Is High Intensity Interval Training Hurting You More Than It Helps?

Tim Ebl

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When workouts turn from fun into relentless torture

“Ten more seconds! Push push push! And that’s it for that cardio interval. Okay, relax and take a sip of water.” Our personal trainer was really hammering it to us today. She was chipper and smiling on the video conferencing screen, as she ground us into the dirt. I just completed my third set of 30 seconds of lizard climbers. It’s like mountain climbers but worse. I was out of oxygen and dripping wet.

Next exercise up is alternating bicep curls for 60 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of jumping jacks, then a rest, then more curls and more jacks. Three sets of each exercise. I can tell by the pounding in my chest that this is really giving the system a challenge.

A 3-second rest just to make sure we’re still alive. Then on to the next 60 second set of a weighted exercise, followed by 30 seconds of cardio. This time it’s skull crushers and skipping rope. Why did I agree to do this?

“All right! Great job, guys. That’s it for the sets.” She sounds pretty happy this morning. “Oh, wait. We still need to do our core work!” She bounces over to grab her mat. Why is she so excited for core work? I think she must be a sadist.

She quickly sets us up to do 30 seconds of supermans (superwomans?) followed by reverse crunches and then topped off with some bicycle crunches. After three sets of each, I’m a limp noodle of pain. We do some stretches to cool down, a virtual high five and shut off the Zoom window.

There’s a puddle of water in the small of my back and I feel like I need to go back to bed. I’m tired. I’m questioning my life choices.

Since I was laid off, I decided to join in on my wife’s exercise plan. Her group met her personal trainer every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with a zoom video conference. It was a small class, only 4 to 5 depending on the day.

The focus of the workouts was High-Intensity Interval Training. The idea is to have intense periods of cardiovascular exercise, combined with slower periods and short rests, and to go until near exhaustion. A typical HIIT workout is around half an hour. It’s supposed to be a good way to get in a time-saving workout with big returns.

The Biggest Return I’m Getting Is That It’s Sucking My Will To Live

The group does burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, football hustles and other cardio type activities, interspersed with rest breaks. They also do a variety of dumbbell and kettlebell weighted exercises to tone the upper body and back. Some lunges, reverse lunges, box jumping and the like were mixed in there too.

It didn’t seem like the kind of thing that I would grow to hate so fast. But each morning that we were set to start, I was filled with dread. And soon after, my clothes were filled with sweat.

I liked the actual exercises. I didn’t even mind the effort so much right at the moment. What I didn’t like was being totally drained of energy afterward, and then not getting it back. Ever again.

I don’t enjoy the rest of my existence without the ability to lift my feet properly or climb stairs without wincing. I'm a fan of feeling good at least some of the time.

“Your suffering will be legendary, even in hell!”
- Pinhead, Lead Cenobite in the 1987 movie Hellraiser

Ah, the pain. Things were stiff and sore by afternoon. I was going to sleep aching, and waking up barely able to move. The next day I was nearly a cripple, getting off my chair and walking hunched over like a 200-year-old dude. And I never recovered before the next workout. I was going in at half throttle because that’s all I had left.

It could be I didn’t give it long enough. I was only 7 weeks in. But the soreness and the tiredness was only getting worse.

I started feeling too sore to go out for a run. Three runs a week was turning into one. I just couldn’t keep both up.

That was last week. I’ve decided to cut the HIIT and keep my running and yoga for a while instead.

HIIT Doesn’t Meet My Needs

Last week my butt muscles were so sore I thought I might be broken. How could my right rear cheek be in so much pain? And whoever heard of the tops of your feet feeling like they lifted too many weights?

Any fitness program is better than none. But this kind of workout took too much out of me. It’s interfering with everything including sex drive. I’m too sore to care about any extracurricular bedroom exercise. And that’s where I have to draw the line. Life’s too short to lose out on sexy time.

I’m going to dial it back. Sometimes self-care means knowing when you’re over-training and doing too much. I’m taking a week or two off from High-Intensity Interval Training. I know my butt will thank me.

And those ladies earned my respect. I’m giving up after 7 weeks. They’ve been doing this training plan for years.

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I'm an author, yoga enthusiast, and meditation instructor. I spend a lot of time outdoors with activities like running, hiking and camping. My writing is all about the humorous side of life and personal growth, habits ,mindfulness, and outdoor adventures.

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