HIIT For the Older Adult

Patrick Pryzbrowski

Patrick Pryzbrowski

Dear Debbie,

A special thanks goes out to Juetta West, a Practice community member-at-large, who sent me a recent article on Why Older People Should Not Shy Away from High Intensity Exercise. As the article notes:

When you look for the largest factors that influence early mortality rates, they include poor diet, high blood pressure, obesity and tobacco use. HIIT training can have a significant, direct impact on blood pressure and metabolism, which in turn positively affects calorie burn and weight loss (assuming you eat more than you burn). It also aids in oxygen consumption and can lower blood sugar and decrease blood sugar and insulin resistance.

The same article also suggests that “adding high-impact exercises into the mix was found to help with bone density,” quoting a study that appeared in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research (JBMR), where 101 women underwent eight months of regular high intensity resistance and impact training (HIRIT) and experienced significant gains in their bone density that remained even if they stopped regular training.

I agree. HIIT training can be good for older adults, as can high impact training. 


It’s important to ask the obvious question: Are HIIT and HIRIT right for me? If you were to ask me that question, I would need to know the following before recommending them as training modes for you:


Medical history to date, including musculoskeletal injuries, cardiac risks, inflammation-based conditions like arthritis, and bone density related conditions like osteoporosis

Training history to date

Current levels of hip/knee/ankle mobility, balance, shoulder mobility, trunk stability, and rotary stability

Current ability to competently perform the following movement postures and patterns: 

  • Half get up
  • Leg lowers
  • Shoulder bridge
  • Swan dive prep
  • Swimming
  • Leg pull front
  • Lateral flexion
  • Roll up
  • Teaser
  • Crab walks
  • Kneeling hip hinge
  • Half kneeling lunge
  • Tree
  • Squat

Any fan of HIIT will tell you that, with the exception of the squat, none of these patterns are likely to appear in a typical high-intensity, high-impact workout, and they’re right.

These patterns are part of the Over Fifty Fitness (OFF) Series 1 chart, and they are decidedly moderate intensity and low impact. 

All of the patterns in series 1 are prerequisites to those patterns which make up the bulk of HIIT drills.

If you can’t perform these patterns without compensating, or without pain, you aren’t (yet) a great candidate for HIIT or HIRIT. 

Based on my 20K hours of experience working with clients over fifty, the road to HIIT and HIRIT passes through all of the OFF patterns in Series 1 and the upcoming Series 2.

Why? Unlike when you were in your 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s, one significant injury can eliminate all of the gains you’ve made over years, and potentially block you from the health benefits and feelings of wellness that you were training for in the first place. I’ve made this mistake in the past, with myself and with some of my clients. It’s my responsibility to ensure that it doesn’t happen again

I am all for high intensity workouts, but before you sprint, jump squat, and kettlebell swing, let’s first make sure you’ve built a foundation for success. Reply to this email to set up your HIIT readiness assessment today!

Best wishes for a successful September,

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