#9Fitness: Experts say popular high-intensity interval training workouts pose health risks

CINCINNATI - If you’re looking to get in shape (or back in shape after a long break), you may be intrigued by the quick results and the fast, intense cardio you get from workouts like P90X or Insanity--also known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts.

You may have heard success stories from friends and family members. You yourself may have even tried these shredding, burning and toning workout programs. Now a new report from ABC News shows the darker side of intense cardio workouts.

Entrepreneur Matt Lombardi, 29, found out the hard way. He wanted to get back in shape, but after just one session of the popular P90X, he was finished.

“I was so sore, I couldn’t lift my arms and then I noticed my pee was the color of cola,” Lombardi said.

He Googled his symptoms and P90X and immediately consulted with a kidney specialist. Lombardi wound up in the hospital with rhabdomyolysis, a condition that occurs when muscle tissue breaks down to such an extent that toxins released into the blood stream can damage the kidneys.

HIIT is intense – so intense, in fact, that no amount of “normal” or average workouts may not be enough to prepare you. Michele Olson, a professor at Auburn Univeristy in Alabama, noted in her interview with ABC that, “…it would take five times the amount of typical cardio exercise to shed the same amount of calories you can count in a four-minute Tabata.” Tabata is a form of HIIT developed in Japan.

Julie Hagen, personal training manager at Mercy Health Anderson HealthPlex, has first hand experience with HIIT workouts. She has clients who’ve sought out her expertise after serious injuries.

Q: How rare (or common) are these risks associated with HIIT workouts?

A: A majority of people get injured from those kinds of workouts. I tried Cross Fit and could not believe the movements and the load they were having me do for me being a first time. Injury is very common. It’s just too much stress and not enough rest during the workout itself. People are not used to doing this kind of workout.

Q: What would you recommend your clients do to prepare their bodies if they really want to start HIIT workouts?

A: Start by with working with a trainer and learning the proper moves first. Work from the bottom first then progress. You can’t just throw yourself into a workout like that. Everyone neglects that part and that’s why they’re injuring themselves during these exercises.

Q: If a HIIT workout isn’t right for a client, what kind of training would you recommend to them if they want to lose weight and get in shape?

A: First, get ahold of nutrition. You need to start eating healthier and focusing on your daily intake of carbs and protein. Good nutrition makes all the difference. Then, try interval training like going for a run or interval on the treadmill. This way, you’re working at your own pace. You can also take a fitness class or work out with a trainer.

Q: They’re really popular, but do you think HIIT workouts like P90X and Cross Fit are a good way for people to get fit? Or do the risks simply outweigh any benefit?

A: I don’t think that’s best way to get fit. It’s great maintenance for athletes or active adults, but it’s not the best way to start. Doing research, working with a trainer, eating right – that’s the BEST way to start. I’ve had clients who’ve had knee replacement surgeries, back surgeries – major injuries – from programs like this. I hurt my back doing Cross Fit, and I’ve never had any issues with it before.

The HIIT bottom line

While many think they can go from couch to butt-kicking in a matter of weeks, the truth is that HIIT workouts aren’t meant for the overweight or out of shape. They’re simply not beginner workouts, nor were they ever intended to be. Just watch the plyometric session of P90X, for example, and you’ll hear phrases like “run faster” and “jump higher” – language that clearly indicates this training is constructed for athletes who want to improve their peak.

The safest idea, according to Hagen, is to slowly work yourself into any HIIT program. Most offer modified versions for beginners; take those seriously and begin with the basic level before progressing. Much like a new runner just can’t jump into a 10k, any intense workout requires gradual progression.

Another important consideration – when workout programs advise you to consult with your physician or a trainer before starting, take that warning seriously to ensure you have a safe and healthy experience.

  • Have you tried HIIT workouts before? What results did you see? Connect with me on Twitter @jennyfromthebak and let me know!

If you are looking for a gentler exercise opportunity, join us for the #9fitness run and walk tweetup on Aug. 10 at Ault Park. More information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/681140041903429/

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