The High-Intensity Craze: Yay or Nay?

IMG_8545-X3From CrossFit to Barry’s Bootcamp, there seems to be no shortage of high-intensity workout options. They’re all the rage these days in terms of fat loss and body sculpting. But, how do they work? Are there risks? Are there alternatives? Just like Pilates isn’t for everyone, high-intensity exercise isn’t for everyone. It can stress joints such as the knees and spine, build bulk, and exacerbate injuries.  For anyone who has a history of injury or is experiencing the aches and pains of age, high intensity exercise may not be a wise choice in the long run.

High intensity approaches work by shocking the system. Metabolically, they create incredible energy demand and in turn burn fat, carbohydrates, protein and a lot of it. The goal of this type of exercise is to burn more fat, but that’s not all it does.  Exercises from these systems also work to create microtears in large muscle groups by overloading them. The microtears prompt the muscle to repair and reinforce itself leading to stronger muscles, but also bulkier muscles. More often than not focusing on large muscle groups means that smaller deeper muscles are also neglected.  Stressing the muscles also means stressing the joints, especially if your muscles are not strong enough to handle the force you’re putting on them. This form of exercise requires a lot of pre-existing strength to protect your joints from the forces of the workout. Combine the focus on large muscle groups with high joint stress and neglected stabilizers and you have a recipe for disaster.

Additionally, while it is true that these types of exercises burn a ton of calories, they don’t necessarily burn more fat. In fact, the lower the intensity of exercise, the greater proportion of fat is burned to satisfy energy needs. A greater amount of fat is burned at 25% VO2 max than at higher intensities. For the majority of clients we see, resistance training such as Pilates or Gyrotonic performed in conjunction with traditional cardiovascular exercise provides the right mix of body sculpting, fat loss, and injury prevention. But, even if you do high intensity exercise, doing it in conjunction with another mindful technique that focuses on smaller muscle groups and light resistance training will keep you injury free, longer, leaner, and stronger than ever.

Yay or nay?  That’s up to you and your individual body.  Remember, each of us is uniquely different and will have uniquely specific needs.  Find a system and combination of techniques, approaches, and intensities that work for you. But, no matter what, don’t kill your body or neglect the details in an attempt to bulk up or lose pounds. Push yourself, but be kind. Listen to what your body is telling you.


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