With the surging popularity of specialty gyms like F45 and Orangetheory, the HIIT style of training has never been more popular. The promise of being able to get in a heart-pounding, sweat-inducing, full-body workout in under an hour comes as a boon to many, especially busy professionals who are looking to squeeze in a quick sweat sesh during their lunch break. Yet as far as general fitness is concerned, is HIIT to be seen as the veritable silver bullet?
Putting everything out there – no one is disputing the effectiveness of high-intensity interval training. Both clinical and empirical data have made it abundantly clear that HIIT works as both a form of anaerobic and aerobic training, which translate to better health and conditioning. The question at hand however, is whether performing HIIT is enough to foot the bill when it comes to general fitness?
There are many aspects to fitness – strength, speed, agility and power are perhaps the first few that come to mind. While the battle lines do end up getting a bit blurred when we apply sport into the mix, we can safely assume that general fitness demands equal focus (more or less) from all four categories.
Will HIIT workouts allow an individual to become stronger, faster, more agile and more powerful? This is not the easiest question to answer, due to the fact that while HIIT workouts are pretty much uniform in terms of modality, the permutations are endless. HIIT sessions that focus on bodyweight movements can get a person stronger up to a certain degree, but utilising free weights will allow that progress to be taken to greater heights.
HIIT works by pushing the body to perform at near-max capacity for a short period of time, followed by a brief rest before resuming work. While the relative nature of such workouts ensure that body will always be placed in metabolically stressful environment (therefore triggering adaptation), its performance ceiling is limited by the athlete’s level of conditioning. In other words, how much your body is stressed is directly dependent on how much stress your body can take.
This limiting factor only becomes more glaring should an athlete choose to specialise in a certain aspect of athleticism. HIIT is no doubt effective, but it is very much a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to training. And while it may be good at simulating the effects of certain styles of training, it falls short of the real deal when it comes to developing that particular aspect of athleticism to a significant degree.
If your goal is to lose fat, get more active and gain a bit of muscle, then there’s nothing wrong with making HIIT your main style of training. Depending on your (and it has to be YOURS) definition of fitness, interval training may or may not be your ticket to everlasting gains. A desire to specialise WILL require a likewise specialised approach. The upside is that you won’t have to give up HIIT if you don’t want to; a periodised approach will allow you to reap the full benefits of interval training where and when appropriate.