HIIT, you burn more calories is less time!"
Thats not the point! Too many people attempt HIIT for the wrong reasons. Athletes use interval training to gradually teach their body to perform at a higher effort level in order to prepare for an upcoming season or event. The people who perform HIIT properly likely don’t give a sh*t how many calories they burned - just how hard they we able to work.
It’s usually difficult for people to comprehend without some sort of visual, so I provided a sample training week using my Polar Fitness H10 Heart Rate Monitor.
If there is one thing you should know about me as a trainer, is that I don’t care too much about calories burned as a marker of exercise quality.
In fact, I’d rank it near the bottom of things that I look for in a kick-ass workout.
There are plenty of activities that burn a lot of calories - that doesn’t mean doing them excessively is a good thing.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s take a look at it - along with heart rate and active time.
The first thing you might notice is that walking for an hour is roughly equivalent to riding an indoor bike for 45 minutes.
Because your metabolism doesn’t just shut off when you’re not exercising, which seems to be what a lot of people think.
Getting outside for a walk has way more health benefits than just burning calories - with active recovery and elevated mood being a couple of the major ones. The same can’t be said for always training inside. Fresh air (no matter how warm or cold) is good for the body and the mind.
The second thing I want you to look at is the “peaks” and “valleys” of my strength training session - one that was completed with minimal equipment and plenty of bodyweight-based exercises.
THIS is what actual interval training looks like - periodically increasing the heart rate to 80-90% of the heart maximum, and then allowing it to return to 60-70% before repeating again.
This is very taxing on the body, which is why it isn’t advised to do every day.
If the average person looked at their heart rate response during a
spin class, you’d likely see the heart rate spike to 80-90% and stay there for the duration of class. While you might burn a lot of calories and increase cardiac output, you didn't really accomplish much of anything else.
In fact, most people tend to do too much.
They have no idea what their workout capacity is, so they constantly surpass it. This is detrimental to strength and endurance progress, no matter what your goal is, or how many people tell you that it's the best way to exercise.
The last thing I want you to look at is that strength training burns way more calories than walking and biking.
Again, not that I care about that.