Physio Tips on High Intensity Exercise
As a health practitioner with over 16 years in the health and fitness industry I have seen my fair share of “fads”. Very few last more than a season or two.
High intensity exercise is nothing new. I remember learning about high intensity interval training during my exercise physiology degree back in the late 90’s. In those days this sort of training was reserved for elite athletes in power based sports such as rugby union, sprints or basketball. If you rocked up to your local gym and did a high intensity interval program I can guarantee that all eyes would have been firmly on you. Flick forward to today and on nearly every street corner is a training facility based on high intensity exercise (whether this be Crossfit, F45, HIIT or even MMA).
Firstly, I must disclose that I use Crossfit as my main type of training. I have done for some time and, yes, I will admit that I am a little obsessed. As someone who grew up playing a multitude of sports in my teenage years, Crossfit has filled a void that my high school years and competing in team sports had left. The purpose of this article is not to simply sing the praises of Crossfit but rather to provide my thoughts on high intensity exercise and provide some tips so that it remains safe and effective for you all.
Physios are often asked “what is the best form of exercise?”. My answer to this question is always the same, "Whichever one you do that you enjoy, will commit to and will keep doing on a regular basis". I hate swimming for fitness, so there is no point in me trying to make this my main exercise because I simply won’t do it. The most important thing is that we move. As a nation, we do not engage in enough physical activity. Physical inactivity is one of the biggest problems our society faces. For this reason, I have no issue with people flocking to high intensity exercise centres as it is only doing them good. Sure there are injuries, but accidents and training errors happen in all forms of sport and fitness. It is not exclusive to high intensity exercise. I would much rather see people suffer a temporary muscle strain than a heart attack or suffer from a lifestyle disease such as type 2 diabetes. So with this in mind, here are my top physio tips to make sure you have an enjoyable and lasting experience at your local training facility.
1. Intensity is relative.
What is easy for some might be difficult for you, and what is not too challenging for you might be really hard for others. If you are new to this sort of training or haven’t exercised in a while the workout programmed at your local gym might well be too hard for you. This is perfectly ok and normal. Speak with the trainers at your facility for ways to lower the intensity to a suitable level for yourself (For example, changing a movement like box jumps to a step up will lower the power demand of the movement which will also lower the intensity). Do not worry about what others around you are doing. You are in this for you and the positive effect that training will have on your body. If you try too hard to keep up eventually it will catch up with you and in some cases may force you to take a break for a while.
2. Modify movements to ones that you are comfortable with
We all have exercises that we find difficult or that we can’t do. The middle of a high intensity workout is not really the time to be trying to master these. Pick a movement you are comfortable with and you know you can do for the required number of repetitions so that you can keep moving and get a good workout. Again, this is how you get a good training effect and positive effect on you body.
3. Take time to understand the workout programmed
Generally speaking, most programming will have a training objective; be it strength, cardiovascular fitness, endurance, flexibility a combination of the these. Understanding the objective of the workout programmed will help with reducing injury by making sure that you can pick the correct movements and resistance levels. Ask lots of questions if you are unsure and make sure you know what the objective of your workout for the day is. This will help you to plan what movements and how much weight you should be using.
4. Do not be afraid to take rest days and rest weeks
When training at high intensity, it is important to schedule days where you rest or really drop the intensity down. The body actually needs this time to adapt to the all the training that you have been throwing at it. Failure to rest and recover will lead to injuries. After a heavy period of training, say 8-12 weeks, don’t be afraid to take an entire week off to get out of the gym, try something different and just recover. This will allow to come back physically and mentally refreshed and believe it or not, you might actually come back a little stronger (provided it is only a week off).
5. Fuel your body well
Exercising at high intensity takes energy. Knowing what to eat at the right times will make a difference to your performance during your workout and also your recovery afterwards. Sports dietitians can provide expert advice tailored to your training regime to make sure you reach goals without running out of energy and feeling tired and hungry all the time.
6. Get onto your niggles early
A little pain in the shoulder or the knee can usually be dealt with by physiotherapy if addressed early. Often a few modifications to training, some soft tissue work and corrective exercises including stretches and it will be sorted with little to no training time missed. Ignoring these injuries by thinking they will just go away never works and will lead to injury. This can mean missing weeks or even months of training. Seek good advice on your pains early so that you can stay training for the long term. Regular massage and stretching are other good ways to make sure you can keep training at the intensity that you want. Being proactive with your soft tissue work is vital to prevent injuries. Your physiotherapist should be able to provide advice and a plan on how often you need to seek hands-treatment and what things you can do at home between sessions.