As humans we always want information displayed as – Do This Not That. Eat This Not That. It’s easy. It’s clear and let’s face it nuances don’t sell. Over the last few decades we have been sold High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) hard.
The research is fairly clear that HIIT overpowers steady state cardiovascular training in weight loss, fat loss, and in promoting healthy changes in blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. This all makes sense given the mechanisms of action, but it is not the end of the story or the only side.
Those who despise steady state cardio now say – nope, never need it again. Deuces. (This tends to happen with a lot of things, but the best example is stretching. The people that don’t like to stretch but who need it the most don’t do it, and the people that love it tend to do too much).
I used to be a HIIT Jedi. Everything I ever did with myself and clients was in intervals. My justification was the research on fat loss. I was also an early disciple of Boyle and I bought into the ideology that we need only work inside the intervals of our sport or perhaps a little longer…but not too much!
There is no debating that football players work in short bursts of activity. The average NFL play is 5-15 seconds. The most a baseball player is ever likely to run is 60 yards or about 6 to 7 seconds. Thus, the contemporary strength coach has had the mentality that speed and power athletes don’t need chronic cardio. Which is true they don’t, but they do need movement and cardiac output work.
Yet, this Interval Philosophy has now been extrapolated to everyone ever. Why would I go for a hike or move throughout the day when I can just get this whole thing done in 4 minutes of negative rest intervals of Tabata. Party.
The problem isn’t HIIT, it is that we aren’t building or maintaining the foundation to really use HIIT well and recover from it. HIIT is powerful. Potent. But so is cardiac output work. In fact if given the choice of whether to move throughout the day or have a structured exercise regimen, one should always chose movement. It trumps structured exercise in the research as far as longevity and health, and is much more in tune with how we have evolved into being.