Is the craze for high intensity exercise a cause of concern for our knees?

In our increasingly busy lives, the claim that doing just 30, 15 or even 5 minutes of HIIT at a time was the sure fire way to lose weight and get fit seemed too good to be true. This was a workout that anyone could fit in between work, family and social commitments.

Top flight athletes have known for many years that high intensity interval training is essential to gaining a competitive advantage, but now every gym in the country is offering HIIT classes. However, if you’re not a top level athlete is HIIT safe, particularly for our joints?

HIIT health benefits

A workout that involves intervals of high intensity exercises, followed by short recovery periods, means you get maximum benefits:

  • High intensity training boosts endurance as it adapts the cellular structure of the muscles so you can increase stamina in any type of exercise or sport
  • It boosts your metabolism so you can burn calories and fat in a shorter time period
  • The period after your work out is called EPOC which stands for Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. This process of increased fat burning usually lasts for two hours as the body continue to use more energy as it returns to a non-exercising state. The EPOC after HIIT is greater with up to 15% more calories expended than after a standard workout
  • It’s been proven to be beneficial for those suffering from chronic health problems and studies have shown that it might even be better for you than regular moderate intensity exercise. HIIT can lower glucose levels in those suffering from diabetes as proven in one 12-week controlled study carried out in Denmark
  • Rather than putting your heart under intolerable stress, HIIT exercise can actually reduce the chance of developing cardiovascular disease, by increasing peak oxygen uptake and the flexibility of our blood vessels and by strengthening the heart

HIIT typically utilises your own body weight rather than expensive gym equipment so it’s accessible to all and is often seen as far more enjoyable than just pounding away on a treadmill. This means you’re more likely to stick to it, which is really the most important consideration.

High intensity interval training and your joints

A HIIT class will usually be a combination of core, upper and lower body exercises, but many include key exercises such as squats, lunges and short bursts of sprinting. Jumping exercises, known as plyometric movements, can be particularly hard on the knee joint. All can lead to an inflammation of the patellar tendon that connects the kneecap to the tibia, commonly known as runner’s knee. Over time the inflammation can become so marked that it limits normal everyday activities and but very rarely results in a tear of the patella tendon.

It is imperative to avoid high impact not high intensity. Look for low impact exercise classes that minimise the pressure on your joints. If you are experiencing knee pain and stiffness that is affecting your work out, then an orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in treating the knees, such as Mr Jonathan Webb, can offer you assessment and diagnostic tests, before advising you on the appropriate treatment. To arrange a consultation at either his London or Bristol knee clinics please call 08450 60 44 99.