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Physical Therapy | Personal Training

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Benefits, Risks, and Whole-Body Wellness

May 17th, 2024 | 5 min. read

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Benefits, Risks, and Whole-Body Wellness
Katie Fadler

Katie Fadler

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // EW Motion Therapy Trussville // EW Motion Therapy Meadowbrook

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High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become a popular fitness trend among individuals looking for effective, efficient workouts. Known for its vigorous activity bursts interspersed with short recovery periods, HIIT is praised for its numerous health benefits and time-saving format. However, just like any exercise program, it is vital to approach it with caution to reduce the risk of injury. A physical therapist can be an excellent ally to improve mobility and help with specific HIIT movements - we love helping our HIIT lovers at EW Motion Therapy do this every day. You can read this article to explore what HIIT involves, what you might expect from a class, its primary benefits, potential risks, and how physical therapy can enhance your HIIT experience and overall wellness. 


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What is high-intensity interval training (HIIT)?

HIIT is a cardiovascular exercise strategy that alternates short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods. Workouts consist of a higher-intensity cardio aspect (biking, running, jumping rope, etc.) and a more low-intensity strength aspect (deadlifts, squats, overhead presses, etc.). Typically, these intervals last from a few seconds to several minutes, pushing participants close to their maximum heart rate threshold to maximize the workout's effectiveness. 


The structure of a HIIT session

A typical HIIT session includes a warm-up period, followed by several repetitions of high-intensity exercises, such as sprinting, jumping, or other plyometric exercises, and finished with a cool-down phase. The appeal of HIIT lies in its versatility—exercises can be modified to suit all ages and fitness levels, and you can do a HIIT workout anywhere, from gyms to the comfort of your home, without specialized equipment. It’s the best of both worlds: you improve cardio endurance while simultaneously strengthening.


The primary benefits of HIIT

Integrating HIIT into your fitness regimen can offer substantial health benefits, crucial for enhancing quality of life and physical fitness.


Improved cardiovascular health

One of the most significant benefits of HIIT is its ability to improve heart health. It not only strengthens the heart but also helps in reducing blood pressure and improving overall cardiovascular endurance. This is achieved through the repetitive stress and recovery that the heart undergoes during the high and low-intensity phases, respectively.


Enhanced metabolic rate

HIIT stimulates a higher metabolic rate which can last for hours after the workout. This phenomenon, often referred to as the 'afterburn effect,' means that your body continues to burn calories at a higher rate even after the training session has ended. For those looking to lose weight or improve metabolic health, HIIT can be particularly beneficial.


Time efficiency

In today's busy world, finding time to exercise can be a challenge. HIIT is an ideal solution for those short on time but still looking to improve their fitness. Sessions can be as short as 21-27 minutes and still offer more benefits than longer, steady-state cardio sessions, burning more calories in a shorter amount of time.


Potential risks associated with HIIT

While HIIT is effective and can be modified for everyone wanting to try it, it's important to approach it with caution to minimize the risk of injury. The high-impact nature of many HIIT exercises can increase the risk of injuries such as sprains, strains, and stress fractures, especially if performed with improper form or without adequate warm-up. HIIT workouts can contain complex weightlifting movements, such as power cleans or snatches. Attempting these movements with improper form or too heavy weight can lead to injury. This risk is why it is so important to have a good coach who is willing to watch your form and correct anything they see.


How physical therapy can enhance HIIT and overall wellness


Preventing and managing injuries

Physical therapists can design personalized exercise programs that align with your fitness levels and goals, significantly reducing the risk of injuries. They can teach proper exercise techniques and body mechanics to use during HIIT sessions, ensuring that each session is as safe as possible. Additionally, physical therapists can give you one-on-one attention with those specific movements that you may have trouble with or feel like you don’t have good form with. For example, if you have trouble with power cleans, a physical therapist can break down that movement and work with you on the different parts of the movement to improve your overall form.


Promoting recovery

Physical therapists understand the importance of recovery in any exercise regimen. They can offer strategies and treatments such as massage, stretches, and other modalities to help the body recover quicker and more effectively, enabling you to perform at your best in your next HIIT session. Your therapist will assess how you move and make sure you are moving as effectively and efficiently as possible. This way, you can lift heavier and move faster throughout your workouts without injuring yourself. 


Encouraging whole-body wellness

Physical therapy goes beyond addressing specific injuries or ailments; it encourages an overall healthier lifestyle. Therapists can provide education on nutrition, sleep, stress management, and injury prevention, all of which are crucial for holistic health and improving performance in HIIT sessions.


HIIT offers a compelling blend of efficiency and effectiveness for those looking to enhance their physical health in a time-constrained world. However, like any exercise program, it carries potential risks that can be mitigated with proper guidance and support from fitness and health professionals, including physical therapists. By incorporating physical therapy into your HIIT routine, you can enjoy the full benefits of this dynamic exercise method while promoting safety, preventing injury, and encouraging a comprehensive approach to health and wellness. If you want a more personalized approach to fitness than a HIIT class, our personal training at EW Motion Therapy might be an excellent option for you. If you want to learn more, click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently asked questions about personal training.


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