I admit it.
When the subject of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) was first brought up to me my instant reaction was exactly the blog title above … basically that I was too fat to be able to participate in HIIT programs. I would not be able to do most of what was being expected and therefore would neither finish the workouts nor continue with it after getting through one or two.
And I see this feeling echoed all of the time on social media. As soon as someone states that they are having a hard time losing weight and a suggestion comes across about HIIT intervals, the immediate reaction is “I am too fat (old, slow, etc.) to do that”.
I am here to tell you that you are being misled, or are trying to convince yourself of this because you don’t really want to do it.
The problem is that this belief is often echoed in the media. Look up HIIT on Wikipedia and you get the following definition:
High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), is an enhanced form of interval training, an exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Usual HIIT sessions may vary from 4–30 minutes. These short, intense workouts provide improved athletic capacity and condition, improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning. Compared with other regimens, HIIT may not be as effective for treating hyperlipidemia and obesity, or improving muscle and bone mass. Researchers also note that HIIT requires “an extremely high level of subject motivation,” and question whether the general population could safely or practically tolerate the extreme nature of the exercise regimen.
So, what this means to a person trying to find an answer is that (1) you need to be highly motivated and (2) if you’re obese it probably won’t work. I am not sure how this result is arrived at since the consistent way I have been able to lose weight was when I was participating in HIIT on a regular basis. There are all kinds of research studies out there that show long course training (i.e. Zone 2) does not help you lose weight either, and in fact, can make you gain weight.
So basically, if you train long and slow you’re screwed, and if you train short and fast you’re screwed.
No wonder people give up right?
The bottom line is this … there is no medical reason that an overweight person cannot or should not do HIIT (OnFitness, September/October 2015).
There is a disconnect in understanding what HIIT actually is and how it is performed. This disconnect, unfortunately, is far too often parroted by the very coaches teaching it in the programs. HIIT is often linked to speed work, sprinting, but this belief is not true for everyone, and especially not true for the overweight population.
HIIT is about effort … not speed.
Someone who is overweight can get the same benefit by simply walking as fast as they can up a hill, then walking back down to recover, then walking as fast as they can back up the hill. Have a hard time walking? Then get on a bike, pedal as hard as you can for 30 seconds to a minute, then go easy for a minute or two, then repeat.
The trick is that the all-out effort needs to be to the point you are breathless, and that is different for everyone.
I can go out and try this workout and be breathless running in 15 seconds, while a more fit person might be able to run a good 5 minutes before reaching that state. The result is going to be the same for each person because the effort is the same regardless of the speed or the distance.
I feel like at times people don’t want to have heavy people get thinner or healthier (not the same thing). It seems at times they design programs that make you give up (P90X anyone?) or defeat you in their explanations before you even try it. As a coach, I try not to do that. Even when I sign up for races I know I am not ready for I have never been told me to not do it, and I usually would not tell a client not to do it (unless I really felt they were going to get hurt). I don’t understand a coach or mentor, be it in fitness or in business, that seems to thrive on holding people down rather than raise them up.
And you have seen it.
I know you have.
I see it a lot with age too. People not telling me outright that I am too old to do something but acting surprised when they hear I have entered a race “at my age”.
I have races and events I want to do that I know I am not able to do right now. A Spartan Race maybe, An ultra run eventually. Maybe even an Ironman distance event at some point (the goal is in my 60th year).
Has no bearing on “why” I want to, or “if” I can do it. I want to.
And telling me I’m too fat is not going to stop me.