High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is something of a buzzword at the moment – and rightly so. Highly popular* and results driven, the American College of Sports Medicine states that the benefits of HIIT include increased aerobic and anaerobic fitness, lowered blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health and insulin profiles, and a reduction in abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass. And with new workouts and studios launching with increasing regularity, HIIT appears to be a trend that is still very much on the rise.
However, with many HIIT sessions offering not just a high-intensity but also a high-impact workout, there is a growing need within the industry for alternative, lower-impact options, as a means of providing suitable classes for clients of all fitness levels. It is also important to offer recovery-style classes that can be interspersed with HIIT, to include more variety, reduce injury risk and even add longevity to your career as a personal trainer or instructor, due to the fact your body will be subjected to fewer stress-inducing workouts.
‘If you’ve done a HIIT workout properly then your muscles will be ripped to shreds, so recovery is absolutely crucial,’ advises James Winfield, sports scientist, personal trainer and founder of ReboundUK.
‘You really can have too much of a good thing. If you over train and find you plateau or burn out with your HIIT sessions, this is a sure sign you need to switch it up, find an alternative high-intensity exercise, or intersperse with some other styles of workout.’
University of British Columbia state that ‘high-intensity “sprint training” may be gaining popularity at gyms, but if you are new to this form of exercise, the workout could do more harm than good. A study has found signs of stress in the muscle tissues of their non-athlete, untrained subjects after ultra-intense leg and arm cycling exercises. Perhaps more concerning, researchers reported the untrained subjects had a weakened ability to fight off free radicals, molecules that can alter DNA and harm healthy cells.’
‘Our study raises questions about what the right dose and intensity of exercise for the average person really is,’ said Robert Boushel, the study's senior author and director of the University of British Columbia's School of Kinesiology. ‘We need to be cautious about supporting sprint training in the general population.’
The study was carried out on a dozen male volunteers in Sweden, all of whom were in good health but self-identified as untrained or only moderately active. The men participated in high-intensity training over the course of two weeks that involved repeated 30-second all-out sprints, followed by rest periods.
On the flip side, then, it appears HIIT can place a huge strain on the body, especially for those clients are out of condition to begin with, or those who rarely mix up their HIIT sessions with other activities and workouts.
‘There are a lot of people out there who love HIIT training, and that’s great,’ says Winfield. ‘I just think for deconditioned people, or for people that are coming to HIIT for the first time, that's where the risk lies. Those who are new to HIIT should ideally work one-to-one with a specialist trainer at first, in order to minimise injury risk. Obviously, if you have got a trained athlete or a younger client who perhaps has been doing that type of activity for a long time, there's no reason why they shouldn't do more of it. It can't be one size fits all. Everybody is different, and therefore like a lot of training methods, the frequency in which you perform HIIT needs to be tailored to each person individually for optimum to results. Conditioned athletes and individuals may be able perform HIIT more frequently and recover faster than de-conditioned individuals.’
It’s clear that lower-impact activities are necessary, in order to offer an alternative, as well as allowing the body time to heal and adapt to the training load. But how can you provide this while still offering a fun, high-energy workout both you and your clients will love?
Intensity minus impact
Enter the new power combo: low-impact HIIT – an alternative class offering all the benefits of HIIT minus the associated injury risk.
‘It's low impact but high intensity,’ says Winfield. ‘What I like about it is the fact you can work equally hard with the same intervals at the same types of intensities.’
Low-impact exercise is anything that does not require you to place one of your limbs in contact with a hard surface at high velocity and force, resulting in decreased damage to joints and yet still offering great results when it comes to weight loss and increased fitness. That said, it is important to note that low impact exercise does not generally improve bone density, as it is not weight-bearing, so a variety of high and low impact exercise is recommended for anyone looking to reduce their risk of osteoporosis and build bone strength. However, exercise like Rebounding can strengthen bones without being high impact exercise, as Rebounding offers some cushioning and resistance.
With many low-impact activities suitable for adaptation into HIIT-style workouts, including swimming, cycling, spinning, rebound and cross-trainer sessions, it is all about keeping the heart rate up with bursts of high-intensity, to maintain the same result as more traditional higher impact HIIT classes and workouts.
