May 22, 2017

Time to HIIT it?

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?


  1. Ha ha! Thanks for the reminder of that SHIIT post. I don't HIIT right now, mostly because I just haven't really found a good way to reliably get it into my schedule in a way that I stay with it. (I do best with group classes, tbh) Right now it's just inertia keeping me from it, because while it's hard work, I always feel good about it.

    1. You'll get back to it I bet OTF, and yeah, it sounds like a group class might be the way to go for you when you find one that works out. Always a challenge!

  2. Yeah, I saw that too. Groan! Here we go, I guess? What about my 52 year old husband? Terrified of those steep rises in BP for the middle aged dudes.

    1. What is it with the 50's and BP's getting so hard to control? Many gals too. (I'm now on Lisinopril even WITH the intervals). But it's encouraging to read that even 80 year old sedentary people can do them. Though I'm guessing the usual warnings about consulting a doctor and maybe have a trainer supervise at the start for safety. Thanks Larkspur!

  3. Ugh, I do not do HIIT but I should. Thanks for nothing, Crabby! Just kidding...I appreciate that you take the time to read these studies because god knows I don't have the patience for them.

    1. I know, right Shelley? "Thanks for nothing" is how I feel everytime someone gives me information I know is valuable but I don't particularly care for. Were are the goddamn studies saying chocolate cake with buttercream frosting is a longevity booster? Sheesh.

  4. I don't do HIIT, but that's because I don't have an Exercise Regimen. I just go to work, where I'm on my feet moving around all day and sometimes need to move really fast, or lift heavy things, and go for walks in the real world, which involves up and down hills (since that's where I live) and where I'm inclined to vary my pace a lot just because. I'm old (ish) but not out of shape, and I don't intend to torture myself more than necessary.

    1. Solarity, you are doing SO much more than most people, and having an active job really puts you in a different category than most of us who sit on our asses most of the day. Plus, if you're doing hills and varying pace, I'd say you're good!

    2. As I try and try to find some kind of work to do at home, I realize more and more that I could not STAND to sit at a desk all day. (Or stand at one, either. ;) )
      When my left foot problem led to shin splints in the right leg, my Nurse Practitioner gave me exercises (which seem to have helped, sort of, but getting more cushiony shoes to help the left foot helped more) and told me to do them "before exercising." I said, "You mean at the beginning of the day?" I had told her my job was active already, but then I told her to think of my day as if I were an ER nurse. That's about how often I stand still. She looked as though she got it, then.

  5. I am ALL about the HIIT. Specifically - I am totally fangirling on Tony Horton's 22 Minute Hard Corps (80+ burpees in 22 minutes mixed in with 5 other exercises) and Shaun T's Insanity Max 30 (When I did the first one I maxed out 30 seconds after the warm up. WHAT). I mix these in between my running workouts because a) they totally kick my @$$ in a short period of time (so great on days where I don't have an hour to run 5 miles), and b) they add a great deal of strength and muscle toning into my routine that I normally beg off.

    I know some folks hate it, but I sprung for the All Access Beachbody on Demand account and it is some of the best exercise allotted money I've spent. (Second only to my treadmill.) I can take the workouts anywhere and there are so many that don't require any equipment. Perfect for my traveling life.

    That SHIIT post holds it's own over time, doesn't it.

    1. I love it that you're so hardcore! I keep hearing about the beachbody stuff and I have to confess I've turned down review opportunities because it sounds so hard and I'm afraid I wouldn't want to finish it out. But an all-access channel sounds like a great idea!

    2. Some of it IS crazy hard. But they really have all levels, all time commitments, and all styles. You can go from a country line-dance style to yoga to major weight lifting to Brazilian dance. They have 10 minute work outs up to hour+. It really does have something for everyone. (Note: I don't do their shakes/supplements. I don't want to sign up as a coach just to get the discount and without that it's way way way too expensive.) If they're courting you, go for it! :)

    3. I have Beach Body On Demand, and I like some of their programs (I lean toward the weight lifting stuff). The nice thing is that they have a lot of variety, and you can try a workout or two instead of buying a whole set of DVDs and finding out you don't like the program (which has definitely happened to me in the past). I tried very hard to like their Shakeology, because I like the idea of it, but I finally gave in to the fact that I just don't like it...

  6. Since my (minor) injury, i've been "holding off on anything too strenuous" and it's starting to show. Glad you see you included your own SHIIT method here, i need to revisit that and glean some inspiration.

