High Intensity Training: Common Mistakes

This is the second part of my High Intensity Training discussion.  

I already outlined some of the benefits of high intensity training, explaining why it works.  However, there are some common mistakes that I have seen that I feel are important to discuss as well.  The biggest mistakes I see being made are:

Exercising too many days at too high of an intensity.  There are many people who fall in love with high intensity training once they discover it.  The feelings of accomplishment, the weight loss, whatever it might be – they get hooked.  And then they go gangbusters!  However, exercising at too high of an intensity on too many days can actually have negative consequences.  While we know that exercise can be good for us, too much exercise in terms of volume or intensity can actually increase our risk for illness, injury, cardiovascular issues and other things. Using the principles of overload and progression, we want to build ourselves up, not tear ourselves down. The human body responds to stressors, but if the stressor is too great and coming too often, it can begin to break you down.

Not monitoring exercise intensity.  Very few people actually pay attention to how their exercise intensity feels while they are exercising. This is known as rating of perceived exertion.  How would you rate how hard you are working when you exercise?  Do you even tune into this?  Another more objective way of doing this is by using a heart rate monitor.  (Determining where your exercise intensity should be can be done several ways and is meant for another discussion.)  The bottom line is that many people just arbitrarily “go at it” with whatever they can muster on any given day.

Not getting a baseline and progressing too quickly.  High intensity exercise is not safe for everyone.  Checking with a health care provider if you have not been active is a must.  For those that have been active, figuring out your health and fitness level and what you are capable of when you start training at high intensities is a good way to keep yourself honest and measure progress over time. By this I mean, figure out where you are starting and slowly progress from there.  There are different ways you can go about this that will help you minimize your risk for injury. Some use the 10% rule.  This involves limiting how much you increase your volume each week.  Too often people come into a workout feeling great and (again) arbitrarily just add more with no rhyme or reason as to how much more.  Just because you feel good enough to add 3 miles to your run doesn’t mean that’s what is best.  Using the 10% rule to guide you through from week to week (or more) allows you to progress, but minimize risk.  For those of you working closely with coaches or instructors you can talk with them about a more individualized means of progression.

Not cross-training.  It’s human nature to be drawn to do the things we like doing or the things we are good at doing.   But if we repeatedly stick to the same exercises or the same activities we can also be creating imbalances and weaknesses. We also miss out on the opportunity to get better at things.  This is why I am not a fan of early specialization with kids. Not only are they getting injuries that they should not be getting, they are missing out on the opportunity to develop and work on skills in different ways.  Variety also reduces boredom while reducing risk of injury.

Not taking enough recovery time. The grand-daddy of all!  Our body needs recovery time to repair and rebuild!  It’s as simple as that. If we don’t give it the opportunity to do so, then it just won’t happen. The older we get, or the less conditioned we are, the more recovery we need.

Trying to “work through” injury.  I’m guilty of this.  Listen to your body.  Pain is a message and don’t try to slap a band-aid over the source. Get the bottom of where the pain is coming from and what the root cause is because if you don’t, you will be sorry.



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