‘As personal trainers, it’s vital that we educate clients on the array of workouts available – those that are high intensity and fun too!’ reminds Winfield. ‘The new LIIT/HIIT power combo idea in a form that’s still weight bearing offers the same buzz and the same end results.
‘LIIT/HIIT is taught with the same principles of HIIT, so individuals get the same “fix”, but it’s a perfect alternative as it’s lower impact, which means it’s kinder on the body, preserving joints and soft tissues. For example, rebounding – working out on a well-sprung, high-quality mini trampoline – is such an activity perfectly suited to this style of training.’
Good for business
Including LIIT/HIIT into your training repertoire is not only ideal for clients – it also offers you, the personal trainer, an opportunity to become a more well-rounded fitness role model and the chance to increase the longevity of your own career.
‘Personal trainers are responsible for running their own business,’ says Winfield. ‘They are effectively the product, so first and foremost they need to be injury free themselves. They also have to think about the best and most sustainable ways of keeping themselves in shape and injury free. In my career, I’ve seen many PTs forced to give up in their 40s. Personal training is often referred to as a “young person’s game”. There is no other reason for this than the fact instructors and PTs burn out and get chronic injuries. If instructors include lower-impact HIIT training into their own workouts and classes, this could well prolong their teaching careers.’
As an industry, it is therefore vital that we explore ways to best look after our instructors and personal trainers in an attempt to safeguard the longevity of their careers. Providing first-class education – in the form of instructor training days and resources – on how to teach low-impact, weight-bearing options that are kind on joints while also offering the health and enjoyment benefits of HIIT is the first step towards ensuring a sustainable career path for future generations.
Short yet effective
It is no coincidence that the rise in popularity in HIIT classes has coincided with our modern-day, “always-on” lifestyles. The demand for short yet effective workouts has never been more prevalent, in an age where we all feel increasingly busy and, therefore, time poor.
Because of this, it is important for trainers and instructors to move with the times and be able to offer lower-impact exercises and classes in the same format as HIIT classes – short, intense and highly results driven. After all, these days few clients have the time to spend a leisurely hour in the pool or on the stationary bike. Lower-impact classes and workouts need to be adapted to fit into our busy lifestyles, with LIIT/HIIT offered as short lunchtime or after-work classes… and even home workouts.
In accordance with this, there is now a wealth of online information to help both personal trainers and clients get the most out of these new low-impact, high-intensity workouts, with online portals providing instructors with libraries of low-impact workouts, choreography and business advice. And these resources are also available to the consumer, making low-impact, high-intensity sessions safely available as home workouts, for clients to perform in their own time, whenever they choose.
‘Many sought-after and noted fitness professionals and companies are already offering online versions of their training services,’ says Winfield. ‘This is great for the consumer, because it provides instant access to highly skilled coaches and workouts from all over the world.’
But is this necessarily a good thing?
‘Online training platforms do work,’ Winfield continues. ‘I've seen the results with people. They’re especially good for business professionals and those who travel, who need access to workouts and nutritional information while away. It’s also the way a lot of the industry is going, with a high demand for fitness workouts and online portals providing all the information for instructors, in particular, who need that constant development. And a lot of personal trainers are now doing online instruction with their clients, which is great.’
The good news, according to Winfield, is that these online portals only add to, rather than take away from, personal training businesses. ‘Online is not for everyone,’ he says. ‘Some people still prefer the personal touch of physical coaching requiring extra motivation delivered in the right way for them. Others use a combination of both.’
Best of both worlds
As personal trainers and instructors, it is important to be able to offer a range of activities for clients, to ensure their (and your) continued fitness and wellbeing for years to come. And delivering a wider range of on-trend, energetic and fun exercises will not only be ensuring the health of yourself and your client, but also of your business.
‘As instructors, we have a responsibility to research the other types of training out there, so you can keep yourself and clients in the best shape possible,’ concludes Winfield. ‘And the combination of low-impact but high-intensity training is a really fantastic discipline to add to your training sessions.’
To find out more information about ReboundUK’s Bounce & Burn Instructor Membership, which includes new HIIT/LIIT Power Combo Workouts, please visit www.rebound-uk.com.
*(ranking Number One in ACSM’s Worldwide Survey Of Fitness Trends in 2014)