High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been a growing fitness trend in recent years, thanks to its reputation for big gains in a short amount of time. But watch out: A new study shows that people who choose HIIT workouts are more likely to get injured, too.
What exactly are HIITs? These workouts are unique in that they combine short bursts of high-intensity aerobic exercising and weight lifting with periods of recovery: Give it your all, go-go-go. Rest. Repeat.
Assessing records in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from 2007 through 2016, the Rutgers University study found 3,988,902 injuries related to HIIT exercises, including injuries from commonly used equipment, like kettle bells and barbells, and from calisthenics like burpees, push-ups, and lunges.
White men aged 20 to 29 accounted for most of the injuries, and knees, ankles, and shoulders took most of the hits (pun not intended), according to the study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. There was also an increase in internal organ injuries, concussions, strains and sprains, nerve damage, dislocations, and puncture wounds.
As the interest in HIIT workouts has grown in the past decade (per Google searches during the years assessed in the study), so did the number of injuries — by a whopping 50,944 per year on average, researchers found.
How to reduce your risk of injury during HIITs
So does this mean you should give up your love of HIITs entirely? Not so fast, say researchers. It’s mainly people who do HIITs without supervision who are at a higher risk of getting hurt, thanks to poor form and muscle overuse (which can also lead to arthritis — yikes). That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting these workouts or work with a fitness trainer if you’re new to HIITs to make sure you get the proper form down.
"We certainly do not want to discourage people from this type of exercise because of its numerous health benefits, but recommend that they understand the pre-existing conditions and physical weaknesses that may predispose them to injury," said study co-author Nicole D. Rynecki, a student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, in a press release.
One other way to prepare yourself for HIITs? Pre-train for them, says Rynecki, with exercises that focus on balance, strength, and jumping — these will help ready you for the demands of HIITs. And don’t forget to stretch: "Exercises such as stretches that can increase range of motion and strengthen rotator cuff muscles are important, especially for older people and those who are predisposed to rotator cuff tears," she said.
Warm ups and cool downs are also important whenever you work out and can help reduce your risk of injury.