Revised: August 2017

It is common that clients tend to judge fitness professionals by the intensity of their classes or sessions. It’s even a compliment to say an instructor teaches really hard workouts. A “brutal” workout equals a good workout. Must it always be this way?

Over the past decade in Singapore, there has been a push toward boot camp-inspired trainers to adopt a more hard-nosed approach to intensity, and “civilian” clients eagerly signing up to get their “butts kicked.” Before that, the average gym-goer’s workout might mean going on a treadmill followed by weights and going for a step class at a somewhat comfortable pace on a separate day in the week.

These days, there are programmes that wrap up your workout in less time with the same or better results. That’s appealing- BUT you’ve got to hit it hard.

Has the industry gone overboard with high-intensity training? Have we pushed this attractive and viable fitness modality too hard and too far, making it less safe and less effective?


Are We Getting It Right With High-Intensity Interval Training?

Whether you’ve completed a pleasant, long-slow-distance (LSD) jog or a heart-pounding round of HIIT, seeing the physical results of your fitness efforts takes time. However, the long-distance jog will not leave you feeling wrecked as compared to a round of HIIT.

That “no pain no gain” mentality leads to the perception that if the workout causes discomfort and you feel very sore the next day, then it was a challenging workout. High-intensity workouts became popular because clients perceive they’re doing something right: getting their “butt kicked” is satisfying to them.


Reality Check

Some exercisers even seem to view working out at a moderate rating of perceived exertion as unattractive.

The recent rise in injuries from workouts and the fanfare surrounding HIIT should inspire us to take a step back and evaluate how well we’re keeping pace with this trend. HIIT is sometimes at the expense of quality of movement, appropriate progressions, and optimal recovery, and there’s always the potential to go overboard.

It is evident that you can still get effective results without having to take yourself to the brink: you just need to understand where you are currently on the health-and-fitness continuum. If you’re already fit, your body can adapt to harder workouts, but you will still need adequate recovery, and you should not continue to push to the edge without giving the body a chance to recover.

Many fitness professionals overestimate clients’ enthusiasm for exercise, thinking that they need to give

the same high intensive program/intensity that works for them personally.

Everyone should establish a solid foundation of fitness and good movement patterns at the start by using lower intensities and good movement. Clients need to understand the proper progression of exercise and how using varying intensities leads to better results, instead of each workout being viewed as a separate entity.


Side Effects of an Extreme Workout

On 17th July, the New York Times published an article on high-intensity workouts and its ‘side effects’- rhabdomyolysis.

Rhabdo, as it is usually called, is a rare but life-threatening condition that is often caused by extreme exercise. Overworked muscles begin to die. Their contents enter the bloodstream, straining kidneys and causing severe pain.

In April this year, the American Journal of Medicine published that there were 3 cases of spinning-induced rhabdomyolysis and all were treated by the same doctor. It was reported that more than 46 cases of people developed this condition after a spin class.

The symptoms were usually unusual stiffness, swelling and severe soreness of the limbs, with the classic symptom of tea-coloured urine.


Training Like An Elite Athlete

Realistically, the average person’s goals may be quite different from that of an elite athlete. Athletes train for performance, which typically requires pushing their bodies to the limit, and this can create overuse injuries or dysfunction. Athletes’ jobs are to perform at the highest levels, so it is unrealistic for an average person to train the same way as an elite athlete who has the time to recover properly from intense workouts and has built a base of fitness.

Exercise should ALWAYS be encouraged, however, its important that people need to realize who are starting out, to ease him/herself into the new workout program to lower the risk of injuries.


Setting The Right Pace

Clients need to understand that the benefits of exercise go beyond just burning calories. What is more important is consistently doing the right things that lead to long-lasting results. If a workout is always a draining mental and physical test, it’s not realistic for it to be a sustainable form of exercise; this leads to the cycle of getting into shape, getting burned out/injured, and then getting out of shape.

All things in moderation: high-intensity forms of exercise periodically and only when you are ready— not as a daily offering. To get the optional training response, you must strike a balance between stressing your body with a challenging workout and allowing adequate recovery. It’s a delicate balancing act but it’s a goal worth the effort.



Adapted from article by Amanda Vogel, MA
Idea Fitness Journal February 2014, Volume 11, Number 2

Reference: As Workouts Intensify, a Harmful Side Effect Grows More Common.
By Anahad O’Connor. New York Times. 17th July 2017.

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