How to enjoy the gains of HIIT without the pain

Exciting, effective and time-efficient, it would seem that HIIT, the high intensity interval training technique that consists of short bursts of explosive movement followed by rest periods, can do no wrong. After a session only 20-30 minutes long, your resting metabolic rate stays raised for the next 24 hours, meaning that the fat burning isn’t over once you step off the treadmill, it just keeps going and going. Sounds ideal, right?

However, as the fitness world wholeheartedly embraces the high-impact approach, top doctors believe that it could be to blame for an increase in the number of people under 30 years old suffering from hip, knee and back problems. Despite the well-documented benefits, does this mean the intense approach needs to be avoided? Well, not if you take a read of our advice below on how to swerve all the common HIIT mistakes…

Problem: You’re an exercise newbie

You’ve signed up to the gym, bought your trainers and decided it’s time to get fit and boost your health – congratulations! However, before diving headfirst into the latest workout trend and taking on too much too soon, it’s worth being realistic about your current fitness levels in order to avoid injury.


One of the great things about HIIT is that there are many different ways to carry it out, from treadmill sprints to weighted routines. However, if you’re starting out as a total beginner, Puma trainer Jay Copley suggests you use your own bodyweight to perform your HIIT training. “There’s nothing better than getting to grips with understanding how your own body moves. When you begin to feel more confident then you can start to explore other avenues, such as the treadmill,” he says. To avoid taking on too much too soon, Jay also advises working on a quality programme that builds up the workout intensity over time. “For example, start with a 15 minute session and increase the time by five minutes each week until you reach 30 minutes.”

Problem: You’re not warming up

Warming up your muscles is one of the most important parts of any kind of workout, but failing to limber up for an intense HIIT session especially is a recipe for disaster. By stretching before going into the hard work, you’re increasing your muscle elasticity, which means they perform better and are less likely to get injured.


The best way to warm up for a HIIT session is to mimic the movements you’ll be carrying out in the main workout. So, if you’re planning on sprinting, warm up with a light jog for five to 15 minutes, or go through the moves for a few light reps beforehand to make sure you have the correct form for when you hit it hard in the real thing.

Problem: You’re overtraining

The short nature of HIIT workouts (which are never longer than 30 minutes) can often lead to people believing that there’s no problem with performing them every day. However, if you have done a HIIT workout properly, then your muscles will be well and truly exhausted, and so rest and recovery in between is key.


Knowing the exact amount of time your body needs to recover from HIIT training is tricky to calculate, especially when trainers and programmes advise different things. Founder of BodyIn8 and PT Callum Melly for example, strongly advises against workouts without a 48 hour gap in between: “The current trend of bodyweight HIIT circuits on a regular basis (often recommended at four to five times per week) if completed at maximal effort to make it effective, means it’s impossible to maintain safe form for your body. HIIT is extremely taxing on the body and central nervous system and can cause significant wear and tear to muscles and joints. I would only recommend this twice a week for no longer than 20 minutes, integrated into a resistance workout.” Jay, while agreeing that overtraining leads to a higher chance of injury, instead advises a maximum of three HIIT workouts a week to complement your other training. We think the key here is balance and listening to your body.

Problem: You’re recovering from an injury

As you might have gathered from the name, high intensity exercise isn’t exactly easy on the joints, so if you suffer from an old injury already, chances are this type of workout could cause it to flare up again. However, that’s not to say you have to ditch HIIT altogether…


As we’ve already mentioned, HIIT is a versatile way of training that can be performed a variety of ways, so if you’re nursing an injury or want to avoid a new one, simply opt for a low-impact method. Why not try sprints in the pool, or swap the treadmill out for the cross trainer, which still works your body but has less impact on the knees? Don’t have a gym membership? You can still train using your own bodyweight, just focus on moves that won’t pound your joints, such as seated tuck jumps and walkdown push ups. An added bonus is that this way your routine will be quieter too – ideal for those early morning exercisers who don’t want to wake the whole house!

The takeaway: adapt, adapt, adapt

Whether it’s playing with the timings of the recovery period, reducing the number of times you work out a week or simply opting for low-impact methods and moves, the good news is that HIIT can be a great, effective workout for everyone when tweaked to your age and fitness levels.
In order to progress and see results you need to work hard and keep pushing yourself, but the effort should always be just within the realms of your ability – not to the point of extreme discomfort or pain. Always listen to your body and you can reap the benefits of HIIT training safely and successfully!

Did you know…

Tabata, a popular version of HIIT that uses 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for four minutes, was originally created for the Japanese Olympic speed-skating team.}

Health & Wellbeing