As a Personal Trainer, I have often heard that HIIT exercise is bad on the back, knees and elbows. I wanted to answer this question once and for all on this blog. In my opinion, HIIT can be very safe, but it really depends what principles you are following, what exercises you are doing, your current fitness level among other factors. I will start by giving a bit of a background to HIIT and seek to address each factor in this blog.
Who started HIIT?
HIIT is based on an experiment done by Dr Izumi Tabata in 1996 who compared two groups. One group did continuous training exercise on a bike and treadmill, and the other group did bursts of all-out intensity workouts. This experiment was done for 6 weeks and it was discovered at the end of the experiment that the HIIT group had more weight loss, and other benefits compared to the continuous training group. It has since been adapted for more general audiences. If you want to find out about the benefits of HIIT, have a read of my blog on why HIIT works.
Warming up correctly
Some like to start their HIIT workout with some fast movements to get the heart rate up. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that you send a fast signal to your body that it needs to get ready for some intensive exercise. The bad side to this is that it can be very hard for your joints. It is usually best to start your exercise routine with mobility exercises that get your synovial fluid more viscous.
What makes up your joints and knees
As you age, the cartilage in your knees and joints begins to degenerate and forms tiny crevices which can cause inflammation and further erode the cartilage causing pain. The role of the synovial capsule is to provide a water tight sac around the joint, keeping the cartilage hydrated and supplied with nutrients. This keeps the cartilage healthy
Your joints are made up of synovial fluid which works like engine oil for your car. The engine oil keeps the moving parts and protects them from excessive wear. Without this vital ingredient in the mechanics of your body, you will very quickly wear out your moving parts. Just like the engine of the car, you will need to warm up your car to make sure the oil is fluid and not too solid so it can work better. It is the same with your joints. They have this clear liquid called Synovial fluid which needs to be warmed up before you get into serious high impact movement.
Time of day
For the best results and to avoid injury, it is usually best to do your bodyweight exercises first thing in the morning. This will help you burn the most amount of fat, and get your mind in a peak state for the day. If you choose to exercise in the afternoon or evening, this has its advantages too. You won’t need to spend so much time warming up because your body will already be warm. This can then mean you get a more cardiovascular exercise throughout the time you are exercising. Your exercise programme will need to be adjusted to suit your current lifestyle and daily habits.
Types of Exercises
There are so many different types of exercises you can engage in, but you should ensure you include some key elements because these are the foundation of functional strength. Some examples of basic exercises used for HIIT are as follows:
The Plank has been said by many to be the ultimate core exercise, and I couldn’t agree more. There are so many variations you can adopt which can really make you work the whole body
This is a functional strength movement which translates into everyday movement. You are squatting all day and you don’t realise it. The key here is to ensure you are doing it correctly.
This is a lower body movement which requires you to use your quadriceps, and hamstrings and challenges your balance too. The exercise requires you to go down on one knee and then repeat the process with the other leg. This is a great exercise if you want to build strength and endurance.
This is a great upper body exercises which works your chest, shoulders, arms, core and back.
Varying your Plane of Motion
Moving front and back, side to side and in a twisting motion is essential to having any success in your exercise regime. Your body soon becomes accustomed to moving a certain way and gets stronger or weaker depending on the stress placed on it. It is important to ensure that you are moving in different directions to prevent muscular imbalance. They key here is to keep varying your movements so you don’t overuse your joints in one particular range of motion.
The importance of stretching
HIIT or any exercise approach can be bad for your joints if you don’t stretch adequately after your workout. Yoga has been very popular amongst runners because as you exercise, your muscles become tighter, placing stress on your joints. The job of a stretching routine will be to protect those joints and muscles by making them looser and more supple. This will come in handy if you move in an unexpected way, such as a trip or a sudden jolt in a car. I have known of people who have sprained muscles just by kicking something while walking.
Your muscles and tendons need to be flexible enough to move in the way it was designed to move. Without this flexibility, you are likely to have improper mechanics which can lead to injury. The key is not to avoid the movements because you will have to move in that way anyway in your daily life. if you don’t use these movement patterns you will sacrifice a lot of mobility which can really affect you in later life. it is not about finding ways to avoid these movements but rather train your body to move well.
It is generally not a good idea to start your car in it’s highest possible gear. You can’t do this with a car, but you can certainly do it with your body, but not without paying a dear price for it. That price could be the health of your knees and back. It is generally a good idea to do high impact exercises like jump squats and burpees toward the end of your workout
HIIT can be actually good for your joints, it just depends on your approach, and above all your preparation for the activity you are about to take on. However, if you play it too safe, there is a danger that you may lose interest due to boredom. Make sure you keep things interesting, and you will be moving in the right direction to optimal health. Compared to running, HIIT is a lot better because you generally avoid moving in one plane, and rather focus on multiple planes of movement.