Use Caution With High Intensity Workouts

Use Caution With High Intensity Workouts

By: Mark Lui, Director of the TMH Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Program

Mark Lui is an exercise physiologist and the director of Tallahassee Memorial's Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation program.

Mark Lui is an exercise physiologist and the director of Tallahassee Memorial's Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation program.

With the new year often comes resolutions for losing weight, and more and more people are turning to high intensity workouts to achieve their goals. These exercise programs are fine when done correctly, but caution should be used to prevent complications.

At the Tallahassee Memorial Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Center, we sometimes treat young clients recovering from heart attacks. In the last year we have had several who have experienced their heart attack after going to a high intensity exercise program at a gym or in the Tallahassee community. These experiences are leading many in the exercise physiology field to wonder if high intensity exercise programs are safe. Is it mere chance if someone experiences a heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) during or immediately after an intense workout session or have these workout programs changed in the last couple years?

History shows us that high intensity programs can be safe.  Track and field coaches have used high intensity interval training for decades with very little problem.  Athletes may run a 200 or 400 meter distance followed by a cool down period and might complete as many as 10 to 15 intervals in a workout, but this can occur safely because coaches generally understand the importance of recovery time.

In contrast, some high intensity exercise programs allow as little as 20 seconds of recovery time between workout stations or intervals. These short recovery programs fail to follow basic exercise physiology principles, and herein lies the danger.

The main byproducts in high intensity workout programs are lactic acid and a high core temperature. Both create the potential for health problems. The goal during workout recovery times is to process lactic acid and move it to other areas of the body. This includes the heart muscle.  Extremely short recovery times will lead to excessive changes in blood PH and core temperatures.  While, most participants will quit long before the muscles fail, the heart goes into arrhythmias or they experience respiratory failure, some highly motivated individuals may continue exercising and suffer adverse results.

In order for high intensity exercise routines to be safe, basic precautions must be followed. Stay hydrated, and, if possible, exercise in a cool, dry environment.  Make sure you are allowing adequate recovery time in between high intensity bouts of exercise, and discontinue activity if you experience any lightheadedness or dizziness.  Your recovery times should always match or double your intense activity time.  In other words, if you are performing a one-minute high intensity activity, follow it with a two-minute low intensity recovery or one-minute of complete rest. With the right approach, high intensity exercise can be a fun and safe way to workout.

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