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Rutgers study: is popularity of HIIT behind increase in gym injuries?

A study on exercise injuries has suggested that people who engage in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) could be putting themselves at greater risk of injury.

Research by Rutgers University in the US, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, shows that there has been a steady increase in the number of injuries accredited to the use of exercise equipment since 2007.

Using an analysis of people's exercise habits, the study then links the increase with the growing popularity of HIIT.

For the study, a team of researchers at Rutgers analysed records in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System from 2007 through 2016.

They found a total of 3,988,902 injuries resulting from the use of specific exercise equipment – such as barbells, kettle bells and boxes – and people doing calisthenics (such as burpees, push-ups and lunges). Both methods of exercise are common in HIIT.

The researchers found a steady increase (an average of 50,944 injuries per year) in gym injuries, which the team deemed to be in line with analytics showing the growth in the number of people doing HIIT workouts.

In terms of the types of injuries, the study found that there was a significant increase in nerve damage, internal organ injuries, concussions, puncture wounds, dislocations, sprains and strains for the period from 2007 to 2016.

Most injuries involved knees, ankles and shoulders – and the "most injured group" were white males aged 20 to 39.

In its conclusion, the report states that: "Given increases in injuries related to HIIT workout programmes, athletes should be educated on how to minimise preventable injuries.

"With particularly high rates of knee and ankle sprains and strains, neuromuscular training and pre-strengthening programmes, which have been previously demonstrated to be effective among young athletes, may be particularly worthwhile in prospective participants.

"Physicians must be up to date with current fitness trends to best advise patients appropriately."

Joseph Ippolito, a physician in the department of orthopaedics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School – and a member of the research team, added: "These workouts are marketed as 'one size fits all', but many, especially amateurs, do not have the flexibility, mobility, core strength and muscles to perform these exercises."

The researchers, however, stressed that the results shouldn't be seen as a reason for not taking part in HIIT – but rather an encouragement for people to seek proper guidance and instruction ahead of workouts.

"We certainly do not want to discourage people from this type of exercise because of its numerous health benefits, but recommend that they understand the pre-existing conditions and physical weaknesses that may predispose them to injury," said co-author Nicole Rynecki.

"Exercises such as stretches that can increase range of motion and strengthen rotator cuff muscles are important, especially for older people and those who are predisposed to rotator cuff tears."

To access the full report, click here.

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