#37 The Ins and Outs of High-Intensity Functional Training

#37 The Ins and Outs of High-Intensity Functional Training

High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) has exploded onto the scene with daily Workouts of the Day (WODs) aimed at improving human functional fitness levels. HIFT workouts are great as we usually show up for a one hour class (so there are others to suffer with us), do some type of strength or skill movement, and then hit a WOD that leaves us breathless (and not in the good way).

The group training aspect brings about a great opportunity for people to connect and gain a sense of community. This is huge because most of us that start exercising typically stop after a short time, meaning we don’t adhere to exercise. Our intrinsic motivation declines as we just can’t find the motivation within ourselves to actually continue with the exercise program.

When an activity is fun, enjoyable, and we are surrounded by others, we’re more likely to continue that activity. With HIFT, exercise adherence has been positively correlated with enjoyment, social support, and intrinsic motivation. So we’re more likely to continue doing it! HIFT also provides an opportunity to build social capital and extend friendships beyond the gym (#networking).

True story, we personally know a guy who went from being an accountant to an investment banker because of the connection he made during a WOD. So give it a try!

Now WODs are usually competition time. Fearless participants complete a workout as fast as possible, for as many repetitions as possible in a certain amount of time, or for maximal weight lifted. The rise and popularity of this style of training has brought about competitions that take place all across the globe with athletes fighting to be the best exerciser they can be.

To summarize it, HIFT promotes a fun and competitive environment where a community of people can come together to improve fitness levels.

What It’s Not

HIFT has been described so many different ways it’s time to set the record straight. HIFT is not High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT typically involves running, cycling, rowing, etc. in which there are periods or bouts of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of “rest” where effort is minimal. HIIT consists of one mode of exercise whereas HIFT included several modes of exercise.

So, HIIT it unimodal, whereas HIFT is multimodal. Mode just means the type of exercise (ie. running, rowing, free-weights, machines, etc.). Where HIIT includes a single mode of exercise, like running,  HIFT includes running, rowing, cycling, and things like that but adds in gymnastic type movements like pull-ups and ring muscle-ups as well as weightlifting or powerlifting movements like cleans and squats, encompassing multiple modes of exercise.

The Juice is Worth the Squeeze

HIFT most exemplifies High-Intensity Resistance Circuit Training (HIRCT). HIRCT workouts are designed not to take more than 30-60 minutes. Just like HIFT, we’re in and out in an hour. When compared to treadmill running or traditional resistance training, this style of training  burns more calories and increases heart rate more, meaning we can get more bang for our buck in less time. We also see improvements in strength and lean body mass.

Not only now are we a stronger, calorie burning machines, but our capacity to perform aerobic exercise also improves. So, running or cycling can actually become easier by lifting weights faster...mind blown!

Similar physical and physiological benefits are seen with HIFT and HIRCT. The main difference is that HIFT focuses on the community and competition. The whole goal of HIFT is to create an optimal environment for everyone to work at a personal high-intensity to promote improvements in general physical fitness and performance.

When compared to traditional strength training, those that partake in HIFT display greater overall fitness. Those that do HIFT demonstrate enhanced strength and higher aerobic capacities (VO2max increased by 22%) compared to those that just do traditional strength training. These are similar to the benefits we see with concurrent training as well.

HIFT for the Tactical Athlete

Tactical athletes are our law enforcement, firefighters, and military who are out on the front lines serving our communities. HIFT is a very popular style of training amongst this group and for good reason. Compared to those that did army physical readiness training, those that did HIFT showed better results on the army physical fitness tests. They had greater muscular and cardiovascular endurance as well as greater strength and power performance.

However, there has been controversy as to whether this style of training is beneficial and safe for tactical populations. HIFT caught-on like wildfire amongst this group as it focuses on “general physical preparedness”. Tactical athletes need to be well conditioned, strong, powerful, and ready to do anything when duty calls. However, injuries have been a concern with this style of training. Though, when we look at long distance running, common sports, and other styles of training, HIFT is no less (and may even be safer) than more common physical activities.

How HIFT Burns More Calories

So, we see that HIFT improves both aerobic and anaerobic performance, but what about what really matters, burning calories and getting fit looking. Well, in just a 5-8 minute workout we can burn somewhere around 150 calories. Now, this may not sound like a lot. But we continue to burn more and more calories after the workout.

So, what we’re saying is that we can actually burn more calories at rest after we do a HIFT WOD. This works because our excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) stays elevated. Greater oxygen consumption, whether during rest or exercise, increases caloric expenditure. We may be familiar with this concept commonly known as the “afterburn effect”.

So how does this help us to burn fat?

Prolonged EPOC increases the rate of triglyceride/fatty acid utilization, shifting from burning carbohydrates to fats after exhaustive exercise. So we can burn more fat at rest after exercise.

Also, this style of training helps to increase muscle mass long term, which in turn, increases our Basal Metabolic Rate (calories we burn just being alive), promoting greater caloric expenditure at rest. Those that have done HIFT, in just over two months, lost 4% body fat. That’s without changing diet or nutrition, just exercising.

Add PowerDot to Your Training

HIFT comes with amazing benefits and we want to make sure that you are maximizing those benefits by using PowerDot.

Start with your warm-up. HIFT involves a lot of multijoint complex movements and we want to make sure that our body and muscles are properly ready to fire when needed. A warm-up is designed not only to heat up your body but also ensures you are getting optimal muscle activation. Your PowerDot has a great warm-up setting that can be used to enhance voluntary dynamic muscular performance, so fire when ready!

In many HIFT workouts you will see front squats, cleans, thrusters, and a whole lot of other barbell types of movements. A lot of these exercises are/or resemble movements common in weightlifting and powerlifting. Adding PowerDot to your training increases muscle size and strength, especially for those squatting movements which can help to make you king or queen of the box (box = gym). So don’t forget to utilize it within your training.

Lastly, post-workout is a great time to take a load off and chill on the couch and let your PowerDot help you with recovery. For those of us that have ever done HIFT workouts, we know the struggle is real the next day or two as our muscles are sore. This is known as delayed onset muscle soreness and it’s ok! Sore muscles, days after working out, are just a reminder that we worked out hard and our muscles are recovering to get bigger and stronger. You can use your PowerDot to speed up your recovery and decrease muscle soreness. You can even use the soothe setting also in the office without anyone knowing, just to get a little bit of extra recovery before you go hit your next WOD.



Joshua D. Dexheimer, PhD, CSCS, USAW, PES

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