High-intensity interval training is becoming more and more popular. But is this growing obsession with intensity getting out of hand?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) took top place in a report detailing the top fitness trends for 2014, proving that it’s becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise.

And with good reason – there are many benefits to it. However, as with all things, too much of a good thing can be detrimental to some.

HIIT is a high-intensity cardiorespiratory form of training, which alternates brief speed and recovery intervals to increase the overall intensity of your workout.

Done properly the benefits include:

• Increased aerobic and anaerobic fitness
• Decreased fasting insulin and increased insulin sensitivity
• Reduced abdominal and subcutaneous (just under the skin) fat

All this and it can be done in only a few minutes for a full workout. Sounds great, right? And it is, provided you know what you're doing and have some basic line of fitness to start from.

Is HIIT for everyone?

The answer is yes – and no. If you're a regular exerciser, then you should be able to safely start including some HIIT exercise into your regular routine and see the benefits in no time. That said, the tendency many people appear to have of going too hard too often, can undo many of the benefits of HIIT.

This is one of the concerns many experts have with the growing obsession with HIIT – more isn't always better. Doing HIIT every day may work for one person, but not for another.

Another fear many experts in the fitness industry share is that, with HIIT, often comes compromised quality of movement.

This means that while it's good to perform certain exercises at a faster speed than usual to challenge the body, if it's continually at the expense of proper form and done without the proper progressions, this can lay the ground for injury, overtraining and even a training plateau.

How to do it right

First prize is to get yourself a qualified trainer who can implement HIIT into your current programme in a safe and effective way, which will steer you clear of the dangers of HIIT and keep you moving towards your goals.

If you can’t afford a trainer, however, try to ensure you have the following in place before you throw yourself into too much HIIT training:

• A good base level of fitness.
• Good basic movement patterns – if you can’t do a basic bodyweight squat, HIIT squatting isn't for you.
• Sufficient rest in between intervals, and between workouts – recovery is where the magic happens. And if you don’t have sufficient recovery, you'll burn out or injure yourself.
• Progressions in place – leave the ego aside. If you can’t do more than 10 reps of a certain movement normally, you shouldn’t be doing a HIIT workout with it. Be realistic in terms of your current fitness and strength, and work from there.

The benefits of exercise go far beyond just burning kilojoules, and HIIT and can be an amazing addition to your programme. The key is to focus on quality over quantity. More isn't always better.

Sources: South African Heart and Stroke Foundation, ACSM Health & Fitness Summit, IDEA Health And Fitness Association