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June 24, 2024

Why HIIT is SH*T for Women Over 40

A LOT of women their forties and fifties have tried HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) as a way to lose weight and tone up.

However, something we see time and time again is women doing intense cardio sessions every week to lose weight. They’re working really hard, but seeing no results in the mirror, and this can be REALLY frustrating.

With the popularity of HIIT style workouts it's no surprise more than ever I am seeing women of a 40+ come in saying:

"I've been doing these for years, but all of a sudden - it's not working."

I just want to clarify that I am using the catchall term "HIIT" to refer to high-intensity, often-plyometric-heavy and heart-rate-spiking styles of exercise. 

Most fit women (including our coaches) respond to the excitement of super high-intensity workouts from time to time; whether it's a killer DEKA or a calorie-torching spin session or treadmill session.

The problem lies not with doing these workouts from time to time (though, based on what I say a bit further down, you may disagree!) but in making them the bread & butter of your fitness lifestyle - at the cost of workouts that might actually do more toward your goals.

An example, Coach Staci in preparation for Spartan Race season, DEKA Qualifiers to Worlds. started an intense Spartan and DEKA training program while easing up on her strength training. Workouts 6-7 days per week with a run schedule included  The result?

Early on, she experienced some gains in composition and fitness. The scale remained the same. But those six (!) high-intensity workouts per week, had the downside of slowly breaking her down .Low-level injuries like plantar fasciitis and shoulder pain started. 

"I was exhausted by mid-week, literally dragging myself to workouts just to stay "on routine."  I wasn't gaining any more muscle and I was almost always sore to the touch.  Worst of all, the fat loss had come to a complete stop, and I found the scale tipping 10lbs the other direction, despite maintaining a high level of activity and eating."

What changed?

Research suggests that consistent HIIT Style exercise can spike cortisol levels, and while with short-term exposure, cortisol levels will return to baseline, with extended and repetitive exposure, stockpiled cortisol can contribute to symptoms that include fatigue, lowered immunity, and lack of motivation.

What's more is that added stress from high-intensity workouts, loaded on top of the already-stressful demands of being a career professional, parent, caretaker, or the host of other roles that modern women over 40 are consistently occupying, will keep your sympathetic nervous ststem in a constatnt state of low-level stress("fight or flight" mode), which can make you feel constantly exhausted, hungry, and sore.

In Staci’s case she is in Adrenal Fatigue, along with many of her hormone levels being “off”. 

So what's the solution?

In two words: STRENGTH. TRAINING.  And no, sorry, the jumping-around-with-weights type of training doesn't fit the bill.  Progressive strength training refers to slow, tempo-controlled resistance movements done with proper form and alignment, targeting all the major muscle groups of the body with increased volume over time. 

In the beginning, this may look like 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps per exercise, done twice per week.  Ideally women 50+ should incorporate strength training three times per week. Schedule in some level of rest between sets, and space your strength workouts at least a day apart (focus on getting your step count up between strength days- another often-overlooked element of fitness for women over 40!). Daily purposeful movement activities such as incorporating mobility and core work such as yoga and stretching and make sure the movements you're doing address balance and alignment issues as well.

So you’re a DEKA lover? You do it to keep your daily routine? Mental stability?  We get it! Our Done Done Coaches love it too.

Our suggestion for our Strong Her clients is to enjoy the sessions but the intensity MUST be kept down to avoid further metabolic damage that has been done over the years. This means your heart rate should stay in the 70-80% range with recovery between. 

Wear a MyZone belt? STOP looking for 90+% heart rates during these sessions and further adding to your fight or flight mode. 

If this sounds like a tall order - you just might need a coach to help show you the way.  Reach out to us at 302-312-1890 or schedule a time to speak with me.


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