The Problem With This Trendy Type of Workout, According to New Research

HIIT might be easy to squeeze into your calendar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will keep you on your exercise game.

High-intensity interval training workouts have received high praise over the past few years — because isn’t the ideal workout one that requires just a little bit of time AND promises anti-aging perks? Well, er, no, actually. New research, published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, sheds light on a pretty big flaw of HIIT workouts: They aren’t really all that pleasant for most people. And if a workout isn’t enjoyable, what are the chances you’re going to subject yourself to it on a regular basis?

For the study, performed at Iowa State University, researchers recruited inactive and obese individuals and had them perform two types of workouts that burned the same number of calories: one of the workouts was built around high-intensity intervals (where you’re going all-out for short bursts of time, paired with short periods of low-intensity movement or recovery) and one was a longer, moderate-intensity workout. The researchers measured participants’ levels of pleasure and enjoyment both during and following the workouts, and found the people reported greater levels of both during and after the moderate-intensity workout.

So, why does this matter? Well, “I don’t have time” is a common excuse for not exercising. But as lead study author Panteleimon Ekkekakis, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, argues in a press release, if you don’t enjoy something, you’re less likely to sacrifice your time doing it — even if, like with an HIIT workout, it’s not much time. “The message of ‘squeezing it in’” — like HIIT workouts help you to do — “perpetuates the idea that exercise is a chore. We want to break down the association of exercise as punishment, as something unpleasant, something to tolerate or a bitter pill you have to swallow,” he says. That way, you’re more likely to start and — here’s the key — keep up with an exercise routine. HIIT, he argues, isn’t a sustainable workout method for many folks, largely because who wants to do something they don’t find enjoyable?

So the takeaway: If you’re squeezing high-intensity interval training into your life, but, um, hate it, maybe try a longer-format, lower-intensity form of exercise you actually enjoy. Think: hiking the Wissahickon (and catching some sweet views of fall foliage!) with your dog, or biking the Schuylkill River Trail

Like what you’re reading? Stay in touch with Be Well Philly—here’s how: