HIIT. High Intensity Interval Training. The word itself feels like a punch in the face. You already know you’re not in for a walk in the park. So of course, I love it. I’m always up for a challenge, always looking to push back my own limits, to go above and beyond. Introducing HIITs into my routine was just another way to express that intensity and passion for movement, to feel my body in action, the rush of blood through my muscles, the flow of breath inside me. To feel alive.
I started with a few of them, picking up workouts on the Internet, trying to choose the hardest ones. The principle behind this kind of training, and why it got so popular, is that you push yourself as hard as you can for a very short amount of time, and then take some rest, to be able to push again for another high intensity interval. Usually these workouts are meant to be very short in order to be effective, since you can’t be at a 100% for a long amount of time. It’s the whole idea behind HIITs.
Therefore in my mind, it would only work if I was really working hard in those short intervals. My objective wasn’t very clear actually. To become stronger? To be fit? It’s not like I am on a journey to become the best HIIT athlete or anything like that, but still, I had that desire to really do it well. However, no matter how hard I was pushing myself, it never felt like it was enough. It never felt like I was actually performing a HIIT, especially when I was reading about people who felt like throwing up after their workout. The workouts felt too short too, so I always made sure to add in a few reps, which could explain why I wasn’t pushing that hard either.
When do you know when enough is enough, vs too much? Is it really healthy to go that hard? I don’t know. I actually went on performing these workouts for more than two years, throwing myself from one exercise to the other, trying to increase my heart beats and push and do as many reps as I could. A bit like what hot yoga might feel like to a beginner, or Crossfit to a non-lifter. Hard to get something good out of it if you don’t know what you are doing.
After a short break of this kind of training and some discussions with a friend, I realized that I might have gotten it wrong. That what I learn in yoga about breathing, not causing more stress to the nervous system in order to go deeper into postures, could also be applied to this kind of training. That with less unpurposed movement and more focused action, with a slower flow and more breath, with less anxiety and more presence, I could potentially get more out of these workouts.
So I tried. And it felt great. Once I stopped pushing against my own body, depriving it from the sacred breath it needs to be able to perform such demanding exercises, it felt a lot more natural to move through the workout. I started experimenting more pleasure than before. HIIT didn’t feel like torture anymore, and I wasn’t dreading these workouts as I used to the night before, confident that I would simply give it my best shot, and respect myself through the whole process.
However, I don’t know if we can still call it a HIIT then, once the violence is taken out of workout. Who cares. It is what it is. Simply another way to get stronger, to experiment the breath under different conditions, to work the body in multiple forms.
As one of my favorite yoga teachers kept reminded us through a great practice this week, “Don’t work too hard”. Such a simple idea, yet so challenging to put into practice in our daily lives. In so many areas we are constantly pressured to give our best selves, to push to our limits. We don’t even need to get those external expectations anymore, we internalized them so well that we have become our best critic, the judge of all our actions, the one who is still dissatisfied even when we do our best, because we could have done better.
What happens when we don’t work too hard? We don’t fill out all the holes. We create space. For the breath, for something else than performance, for that intangible creative spark. We choose to not make our way through thick and thin, but instead to use the ki power to get where we want to, since when we don’t work so hard, we can become aware of what is already there to work with more easily. And finally, we can last longer. As Interpol sings it so beautifully, pace is the trick.