Couch to 5K

Is HIIT the best training for everyone?

I started HIIT a couple of years ago and kept going for about 1.5 years. In that time I saw very minor improvement, I was injured frequently, the training was very uncomfortable and it wore away at my will to improve

I eventually decided to try going to the gym more frequently but with a much lower intensity. I ran slower and without an incline but I would run without stopping, I also used lower weights and much higher reps and stopped when it started to hurt

Anyway I've had a gradual improvement since then and gotten much better. I was just talking with my sister about it and she said it's nonsense, HIIT is the best for everyone, things like natural levels of endurance of high twitch muscle fibres are irrelevant and if I switch back to HIIT I'll get huge improvements in a matter of weeks. She said I should've pushed through the pain and tearing muscles only makes them stronger and then got mad and refused to talk

My sister has always been a lot more athletic than me and on the one hand I'm wondering if I really am just naturally weaker and I need this lower level of training to progress, or if my sister is better because she pushes herself through the pain and I'm just too weak willed. I'm reluctant to give up this low intensity high frequency training I have been doing since it's given me such amazing results, and I know the HIIT didn't work for me and was very uncomfortable and made me dread exercising, and I don't have the pain tolerance to keep going with torn muscles and it worries me that I'll only get gradually worse, especially since pushing through the pain using painkillers only seemed to make my injuries even worse and didn't make me stronger

I don't want to sound like I'm just making excuses. And maybe I was doing HIIT wrong and all the gym instructors were incorrect in what they showed me. I just know that this kind of mild training has gotten me results and the HIIT didn't, whether I was doing it correctly or not.

What should I do? Should I give HIIT another try and maybe visit another gym to see if they can show me a better way to do it? Is there any scientific explanation to explain why one person might fail to get results with HIIT but get good results with low intensity and high reps, distance, time, number of gym sessions etc? Is pushing through the pain really so much better than training til you ache a bit but no farther?

10 Replies

Our resident fitness guru is Rig. We can put out an APB for him to come and answer your question

I would think, from what you say, that dropping your intensity would be good because you would be motivated to do it. If you enjoy your exercise, and do it injury free, then that sounds good.


I don't have a single clue about this, but my instinct would be to favour what seems to be suiting you best and is not causing you injury, rather than to do things that are hurting you and not yielding results.

I think you need to enjoy what you're doing, too, as otherwise it's demotivating, and perhaps pushing against your limits is part of that too, but surely it needs to be within reason, not to the point of risking injury or, at the very least, making you dread the gym.

The only thing I would feel able to say categorically is DO NOT use painkillers to be able to push through the pain. That way you will not be aware of how much is too much until it's too late.

If I were you I'd probably avoid the subject of exercise when with your sister. I don't think it sounds like a very constructive conversation. After all, it sounds as if you have found what works for you, for now at least :)

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Thanks for the replies! I'm considering doing HIIT once per week in addition to what I'm doing, but I'll stop when it hurts. I'll aim to push myself hard for only a few minutes but stop if the strain feels too much :)


I think youve answered your own question. Your body is improving with the less severe exercise, so why would you want to go back to something you hate, that has put you off exercising, and that doesnt give you such good results? Your sister sounds old school. My partner is like that. He used to play a lot of football to a high level in his youth: his attitude is push through the pain, keep going when you’re injured. He has wrecked his knees! Fitness for some people is a religion, and you must follow holy writ, regardless of how it makes you feel.


Well, what do we know? We do Couch to 5K here, which seems to work pretty well for lots of people (perhaps because it is giving people a tool and they can then move on and use it in whatever way they want), and most of us don't do it in a gym most of the time, if we have a choice.

I am quite sure that HIIT is grossly inappropriate for me individually but that's a combination of basic physical and psychological make-up, and pathologies in my physiology.

As others have said, the best form of exercise is the one you keep doing.

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I have no idea on this at all... I just run.. and do core-strength ( following the exercises put out by Realfoodieclub ) and a stamina exercise regime that I put together myself...that and walking two days a week, pushing small runner in training in her buggy.. that works for me:)

I am sure that you will get some more helpful answers:)

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Why would pushing on with torn muscles make you stronger or in any way be good for you? Sorry, I really don’t get it. If a muscle is torn, it’s broken and incapable of doing what it was made for. It will only work properly again when it’s fixed.

But why tear it in the first place?

Maybe I just feel that way because at my age working muscles are precious and damaging them in any way is a recipe for disaster. Especially deliberately. You never know they may never heal properly again. And then where would I be?

I would ignore your sister!


Most training regimes that are designed to further develop your body, work on the basis of progressive overload, stressing your body beyond its normal range, which consequently triggers adaptations to muscle and bone. Couch to 5k does this very gently, because it is designed for new runners. HIIT should also be progressive, if you are wanting to continue to further develop your body. Injury occurs when the amount of stress incurred is too much for the bone, muscles, tendons or ligaments and they are being overloaded too far

Muscles do get micro tears when pushed by progressive overload and the repairing of these tears causes strengthening. This is not the same as a muscle tear, which is damage that needs rest to enable it to repair and continuing to stress it is counterproductive. The use of anti inflammatory pain killers to treat such injuries is hotly debated, as they reduce the blood flow to the affected area, which in fact needs to be flushed out before repair can start. It depends on the injury of course, because too much blood flow can cause secondary damage by creating extra pressure.

However, the question has to be asked, why you are doing it and to what are you aiming? If you just want to stay fit and have reached a level of fitness that you are satisfied with, then your lower intensity regime may well be adequate. If you want to further develop your body then the HIIT approach with progressive overload will probably be the way to go. Ultimately, if you are happy doing something, then you are more likely to persist with it long term. There are probably many other forums where you will find a greater proportion of the members involved in HIIT and gym work and have greater knowledge. I do not do gyms.

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I really do think exercise is personal. If you had asked me 10 years ago about running and how my body responded to it my answer would be so different to asking me today. Sometimes we have to change our own mindset to a particular exercise before we completely embrace it. Sometimes we have to build ourselves up to get the best results from an exercise. Ultimately do what makes you feel energised invigorated and left wanting to do it again. Any exercise that has those sort of benefits will bring body benefits as a side effect as well, most of all enjoy your exercise because that is what will keep bringing you back to it day after day.


It sounds like you know what you enjoy and don't enjoy - exercise/ sport should be something you enjoy - do what suits you and is a pleasure.

Your post reminds me of a phrase from many many years ago "Go for the burn! " After some time it was recognised that many people were injured by this philosophy and there was a U turn. The phrase changed to "Don't push to the burn - if it hurts - stop."

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