    1. Sorry you're sidelined messymimi but it makes sense to take care of injuries! You're smarter than I am, I've really made things worse a bunch of times by not resting an injury. Hope it heals quick!

    2. It's especially hard when you don't feel the effects of overdoing until a day or so afterwards.

      Mary Anne in Kentucky

  7. I did some limited work with a physical trainer a few years ago, and he introduced me to Tabata workouts, which I only later learned or realized were a variant of HIIT. I'm glad I got into it via that route, because the music makes all the difference. I find that the right music instills a sense of urgency which translates into pushing more, and actually makes the workout more emotionally interesting, if not outright enjoyable. You can do it with any exercise that you're already comfortable doing, as demonstrated in this video:

    The guy with the sledge hammer and the tire never fails to crack me up. As for this next one, this women are obviously tough, but I wonder if they over-reached a bit.

    The big thing is that Tabata music can really move you along, and it's been done in every conceivable style, so you can find a type that you like if you listen to enough samples. I highly recommend it not only as a way to get some HIIT, but also to just shake up your routine.

    When I started, I found it challenging to keep up, especially with having to change exercises quite regularly throughout. There's a certain amount of choreography to make it flow in the time intervals and breaks that you have. Once I mastered the timing, however, I found it wasn't long before I was beginning to enjoy feeling a bit beastly while doing it. I find the music so motivating that I sometimes play it for background while doing my regular exercise (not following the timing format) because I just like it that much.

    I'd say it's definitely worth a try, just to see.

    1. Thanks Lindy! Didn't know this existed but since like you, I absolutely require music, the idea of having it serve as an interval timer too is pretty cool. The trick is though finding music that doesn't grate, and everyone is so different! (Neither of those songs did it for me, but I'm sure they would be great for others). Will have to check it out a little more!

    2. Thanks for the links Lindy! I've been doing Insanity Max 30 and 2 of my favorite workouts are Tabata based. I'll have to look into this some more!

  8. I confess: I don't want to do it! I am in the camp of: find some form of exercise you enjoy so that you will do it...And I don't enjoy exercise that makes me feel like I am going to die. :)

    I do miss Zumba for that though; it may not have been technically HIIT, but we tended to alternate between harder/faster and slower more easy going. And that was a lot of fun, until it started causing problems with my feet.

  9. No High Intensity here unless you count altitude as high in which case my mountain hikes are as intense as I care to get. I am slow and I take frequent breaks. One does as one can.

  10. I have one bone on bone knee and one that is headed that way. I would be scared to death to do HIIT training! (I am nearly 63)

  11. I have a full time office job and two toddlers so I have very little time to do something for myself. So I decided to join one of those over priced work out studios where you go in and they tell you what to do and i end up having the best one hour hiit workout I could possibly have. It works for me because it's close to home and the guilt of paying so much money keeps me going regularly. And it's a really really good workout. I am probably at my strongest and healthiest from a cardio perspective than I've ever been. Maybe this strategy will work for other readers.

  12. I am definitely jealous of your beach. It's so refreshing to read a blogger being honest and admitting that fitness is not fun for everyone, too! I do HIIT once a week, but I definitely don't push myself hard enough based on what you've said here. I guess I've got work to do!

  13. HIIT IS FRIGGIN' GREAT .... FOR HEALTH. DO I do it?! Well, sure... If I get those boosts of energy, but it's very random, I don't even PLAN these HIIT work outs. I do enough cardio that at times I tell HIIT to just SUCKKKK IT!

  14. I want to try slow motion, high intensity weight lifting - not sure it's the same thing, but it's super painful for just 20 minutes, twice a week.

  15. I LOVE Tabatas, but haven't found a place to fit it into my routine now that I work a "real" job" :-( I have recently felt the absence of this kind of workout, both in an unwelcome 10 pounds and a creeping loss of overall strength. I need to bite the bullet and make it happen, though, because it's not going to get any easier, right? And good on you for taking on those sand dunes - that is a killer workout!

  16. Hi,
    I am doing a school project and you helped me a lot! I love HIIT workouts and do a lot of fast running and drills during my high school sport practice. I enjoy them because I feel great after! thanks again!

  17. The only high intensity workout I do now is running and rowing. I've tried something called Insanity before but it was just too much - they expected me to train six days a week and it was very high intensity. It just wanted realistic enough for me.

  18. I always HIIT it. It's the only kind of exercise that works for me really. I do other forms of exercise for fun but I don't get anywhere near as much out of it as HIIT.


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