Why You Should Leave High-Intensity Interval Training To The Experts – Part One

So here’s the word on the street – HIIT training or indeed any form of high intensity training, while it works really really well for fat loss and increased fitness, is actually best left to those who are in condition to handle it. Sorry if you’re new to exercise or if you’ve been following the same tired old routine for years, but you’re just going to have to stay where you are. Real training, effective training, the stuff that saves you time and actually gets you looking as lean and mean as you’d like? It’s not for the man on the street. Sorry if you don’t cut it, but that’s just the way it is.

At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Okay, okay, so before you blacklist me and delete me from your reader for good, I’m joking. But many health experts aren’t. Here’s the message that one reader has received over the past few years, and from what people are telling me she’s not the only one:

“If I listened to the American media, our medical professionals, or our gyms (and the personal trainers they employ), I’d never get in shape. The health care industry, media, and health and fitness industry are all so terrified of being sued that they are teaching people half-assed ineffective behaviors that won’t ever produce enough results to get an out-of-shape person in shape. They are keeping the country fat and weak!

Every piece of exercise, gym membership, etc. come with the disclaimer that you may not use it without first getting a doctor’s approval. Doctors and personal trainers giving exercise advice tell everyone not already in shape not to exert themselves too much during exercise! Why exercise if you aren’t going to exert yourself?!? Is it even exercise at that point? The warnings are everywhere, and come in a variety of formats, but the overwhelming message to people who aren’t in shape is: don’t exercise hard, don’t exert yourself, don’t ever do resistance training (which is only for athletes), and if you ever become out of breath you’ll probably die. It’s a catch-22: if you aren’t already an athlete you should not work out in any way that might change your body.”

Have you ever felt that the ‘establishment’ is treating you that way or expecting you to fit into some sort of workout stereotype based on your sex, your condition, your age, or anything else?

Ever felt like you’re just stuck following the ‘traditional’ approach of classes/cardio or machine weights while a lucky few seem to be doing all this high-intensity work that you’ve never really seen before? If you have then no-one would punish you for not trying to imitate them – we all know how easy it can be to injure yourself doing something you’re not conditioned for.

So what to do if you can’t find a trainer who is sympathetic to your needs and wants, or if you simple don’t want to spend money on working with a trainer?

Well, the good news is that many of these ‘experts’ are coming round. Recognising that it’s actually okay to ask someone to push themselves a little and that it might even be better for them. But as to whether the industry as a whole is following suit, who knows? But either way, the only thing that’s relevant to you is how you can get some of the action and really rev up your training once and for all, isn’t it?

Reality check first though. It’s true that certain exercise styles need to be worked toward and aren’t suitable for people who are extremely unconditioned or perhaps carrying more load than what correct performance would demand. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be modified or worked up to. Real functional training should be just as adaptable to your 80 year-old Granny as it is to a professional athlete.

Hopefully I can help you bridge that gap between the snooty ‘experts’ and you and your training needs.

The Truth About Typical Exercise Programs

The majority of gym-based programs are designed for you to fail. Not intentionally, necessarily. But think about it – how can a gym instructor or trainer who has only worked with you for a handful of sessions write you a specific program that caters to your individual needs at an adequately intense level and also won’t leave you injured or feeling lost? Can’t (and doesn’t) happen. This is why most gym programs are template based. Beginner, intermediate, advanced, with maybe a couple of modifications to make you feel unique (especially if you’ve a friend on the same level of program). So you end up doing your 20-40 minutes cardio a couple times a week, hitting some classes, and following a boring old machine weights program with maybe one or two simple freeweight exercises. There are so many problems with this approach, but at the same time I recognise how necessary it is to be able to provide new gym-goers with something that makes sense and is realistic for them to follow.

The problem is not that the above approach isn’t a good start – it probably is for many people. The problem is that people either don’t get their programs updated frequently enough (either through their own laziness or poor follow-up on the gym’s part), they don’t really notice significant and lasting weight loss/muscle tone (check out my new book to learn how to achieve this!) and they often end up feeling stuck and bored. Long story short, it’s a quick path to giving up or deciding that the whole gym thing just doesn’t work for you. Unless, of course, you actually recognise the need to take things to another level, in which case it’s a sure path to frustration as you rapidly realise no-one really wants or knows how to help you.

Any of that sound familiar?

So, I think we’ll both agree that what you need is a plan. A structured step-by-step approach to get you to your goals. One that (gasp) actually challenges you from the get-go, but also takes into account the realities of where you’re physically at. This might mean a simple everyday routine you can perform at home, or a  changing gym program, and it could mean you need to find a good personal trainer to help you.

Now ideally this new approach won’t mean you have to follow a template plan for the long term, although it could still be a good jumping off point. To whet your tastebuds I’m going to get you to follow the below links for some previous posts I’ve written on this topic. Coming up next week I’ll post Part Two to this article – how to workout at home or while traveling.

If Part Two of this article sounds like something that would be useful to you then leave a comment below and let me know what exactly you’d like help with.

16 responses to “Why You Should Leave High-Intensity Interval Training To The Experts – Part One”

  1. Robyn says:

    I’m confused too. I’m onto a new trainer last week, who in the first session, had me run for 2.5kms (a bit of a struggle, but ok). And my chiro went mental at me, as I have lower back issues, saying I should not run, but do cross trainer and upper body work only. I want to do more strength training and lose a mere 3 kilos, but I can’t figure out how much exercise to do. I walk an hour+ every day (flat surface); 2-3 circuit classes (30mins); one boxing class (1 hour) on a typical week. My diet’s pretty good (weekends stall weight loss, I reckon), but at the age of 47, I’ve still got floppy arms and belly fat. I’m 156 cms and weigh 54kg, and want to tone up and lose the belly. I’d love to know how to get some results!

