How to Damage Control Your HIIT

Love your hot and sweaty High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. Can’t get enough of them? Wondering how many you can fit in your week? Don’t worry, I feel ya. I was THAT girl. When I was in New York before I was a personal trainer I was an avid “heavy HIIT-er”. I absolutely loved it (still do!), loved the intensity and loved that I got in my hot and sweaty workout fix in half the time. I knew it was efficient and I knew I was getting stronger and leaner from it. All fab and groovy right? Wrong…

Why you need to damage control your HIIT sessions

I was such a “keen bean” that I would do these workouts almost every day, if I was really “on it” I might even push to two classes in a day. Literally loved it. But wait…then came the knee pain…and wait what were all these new found knee niggles, aches and pains going on in my body? I ignored them and carried on with my usual “heavy HIIT-ing”. No stretching, no foam rolling, no recovery. “Nevermind, it will go away I kept thinking”. That knee issue got worst… “dam it’s really not going away – I guess I should get it checked out.” So then came the physio appointment…


The Almighty Foam Roller and Stretching

The physio needed to listen to me harping on about my HIIT training for all of about 2 minutes before a quick check over and handing me a foam roller. “You ever seen one of these?” she said. Well yeah…I guess I’ve seen people rolling all over them a bit at the gym I guess. Not really thought about why….Ahh the wonders of hindsight. It took one foam roll over my Illiotibial Band (IT band – a common place of muscle tightness, which is the area on the outside of your thigh that runs from your hip to you knee) to realise how excruciatingly tight my muscles had gotten. I winced, I sweat and generally did not love life whilst we spent the session rolling out my quads, IT band, Tensia Fascia Latae (the small muscle found on the outside of the hip). I was then taken through a series of stretches like those seen in Self Magazines: “Hip stretches your body really needs” article and was ordered to scale back my HIIT training and scale up the stretching a foam rolling….

But why the pain?

Over time if you continue to push your body to high intensities and don’t factor in regular stretching and foam rolling your muscles will inevitably become tight. Over time this can lead to overuse injuries and long term damage. Not only will you wind up injured your range of motion will be impaired. By not moving in the full range of motion you won’t be able to get the full benefits from those HIIT exercises you’re doing. If your body doesn’t recover, it can’t rebuild the muscle then all your causing your body is more stress (read inflammation).  Constant and continual high impact work without the damage control that goes with it means you’re just training dysfunction. Eventually you’ll end up not being able to do as much of the exercise that you so love.

Why the tightness?

Our bodies, our muscles (not just the areas I mentioned that were my problem tight spots) function and work as part of one large kintetic chain. This means each muscle links to one another. You remember that song…”our hip bone connects to our thigh bone, our thigh bone connects to our knee bone….”, that works for our muscles too. What’s going on with one muscle group will intrinsically link to what’s going on in another. Our muscles are part of a pairing system. Without having to go into extensive kinesiology, I can tell you that your quads and hip flexor muscles balance out with your hamstrings and glutes. Your chest muscles balance out with your upper back muscles. If one of the pairing is tight, the other is likely to be lose (weak). You must ensure your training balances out the two muscle pairings.

For instant, a regular problem I see with my clients is tight quads and hip flexors and not enough glute and hamstring activation and strength (remember I told you they balance). Same story for tight chest muscles and lose (weak) upper back muscles. As a “sit down” society our everyday movements encourage this more and more. You have to stretch the tight muscles, strengthen the weak. This will ensure your work is going to good use and your posture is correct. There is A LOT that goes into this which can’t be explained in one post but this is a starting point. Go, do your research, speak to a specialist.

Rest and Recovery

Sure you’ve heard of recovery, but do you actually practice it? It’s wise to perform (heavier) strength training on non consecutive days, or split upper and lower muscle groups between days. It’s also wise to have some recovery between HIIT sessions. One, max two HIIT sessions in a row on consecutive days if they are focussed on the same muscle groups (usually the case). The exception is if there are body part specific training sessions. Each and every body is different, what works for some might not work for another. Only you know your body and how it feels. As a general rule I do between 3-4 HIIT sessions a week max, but that’s just what works for me! That doesn’t mean don’t do anything else it just means mix it up.

So what does this mean for your HIIT training and injury prevention?

Sure I want you to come and “HIIT it with me” whenever you can, but not at the expense of your long term health. Get the stretches in. Get the recovery in. Then come to me fired up and ready to go. If you’ve got an injury that’s niggling, get it fixed! Get your rehab exercises. Do them regularly and be happy, healthy forever after. Your body will be less stressed, feel great and look the best it can if you listen to it and nurture it.

Those that follow my fitness adventures will see that I ran a bootcamp with my New York training mentor the other day. He said what a difference he’d seen in the way I move, the way I stretch and foam roll. I can vouch for it….you WILL feel better. You do NEED to do it. Think of it as part of your training. The recovery (which doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing, it means stretching, foam rolling, maybe yoga) is training.

Tone what you own; then make what you own an unstoppable force of nature. Happy HIIT-ing guys!

Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think! I’m thinking of doing  post about how to foam roll and stretch soon. Let me know if this is something you’d like to see! Good luck with the damage control, and keep HIIT-ing it!

Sending health and happiness,

Kim x

Photo by: Luke Ayling

Outfit: Lucas Hugh Sports bra, Koral Activewear leggings (available at The Sport Edit), Adidas UltraBoost Trainers



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