“Drop and give me 20!”
A screaming sergeant barking orders might scare most people away from exercise; but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the number one worldwide fitness trend for the year, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
HIIT involves intense bursts of exercise followed by short periods of rest. Programs like CrossFit, P90X and Insanity base their workouts on this style of training.
As the popularity of this trend rises, so have injury rates. Health and fitness professionals warn without proper guidance these programs can cause more harm than good, particularly among people looking for a quick weekend workout.
Among those raising the red flag about this style of training are the very groups these workouts are trying to emulate, the American and Canadian military.
In 2012, the Canadian forces released a general order asking their personnel not to participate in HIIT (previously referred to as Extreme Conditioning programs).
They warn that HIIT can cause a rare but potentially life-threatening condition called exertional rhabdomyolysis.
Exertional rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibres, leading to the release of the protein myoglobin into the bloodstream. The condition can lead to serious kidney damage and even death. The warning came after Canadian forces personnel from several bases developed exertional rhabdomyolysis requiring hospitalization, most of them after taking part in a CrossFit workout.
READ MORE: The extreme culture of CrossFit
While the military has acknowledged the dangers of workouts such as CrossFit, they have also acknowledged their growing popularity.
Patrick Gagnon, a senior manager of research and development with the Canadian Forces, is responsible for the overall fitness program for the military. He said workouts such as CrossFit and P90x have people doing HIIT without proper guidance.
“What we need to do is control some of the intensities and some of the scheduling of the workouts so you don’t get this intense training without proper rest or recovery.”
Gagnon said that while the challenges military personal face in battle can be random, training randomly doesn’t work. Training needs to be properly structured and planned. One of his main concerns is the qualification of CrossFit trainers.
“People were getting qualified by a weekend course … and being taught the rudiments of what CrossFit stood for and some of the basic movements… but how do you schedule workouts to make sure that you don’t basically break down the body or get overuse injuries,” he said.
CrossFit published a 92-page response to the American military, defending CrossFit and arguing each individual should determine the intensity of his or her own workouts.
Don’t miss an encore presentation of “Extreme Workout” this Saturday at 7pm on 16×9.
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