Study - High Intensity Interval Training Increases Injuries
Functional fitness has taken over. These days, CrossFit boxes and group training gyms have gone beyond seedy warehouse districts and are now in nearly every strip mall and downtown area.
They have everyone out there swinging kettlebells, ripping on row machines and throwing barbells over their heads at a fast pace. Even your grandma is out there doing burpees and posting her WOD time for everyone on Facebook.
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But does this type of training help us to become lean, mean, fighting machines? Or are these high-intensity interval workouts wearing us down and priming us for injury?
What the Study Says
The study, performed at Rutgers University, and published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness analyzed the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) from 2007 – 2016 to estimate injuries related to exercises such as burpees, push-ups, and lunges, plus injuries from using equipment like kettlebells, barbells, and boxes. These are all primary exercises and equipment for HIIT-style fitness.
Injuries were calculated and compared between 2007-2011 and 2012-2016. Google Trends was used as a source for both of those time periods to determine the popularity of high-intensity interval training workouts.
In that time, there were an estimated 3,988,903 injuries. Most often, these injuries occurred in males aged 20 to 39 years old (58%). This is not surprising, as hardcore workouts appeal most to this demographic. Plus, young men tend to have something to prove and are willing to take more risks than older men and women to prove it.
There was a 144% increase in all injuries between 2012-2016 (from 2007-2011), which coincided with a 274% increase in HIIT interest, according to Google.
The injuries grew at an approximate rate of 50,944 per year, right alongside the popularity of Google searches about these types of exercise programs.
Most of the injuries sustained were related to the knees, ankles, and shoulders, which happen to be particularly vulnerable to the stress of high-intensity programs.
During this time, the study also found “a significant increase in nerve damage, internal organ injuries, concussions, puncture wounds, dislocations and strains and sprains.”
When people overload their joints too often, it can lead to osteoarthritis and the type of wear and tear that leads to chronic pain. When exercises are performed with no supervision and in bad form, joint damage, tendon and ligament issues, rotator cuff tears and the things that go along with quick, technical movements are all but inevitable at some point.
When you throw in a stopwatch and make it a race, people will tend to make poor decisions in the heat of the moment, and jerk something that shouldn’t have been jerked. Or worse, puncture something that shouldn’t have been punctured.
This analysis shows us a lot of hurt body parts, on top of hurt feelings.
So, does this mean we should toss this style of exercise and only do low-risk thinks like Prancersize and chair-aerobics? Absolutely not. The benefits of HIIT are numerous and there are plenty of ways to mitigate injury.
Can We Have Our Knees and Do Our Box Jumps, Too?
The best way to prevent injury is to be smart about training. You can do this in four ways: choose a good gym, get your mobility and form assessed, keep your ego in check, and make rest and recovery imperative.
When you choose a HIIT style gym, look for quality. Are the coaches engaged in their client’s progress? Are there any safety measures? Is there an onboarding or fundamentals program, where you can learn proper technique before you jump into class?
You will know how committed a coach is if he or she holds you back or insists on an initial assessment. If they are handing you a loaded barbell on day one and telling you to “get some!” – they probably aren’t very concerned about your rotator cuff.
If you choose to do these workouts on your own, or the gym has a coach that is only available during class, consider a few sessions with a personal trainer or physical therapist before you start your program. They can help assess your mobility and give you guidance to become more flexible and stronger so that you can begin with a full range of motion and able to perform all of the necessary movements.
Once you are involved in a HIIT style program, you have to know when to push it and when to pull back or modify. If a movement is at all causing you pain, stop and get your form assessed. If you are feeling fatigued and holding heavy weights that are starting to pitch and sway, slow down and focus.
Today is not the day you beat the clock. If something feels too heavy, use a lighter weight. And, by all means, if you are not physically suited for an exercise – don’t do it! Ask your coach for a modified exercise or replacement.
The time to leave it all on the line is at the CrossFit Games, not at the local strip mall gym on a random Tuesday night when you were coming down with a cold and have that big presentation tomorrow morning.
Lastly, you have to take rest and recovery seriously. Rest is the time when your body repairs itself. Your muscles need stretching and loosening. Mild injuries need time to heal or they become major injuries. You need to make sure you are getting enough calories and nutrition to sustain your new training regimen.
Why Bother With HIIT?
High-intensity interval training provides incredible benefits. It helps burn more calories long after you complete the workout, increases your VO2 max and cardiovascular capabilities, it boosts your endurance, makes your arteries healthier, and it takes half the time steady-state cardio does. If you add kettlebells and barbells to the mix, you can build muscle, as well.
People tend to stick with short, fun workouts more easily than long endurance-based marathons. It’s a great thing these gyms have sprung up all over the place. People can pop in before or after work, or on their lunch break and get their fit on in a half hour or so.
Improving your health is always worth the small risk of injury you might sustain. Being sedentary has far scarier injury and morbidity statistics than a few sprained ankles from HIIT training.