The Art and Science of Fitness | Deciphering the facts behind the high-profile HIIT

“It took me 17 years and 114 days to become an overnight success.” That’s what Lionel Messi said in 2004 when he was called an overnight success by football pundits around the world.

On October 16, 2004, Lionel Messi played his first official match for Football Club (FC) Barcelona. Aged 17 years and 114 days, he came on as a substitute for Barcelona in the 82nd minute and mesmerized everyone, as he has since, when he is on the pitch.

While we may complain about the current generation’s need for instant gratification, we’ve understood it for ages, certainly much more since the speed of life has accelerated, thanks to our smart gadgets. For example, even back then, a young Messi knew better than most experts; that his years of rehearsal and hard work would, on the field, instantly gratify scouts, agents and fans around the world. Behind the scenes, however, lies a story of perseverance, resilience, foresight and, above all, repetition.

To each his own

As a friend recently reminded me, what sells is not what people need, but what they want. All of these claims on social media, and now even in mainstream media, are directed at this audience – people who aren’t interested in their needs. This rings true today, especially in the world of fitness and exercise.

Over the past few years, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has become very popular. As the name suggests, this means doing four to seven repetitions of short bursts of movement (including bike and foot sprints) lasting around 30 seconds, with four (approximately) minutes of recovery. Or a version of it.

A few months before Messi’s Barcelona debut, I started my job in London as head of the medical department at Kieser Training, a Swiss-German chain of rehabilitation centers treating back and knee patients. At Kieser, I was introduced to High Intensity Training (HIT), which is a broader term than HIIT, but primarily relates to strength training rather than cardiovascular.

A case for HIT

In the 1970s, Arthur Jones, a proud generalist, popularized the HIT, which once again spread through the fitness fraternity in India. He openly questioned the long hours spent in gyms every day. Dorian Yates, one of the most successful bodybuilders of all time, who won the Mr Olympia title six times in a row in the 1990s, attributed his success to HIT training principles, which he continued to develop from one of Jones’ proteges, Mike Mentzer. .

We have seen amazing results in our back and knee patients at Kieser Training. But every repetition of every exercise had to be closely monitored by well-trained trainers. Unlike HIIT sprints, in HIT the movement is a slow, controlled movement, taking around 8-12 seconds for each repetition. High-intensity strength and resistance workouts last to complete muscle failure, which are short in duration, done once or twice a week. A long interval is necessary between these extreme sessions because the muscles need this time to recover and adapt in a positive way to have an optimal strength gain. These sessions were meant to be extreme, almost causing the person to pass out. Certainly not for everyone.

In an online article published in August 2022, Professor Panteleimon Ekkekakis, Chair of the Department of Kinesiology at Michigan State University, examines in detail whether these extraordinary claims about HIIT are backed up by extraordinary claims, like nothing less. But what is kinesiology? It is the scientific study of the movement of the human body. On top of that, Professor Ekkekakis is an exercise psychologist, which puts him in a unique position to understand that exercise doesn’t just have physical benefits, but also psychological ones.

Work together

The problem in today’s scientific world is that most experts work in silos, unable to understand the big picture. They may know their own subject in depth, but simply lack the broader knowledge of other subjects which are all interconnected. A case in point is a study done a year after Messi’s debut, which became a cornerstone of HIIT’s magic claims. This particular study was led by Professor Gibala, a physiologist at McMaster University, one of Canada’s top institutions, who simply didn’t know or appreciate the role of the mind in exercise.

It is unfortunate that even today the best scientists from the best universities do not recognize the psychology of exercise and are only interested in the physical aspect. Sportsmen and coaches since the gurukul era knew better.

This brings me back to the first patient doctors see in medical schools: cadavers. They teach us a lot, but they are simply dead. All of their muscles, bones, and organs might be fine, but they don’t work anymore. That spark of life is simply missing. Most of us doctors then spend our lives treating the patients who walk through the doors like corpses. We subconsciously ignore that they can feel and move. Most physiologists and sports scientists understand movement, but they still miss the power of the mind and psychology.

Gibala is of the opinion that lack of time is the main reason for lack of regular exercise, which Jones also pointed out, but being a self-proclaimed generalist, Jones understood the importance of habit formation and motivation. even over 70 years old. from. Jones was clear that HIT was not for everyone but only for highly motivated people. Gibala points out that HIIT presents hope for people looking to do as little work as possible to get fit, but also acknowledges that given the extreme nature of the exercise, it’s doubtful the general population can. embrace HIIT safely or practically. It’s surprising then that recent researchers report the greatest enjoyment for HIIT.

I did my own poll on Twitter and LinkedIn. Of the 113 people who responded, here are the results.

These are repeated sprint intervals that are equivalent to HIIT. Only 11.5% enjoyed it the most, that’s the least percent of people. After all, exercising should be fun, especially when we want people to move a lot more. Most people who exercise or play sports do so for their “personal time”, to connect with their deeper selves. We need to promote the joy of movement rather than going the pharmaceutical route, expecting people to take the awful-tasting pill again or a painful injection of vaccine.