THE BLOG

Cavemen, Barefoot Running and HIIT

19/04/2013 14:39 BST | Updated 18/06/2013 10:12 BST

Last week, for the third year in succession, I attended my company's annual fitness convention (disappointingly, the possibility of me getting a match ball wasn't even discussed). The weekend features lectures and practical workshops on a range of topics relevant to personal trainers and group X instructors, and has been running for more than 20 years.

Even though I was working a number of different jobs at the event and didn't get the chance to attend as many sessions as I would have wanted (hint hint managers), it was still a great chance to assess where the industry is currently at. What I saw was further confirmation of what I had already thought, rather than anything drastically new.

First, the industry is all about the caveman at the moment. The number of people advocating the paleo diet shows no sign of waning, and barefoot running is rapidly increasing in popularity. As a staff member I was given a free pair of Vivo's and I must say they were pretty comfy to walk around in. I'm not against barefoot running at all, but I do find the current glorification of the caveman to be somewhat bizarre; it seems to me that we are putting our modern-day perceptions on to what the life of a caveman was actually like. We're romanticising their lives and, in some cases, making assumptions (and generalisations) about them that we can't possibly back up.

The other trend that was emphasised was the focus on intensity, with Tabata having a major presence at FitPro Convention. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) made the news this week, after Andrew Marr seemed to blame it for his stroke, but I would argue that one of the things that not enough HIIT classes seem to have, ironically enough, is genuine intensity.

It is worth remembering that, in his original study, Professor Izumi Tabata used athletes and a training protocol that consisted of eight sets of 20 seconds of exercise at 170% of VO2 max on a stationary bike, with 10 seconds rest between each set. Let me just repeat that: 170% of VO2 max. That's incredibly difficult and something that a lot of people will never be able to attain.

It's not much of a surprise that, working that hard, they achieved such great results. What was novel, I think, was how little time it took to achieve these results. But, again, I point you to the fact that they were working at 170% of VO2 max. I'm not denying that HIIT works - what I'm saying is that when people bang on about HIIT and how "isn't it amazing, you can get fit in minutes", they don't realise just how hard you have to work for this to be the case. We're talking about working out so hard that many people are physically sick afterwards.

What was refreshing and reaffirming to see was the sheer number of fitness professionals at convention, the vast majority of whom had paid out of their own pocket to attend. Seriously, in how many other professions would people pay their own money to improve their own skill set? The fitness industry gets a lot of stick - some of it rightly so - but also needs to receive praise where it's due.

As well as dishing out scoops of praise to those who attended, I also learned a few facts: an alarming number of male personal trainers like to wear t-shirts at least a size too small for them; going to bed late and getting up before 7am every day will make it look like I've drawn bags under my eyes with felt-tip pens; and that, try as I might to be cool, nothing got me on the dance floor on the social night quicker than a 5ive mega mix. With the intensity that I danced to that, I was probably close to doing some HIIT myself.