High Intensity Interval Training
Switch classes fall into the category of High Intensity Interval Training workouts (HIIT). I don’t take HIIT classes often, so I figured it would be a good stretch of my comfort zone, and good cross training.
The class was structured with 20 stations. You get paired up with a buddy and spend 2 minutes at each station, doing 2 different exercises in 30-second intervals.
The room is dark and the music — played by a DJ in the corner — is loud. A team of trainers oversees the activity, giving you a quick demo of the exercises and telling you when to switch it up. The head instructor roams the floor barking the final 10 seconds of each interval into his microphone and providing a running commentary of personal development and fitness cliches:
Hustle. Push harder. Move faster. Sweat more.
Sweating hard and moving fast seems to be a big part of the ethos here. The encouragement is to “leave it all out on the floor” and walk out exhausted.
If you’ve still got energy, you didn’t work hard enough.
Does Sweating Mean You Had a Good Workout?
There seems to be a common perception — at least as evidenced by reviews that people leave on ClassPass — that the sign of a “good workout” is that you sweat a lot and you left exhausted.
Sample ClassPass review:
It wasn’t a good workout. I didn’t even break a sweat.
That came from a review of a restorative yoga class.
I don’t claim to be a fitness expert, but I have a lot of fitness experience in a wide range of disciplines. And my experience and research has shown me that the two are not correlated.
First, not everyone has the same sweat response. Maybe you have a higher threshold for sweating.
Second, there are many types of exercise where you might not break a sweat but you still work the muscles effectively. Sometimes more effectively. Disciplines like pilates, and gyrotonic often feel like you’re not doing much because they are more subtle. They work deeper layers of muscles.
Third, what it means to have a “good workout” is subjective, and likely based on your desired outcomes for your workout. Do you want to burn calories and shed fat, bulk up your muscles, get stronger, improve your agility, improve your balance, clear your mind?
The workout in which you’re not sweating may actually be more effective in terms of building strength, endurance, agility, or balance. And just because you’re sweating doesn’t mean your workout is effective.
Good vs Effective
By the end of the Switch class, I had worked up a sweat, but I didn’t feel like I had done a good workout. More specifically, I didn’t feel that it was effective.
I didn’t dwell on it much after the class. The sky had cleared a little and I learned I could grab a spot in the 11 am trampoline class. (Suddenly my energy was back.)
As I walked across town, I realized what felt off for me in the HIIT class:
I felt rushed.
I hate feeling rushed.
The fast pace of the class didn’t allow me to focus on proper form; in some cases, I didn’t really get the movements down. Despite a team of trainers on the floor, the 2-minute sets and short breaks in between don’t allow much time for proper demonstration or correction. I could hardly get into the rhythm of any station before it was time to switch. The rushed pace of the class didn’t allow the time to really work any muscle to fatigue.
My fatigue was more a product of the constant switching than from actually pushing my muscles to their limits.
This was the fitness equivalent of busy work. A lot of moving around and hustling that left me drained, but didn’t actually help me make meaningful progress toward my outcomes.
Unless my outcome was to sweat a lot.
It was shallow work. On the surface, it may look like I did a lot. But in truth, I didn’t accomplish much.
Lots of action, little progress.
Rushing is Not Effective
One of my trapeze coaches points out that when I try to rush my swing, I bend my knees. This makes my swing less effective. I can’t build height without power. Power comes from good form, which includes straight legs.
My trampoline coach reminds me every week to ride up off the trampoline, to wait before initiating the trick.
Patience is a Muscle Too
Waiting, taking more time, cultivating patience, paying attention to form — these are difficult things to do. They are the hardest muscles to build.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t ever need to hustle or move quickly. If you’ve seen me walk down a sidewalk, you know my “slow” is often other people’s speed walking.
And also, this is why this is my practice.
There are times when there is merit to hustling. But without proper technique and alignment the sweat and hustle won’t produce results. It’s activity without progress.