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How Does High Intensity Exercise Affect the Body?

Woman in a gym doing heavy weight exercises

High intensity, high impact exercises like CrossFit and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) have been very popular as of late, but is it the best type of workout for you?

High impact exercises can offer a lot of benefits, but we also need to remember that the spine and other bones and joints in the body take on a lot of that impact. High-impact exercise can be great for some people, but others may benefit more from lower-impact exercises.

What is High Intensity Exercise?

High intensity exercise is a fairly strenuous type of cardiovascular exercise that tends to be high-energy, and high-impact. This type of workout often includes things like running and jumping, but can include any high-energy cardio activity. High intensity exercises get the heart rate up.

One popular form of high intensity exercise is high intensity interval training (HIIT). People who follow a HIIT program do fast-paced, intense bursts of movement for a short time, followed by a period of rest. HIIT exercises tend to be fairly high-impact, just because you are cramming a lot of movement into a short period of time. However, HIIT exercises could potentially be modified to be lower-impact, as long as the activity still gets the heart rate up.

Another popular form of high intensity exercise is CrossFit. CrossFit combines elements of cardio, weight lifting, core training, and many other fitness activities. CrossFit is definitely very intense, and may not be suitable for people who are new to high intensity workouts.

Pros of High Intensity Workouts

If you are interested in a high intensity workout routine, there are several ways you can benefit.

  1. It increases your heart rate. Cardio exercise is important for cardiovascular health. It helps to strengthen your heart and lungs.
  2. You can burn more calories. High intensity workouts tend to burn more calories in a shorter amount of time than lower-impact activities.
  3. It improves your balance and coordination. Doing intense movements at a quick pace can go a long way in helping you develop balance and coordination.
  4. It can improve your bone density. High impact activity can actually stimulate the bones to grow stronger.

Cons of High Intensity Workouts

There are certainly a lot of benefits to be had, but high intensity workouts are not right for everyone. People with certain conditions and health problems may need to opt for more low-impact activities. High intensity exercise may not be for you if:

  1. You aren’t in good shape. High intensity workouts, particularly CrossFit, can be too much for someone who isn’t in shape. You may be able to work your way up to that point, but if you start off with high intensity workouts, you’ll have a greater risk of hurting yourself.
  2. You have spine or joint problems. High intensity workouts can be very jarring on the spine and joints. If you are already having problems with your spine and/or joints, a high intensity workout isn’t likely to make that better. In fact, it may make it worse. In this case, it would be better to opt for a low impact form of cardio.
  3. You have a pre-existing injury. If you already have an injury, participating in a high intensity workout program could make things worse. It’s really important to let yourself completely heal before you jump back into a full-intensity workout, or you could slow your recovery time.

Overall, high intensity workouts carry a greater risk of injury than lower-impact exercises. You need to be careful not to push yourself too far. Workouts like HIIT and CrossFit can be very tiring, but you should not come away from the workout feeling weak, exhausted, and in a lot of pain. If you do, you are pushing it too far.

If you want to try a high intensity workout, start slow, replacing only 1 – 2 workouts per week with high intensity activities. Let your body build up endurance over time, and you will be less prone to injuries. Look for signs of injury, and give yourself a break if it’s too painful.

High intensity workouts are just one of the many forms of exercise you can do. If it isn’t for you, don’t give up–there are plenty of other options that are just as good.