Fad Fitness, Week 2: Doing HIIT Safely

Why listening to your body is an important part of high-intensity interval training
Courtesy of Chris Freytag

Freytag leads one of her Saturday-morning group HIIT classes.

When we left off last week, I was in a bit of a sore state. I had done my first HIIT workout the night before—focused on the upper body—but had yet to find out just how much my pectorals and triceps would ache in the next couple days.

The at-home DVD workout, from the American Council on Exercise HIIT Series with Chris Freytag ($22.95 for 2-DVD set; $19.95 for download), was my first dedicated upper body session since, well, I can’t remember. Although I’m active in a general hiking-and-biking sense, certain of the muscles this workout was testing haven’t been on active duty in a while.

My hope at sticking to the 30-day calendar—with four HIIT workouts a week—seemed to be shot, so I decided not to worry about it and let my body recover for a couple days.

This turned out to be exactly the advice given to me this week by Chris Freytag when I spoke to her by phone.

“If you’re 100-percent deconditioned you definitely want to build up [to three or four workouts a week],” she said. “If you’re super sore, that’s your body’s way of saying you need to wait.”

The calendar, said Freytag, is mainly a suggestion for those looking to lose weight quickly.

“I do believe that all fitness levels can benefit. I do get beginners in my classes, and I do get athletes,” she said. Freytag teaches hour-long HIIT classes every Saturday morning to upwards of 100 students.

She told me what she often tells her students: “Challenge yourself, but be safe. Be smart. If you’re doing jump squats and you think you’re going to pass out, stop.”

“I suggest beginners tone down plyometrics, use a lighter amount of resistance. Listen to their bodies—if their heart rate is too high, take a longer recovery period,” she continued.

“I’m a really big fan of using a heart rate monitor because it gives a good indication of what zone you’re in. I had a lady in class the other day and she came up to me and said, ‘my heart rate is 200,’ and I said, ‘you need to take a break, drink some water.’”

This Week’s Workouts
Feeling suitably recovered on Monday, I resumed my HIIT experiment that evening with the lower-body workout. This one was heavy on the plyometrics (jumping exercises), squats and lunges, leaving my glutes and thighs feeling spent and unequal to the task of getting up from the couch the rest of the evening.

A word to those in small apartments: this one requires a bit of lateral movement, so clearing out a little space on either side of your mat will make for a smoother experience.

As with last week, I found that the intensity seems to build over the course of the 20-minute workout. Those 10-second breaks feel luxurious at first and too short by the end. This time I paid closer attention when Freytag demonstrated the low-impact version of each exercise, and defaulted to that when I felt tempted to sit a round out.

Resting on Tuesday, I tackled the full-body workout Wednesday morning before work and found myself better able to follow along to the rhythm of a fast-paced group-style workout. For the group fitness disinclined like myself, there’s a bit of a learning curve to following along with an instructor. The key, I’ve begun to learn, is taking things at a slower pace, watching to see exactly what the instructor does and making sure you nail the technique before taking it up to speed.

I say “begun to learn” because I’ve not been so adept at following my own advice: I was still doing a fair bit of flailing this week and more than once caught my wife giving me a look that said, “This won’t end well.”

She may have been right: yesterday morning I pulled a muscle in my lower back when I coughed too hard. An inglorious injury if there ever was one, and I suspect it was a delayed reaction to my herky-jerky workout from the day before.

Stay tuned for next week when I take my DVDs on the road for the holidays—if my back survives the 6-hour flight.

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