    • Kat says:

      Hi Robyn
      I’d definitely recommend strength training 3-4 times p/week as the foundation of your exercise, with everything else being a bonus. That’s going to be the best approach for you in terms of orthopaedic concerns, bone density, posture, and definitely metabolism as well. I see you bought my book (thankyou!) so that will give you some great pointers on the food, digestion, stress etc side of things. Stay tuned for the at-home workout post next week!

  2. Joanna says:

    Thankyou thankyou your article is great for what iv been worrying about latley but i still need to know more. I have always gone to gym done classes etc etc. Only in the last year have i got amazing results doing full body funtional weight training and HIIT fo cardio. If i can say so myself im now in the best condition of mylife and have started studying to be a PT Just finished cert 3 going on to 4. My concern is after doing the course i started doubting that things like HIIT was the way to go with everybody as i dont want to hurt someone overweight and unfit. So my thought was start right from the begining and build them up. But love to know how basic it has to be. Im glad to hear it is ok to push people my query is learning how to know how hard how much how soon? I know how hard to push myself but not others. Maybe this all just comes with experience. I am helping heaps of friends out at the moment (good practise for me) but i do feel a bit confused as where to start with different people. I realy look forward to any other info you have and you next article.


  3. Kat Eden says:

    Hi Joanna
    It’s definitely a bit of a fine line thing – as a PT you want to give people a good work out but not ‘smash’ them without any concern for structural balance. I do think loads of lengthy cardio is a mistake though, and that appropriate functional weight training is the best place to start,
    Congrats on getting yourself in such great shape!

  4. Lisa Sara says:

    I truly cannot afford a gym membership. I have a couple of free weights (anging from about 5-15lbs) and a yoga ball. I have a space of about 5×8 ft in which to excercise. (I can also go outside when the weather is nice.) I need to lose 20 lbs the right way or I swear I’m going to starve myself until the weight comes off! I tried walking every day for about 30 minutes and doing calastynics 5 days per week for about 30-45 minutes. I also dramatically changed the way I was eating for more than 60 days but I only lost about 3 lbs! Please help.

    • Kat says:

      Hi Lisa
      When you say you changed your eating dramatically, what did you do?
      Your at-home equipment and space is definitely adequate for effective exercise. In fact, that style of training is exactly what I’ll be writing about in Part Two 🙂

  5. Lisa Sara says:

    Sorry, should have been more specific. I went from drinking 2-3 sodas per day to zero! I stopped eating so much processed & fast food & switched to organic as much as possible. I incorporated nuts and veggies into my diet, drank water and green tea mainly but splurged on a coffee each morning. I ate oatmeal, kashi cereal w/pumpkin flax granola + wheat germ, or eggs every morning and yogurt 2-3 times per week. I also eat beef jerky and fresh fruit for snacks. I also eat protein bars as long as they are high in protein and low in sugar and carbs. I used to eat tons of carbs and it’s hard to stay away from pasta and potatoes and rice because that’s what I’ve always been used to. hmmm…I gave you a bit more info than you probably needed, sorry!

  6. Kat Eden says:

    HI Lisa, that’s ok 🙂 the diet sounds good in general, although you don’t refer to much protein (snacks aside) during the day …? I’ve heard it said that a failure to lose weight is 99% of the time a lack of protein. Obv that’s pretty general, but worth considering, and I’ve certainly noticed it to be true with clients and even with myself.

  7. Lisa Sara says:

    I’ll make sure to get some meat incorporated in there each day (certified organic of course). Thanks for the advice and thank you SOOOO much for your continued dedication to making the world healthier! I love your posts and look forward to reading them every morning. I’m hoping to get your book as a late Birthday gift from my husband. =)

  8. Kat Eden says:

    That’s great Lisa; thanks so much for your feedback and support!

  9. Kat,

    Thanks for the article! I’m definitely a believer in the idea of progressive resistance coupled with consistency. A client that is consistent in the gym and consistent in the kitchen day after day, week after week will get the results. Tossing in the functional style training or HIIT is definitely something to be eased into and can definitely be beneficial indeed! I have to admit that I keep my “non-athlete” clients in a low-intensity style cardio routine… And funny enough I just had a talk today entertaining the idea of tossing in a little HIIT with one of them. I think this article may have just got him a first class ticket to some solid HIIT this week! ha… I’ll be following your posts.

    Thanks Kat!

    Patrick Hitches

    • Kat says:

      Haha, excellent – thanks Patrick! I saw your comment on Ali’s blog – isn’t she awesome?!

  10. haha! That’s funny! … I saw your little blip on fitness and nutrition and obviously I was intrigued to check ya out! She really is awesome too… I enjoy her message as well as her overall writing style. Looks like I’ve got a little time to dig into your site here… You’ve got lots to offer!! 🙂

    I’ll be around!


  11. Kat Eden says:

    Excellent … great to meet you!

  12. Carla says:

    I would love to read your part II about exercising while traveling. I am always put into panic mode whenever I find out I have to stay at a hotel (that may or may not have a “fitness center”) or worse, at someones home. Any info and tips would be greatly appreciated – especially for someone who is traveling light.

    I currently do HIIT 3-4 days a week and weights following, but sometimes I skip the HIIT depending how how I’m feeling that day.

  13. Kat says:

    HI Carla … that second post came out last week. It’s still on the blog front page, if you scroll down 🙂