A set of attributes that people have or achieve relating to their ability to perform physical activity is called physical fitness. (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services). Fitness can be broadly categorized into two categories; health-related fitness (body composition, cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, endurance, muscular endurance, and muscle strength) and skill-related fitness (agility, balance, coordination, power, speed, and reaction time). An individual must have the required skill sets, physical prerequisites, mental focus, and motivation to excel in any activity. In many ways, the person who succeeds in their particular sport is the one who has improved their physical preparation, increased their physical capabilities, and maintained a higher degree of mental concentration. This is where strength and conditioning come into play as it strives to improve strength and endurance, decrease the incidence and severity of sports injuries, and seek to improve technique and overall performance in athletes. The choice and development of dynamic and static exercises used to boost physical performance are known as strength and conditioning. It is an amalgamation of strength training, conditioning of aerobic system, training of speed and agility along with sports-specific training.
Over time, training requirements have changed and adapted due to the varied physical demands of an athletic population. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to consider the required adaptations by athletes for improving their performance in sports. This is what brings us to discuss the latest exercise training modalities like high-intensity functional training and their importance in improving sport-specific performance.
Many sports strategies aim at improving sports performance. Resistance training is one among them, which strives to enhance muscular strength and power in athletes for all sports. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is pretty much similar to resistance training and has gained a lot of attention recently due to its ability to enhance anaerobic and aerobic capacity, as well as improve performance. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) refers to an exercise program that is characterized by relatively short bursts of vigorous activity, interspersed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise for recovery. ( J H Neta et.al.2019). It’s a popular fallacy that HIIT and HIFT are interchangeable terms. By definition High-intensity functional training (HIFT) is a training style [or program] that incorporates a variety of functional movements, performed at high intensity [relative to an individual’s ability], and designed to improve parameters of general
physical fitness (e.g., cardiovascular endurance, strength, body composition, flexibility, etc.) and performance (e.g., agility, speed, power, strength, etc.) ( J H Neta et.al.2019). The utilization of resistance-based exercises and functional movement patterns, as well as the recommendation of rest periods, are the two areas where there are the most significant variances. HIIT uses unimodal exercises like running, cycling, and rowing. However, HIFT includes multimodal exercises like squats, push-ups, and functional exercises.
Squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, pull-ups, and vertical leaps, are examples of functional exercises which include whole-body, universal motor recruitment patterns in different planes of movement. Having said that HIIT and HIIFT possess some conceptual similarities like their high-intensity nature of exercise but there exists a distinction in their methodologies that lead to significant physiological differences in responses as well as adaptations.
Fewer research studies have been conducted to compare HIFT and HIIT.
A study conducted by Buckley et.al carried out a comparison between multimodal-based HIIT with that of unimodal-based HIIT in women. The results revealed that multimodal-based HIIT/HIFT offers comparable improvement in aerobic and anaerobic adaptations when compared to unimodal-based HIIT. However, an additional benefit of notably improved muscle performance was only observed in a multimodal training approach.
Another major difference between HIFT and HIIT is the rest period or rest interval.
HIFT allows an individual to perform as many repetitions as possible (AMRAP).
It allows one to take a break as needed depending upon their level of physical fitness. Hence, the rest breaks are not prescribed here. On the other hand, HIIT involves prescribing a specific period as a rest period in between short vigorous bursts of exercise.
What benefits does an athlete obtain by incorporating HIFT over traditional resistance training?
The greatest advantage of HIFT is that it can be altered according to the fitness level of the athlete and results in enhanced recruitment of the muscle compared to repetitive aerobic exercises eventually enhancing flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance.
A cross-fit training template is used in HIFT. This is based on the notion that increased capacity of work is observed in an individual over time.
HIFT includes mono-structural exercises like running, rowing, etc, body weight movements like squats and push-ups, and weightlifting derivatives like the snatch, shoulder press, deadlift, etc.
Recent evidence suggests a significant enhancement in maximal oxygen consumption(12℅) and bone mineral content (1℅) reduction in body fat(8℅).
HIFT benefits both aerobic and anaerobic systems. More importantly, it improves general athletic ability which is, in turn, responsible for an improvement in work capacity. These improvements are the most significant HIFT intervention effects that have been recorded to date.
How can HIFT yield better overall results?
An enhancement of the general ability of an athlete and capacity for work takes place through HIFT, particularly if implemented in the off-season. This is because athletes’ general fitness may improve to the point where they accept heavier training loads that are sports-specific during the pre-season.
HIFT and metabolic adaptations for sports performance
Kliszczewicz et al.conducted a study to compare a cardiovascular response to a training session known as Cindy. This training session required the participants to perform as many rounds as possible 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 bodyweight squats in 20 min. The results were compared to 20 min of high intensity running 90℅ of HR max. The results revealed that Cindy was more metabolically demanding compared to 20-minute high-intensity running.
From the studies, it can be concluded that HIFT sessions require more metabolic energy. Appreciable improvement in aerobic performance is observed in an athlete via HIFT.
Research suggests that HIFT could be employed as a substitute for certain sport-specific training regimens as well.
HIFT to improve muscle strength, power, and endurance
It’s feasible that an interference effect won’t be a problem when HIFT is used to train athletes who do not specialize in pure endurance or strength disciplines because evidence suggests that such athletes can simultaneously develop their physical strength and power and endurance performance in various sports.
Evidence suggests HIFT can improve muscle endurance, strength, power, and hypertrophy given its high number of repetitions and intense nature of training sessions.
A study conducted by Carnes et al. compared the HIFT/cross-fit program and traditional training program. It showed that the cross-fit group exhibited the greatest improvements in muscular endurance in the lower body.
To summarize, it is advised that weightlifting exercises should be the main component of the training session to maximize strength. Similar criteria should be followed while improving muscle power and it must be understood that, despite being popular in some HIFT settings, repetitions of explosive exercises may not be the best way to stimulate the growth of this trait and hence, should be avoided. Considering that many HIFT sessions are completed with brief rest intervals and a greater volume of repetitions, it implies that muscular endurance will benefit the most.
As they say, every rose has a thorn, and HIFT has certain limitations as well.
The metabolic stress elicited in participants by HIFT is of a high level. The stress exerted is as same as the one exerted in a single aerobic bout. Studies on HIFT frequently have a significant risk of bias and a poor level of evidence according to a meta-analysis, and an improvement in the quality of studies is required so that HIFT can be critically assessed.
Training errors like not enabling sufficient training overload to occur can be attributed to the failure of improving fitness components. Therefore, one should provide room for consistent training adaptations to occur. In addition, there is a requirement to focus on implementing a proper plan along with the exercise modalities.
Another reason for the lack of enhancement in physical fitness is an increased level of fatigued induced by HIFT. Hence, it is of paramount importance to consider the rest period to provide an athlete with adequate time for recovery. Having said that HIFT is considered a safe training strategy due to its rate of injury being similar to weightlifting and most recreational sports.
Despite certain limitations, promising outcomes have been shown in the research. Studies suggest that the participants who participated in Crossfit training exhibited vertical jump values which were similar to age-matched soccer players. This highlighted the fact that HIFT has resulted in appreciable improvements in key parameters for better sports performance in many sports.
To summarize, High-intensity functional training utilizes functional exercises along with vigorous cardiovascular activities, which can stimulate various body systems fairly and comprehensively. As discussed earlier in this article, HIFT possesses the potential to improve all the components of health-related fitness and agility, and power as well. Along with these benefits, evidence suggests an increased adherence and enjoyment shown towards HIFT compared to the traditional method of training.
It is suggested that HIFT is a time-effective technique, especially for sports that call for the concurrent development of several fitness components for performance. Concerning this, athletes belonging to various sports can incorporate HIFT into their training protocol to avail its advantages. It is recommended to incorporate HIFT, especially during the off-season and pre-season. Nonetheless, HIFT can be included during the competitive season due to its time-efficient nature which aids one to maintain and improve their performances in sports.
Finally, coaches need to be aware that HIFT can result in high levels of overall training load and severe degrees of tiredness.
Sessions should therefore be designed for the objectives of the particular training phase, and sufficient rest period in between the training. There should be time for healing in between sessions.
However, HIFT has exhibited the potential to be a secure and efficient tactic that could enhance performance in untrained and recreationally-trained people. Because recreational athletes would have a shorter training schedule, HIFT could be a useful training method for them. Despite that further research is required to support the function of HIFT for fitness improvements in various sports. Because it has the potential to elicit high levels of mechanical and metabolic stress similar to what is seen in training treatments in high-level athletes, future studies should concentrate on the direct intervention of HIFT offered in different sports and how can these training sessions be effectively incorporated into existing programs.
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