Why HIIT Injury Risks Are High for Women in Menopause

How to Reduce Injury Risks While You Get Fit

Women in menopause are looking for answers. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has a reputation for being an amazing way to burn fat in less time than steady state or continuous exercise. There’s no arguing with studies proving it. There’s probably no time when HIIT is more seductive to a woman when during hormone change all the rules seemingly change overnight.

Depending on your hormone status, it could be amazing for you. However, the not so amazing thing about HIIT is that it’s often begun by perimenopausal, menopausal, or post menopausal women who:

  • don’t have great energy levels
  • have thyroid or adrenal issues
  • aren’t sleeping well

Any of those can suggest cortisol and blood sugar issues. When women in menopause have existing health problems due to hormone status perform HIIT, what works for someone else probably won’t for you. You may not recover well. I’ve written and spoken vehemently about the increased need for attention to recovery after 50. That’s for anyone – not just someone with an issue.

What Happens When You Don’t Recover?

You increase inflammation and cortisol imbalance (high when it should be low, low when it should be high). That leads to a depleted immune system and exhaustion, which can lead to adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal fatigue is common among women in menopause. It starts when women seeing a trainer regularly begin to cancel frequently. Have you experienced this? You frequently get sick or have such low energy you feel like you’re getting sick. (see more on adrenal fatigue in resources below)

It’s important before women in menopause jump headfirst headstrong into a fat burning bootcamp, or grab that P90x or Beach Body workout featuring HIIT guaranteed to burn more fat in a workout than you ever could with your walking program, you have a foundation. Progression is a principal of fitness that is frequently ignored among fans and followers of HIIT workouts, from new studios and fitness franchises, to mom and pop bootcamp in the parks.

Why Breakdown Occurs Faster Than Recovery

The nature of exercise is that it is a breakdown experience. Microtears in muscles, stress to joints and ligaments, all are a part of regular exercise. The rebuilding and repair phase between high quality exercise sessions is when fitness occurs.

It can’t, however occur with the support of:

  • adequate nutrition
  • adequate protein
  • adequate sleep
  • true rest between exercise
  • hormonal balance

For that reason women in menopause are a bit more vulnerable to injury. They’re often not getting enough sleep, and not sure how to get more sleep, or may be “dieting,” skipping meals, missing nutrients. Intermittent fasting can be right for some and totally wrong for others but if you’re skipping meals, missing micronutrients your body needs when you do eat, something is going to break.

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Where Women in Menopause Should Start

Start with an aerobic and strength training base. It’s putting the basement in before you build the penthouse. Makes sense, right? But in our desire for results yesterday’s yesterday we abandon logic and speed ahead to college calculus before we can add.

Even with a good base (30 years of exercise I’d say qualifies), I progressively increased intensity to include small bits of HIIT and I still only do it 1-2 times a week. If I’ve been away from interval training for a while I’ll shorten workouts. I may do three 10 or 15 minute interval sessions until I’ve built back to longer (capped at 20-25 minute) sessions.

Elite athletes I’m surrounded by in this endurance athlete mecca of Boulder, Colorado do the same. Why would anyone with a casual relationship with exercise expect she should or could do more and get good results?

Sprinkled between those HIIT sessions are other low-to-moderate intensity workouts that support fitness and most importantly, recovery. Use activities like boxing, biking, rowing, swimming or water exercise that are easier on joints and can still give you a HIIT fix.

Women in Menopause who LOVE exercise:

Long workouts, not just high intensity ones, sabotage if your cortisol levels are already skewed. Small amounts of long, slow, lower intensity exercise (and short lower intensity for that matter) support hormone balance. Gardening, walking the golf course are two examples. However, after 75 minutes of moderate to high intensity work for many women in menopause cortisol levels begin to have a negative effect. (regardless of what your head thinks about it!)

If you’re an exercise lover or a goal-getter, beware, it’s you and I that need to really be attentive to whether it’s really working or it’s just our minds playing tricks thinking what we used to do, used to think works, is working.

Avoiding Excess Stress from Exercise

So, thinking “more is better” will truly backfire on you. It doesn’t matter whether you’re thinking more times a week you do it, or the more minutes you do it, both will cause deteriorating benefits and increasing detriment.

Exercise, though a much-needed and health-promoting habit, causes oxidative stress if overdone. Too much HIIT and too much endurance exercise both will accelerate aging and shorten telomere length.

Build a foundation of fitness. Low-to-moderate level exercise that you enjoy should be that base. When you feel good and you’re sleeping well you can to increase. If you’ve had hormones inflammatory markers (C-Reactive Protein) tested use the intel. Introduce more intensity when your numbers are stabile and inflammation is going down.

Monitor how well you recover from exercise. If you’re exhausted, or you have a bigger or loss of appetite, or you’re exceptionally sore you’re not recovering well. If your resting heart rate is elevated more than 5 beats that’s also a sign you’re not recovered.

Progress with a Plan

As your body tolerates a build-up in your aerobic fitness levels, then add some high-intensity exercise (about twice weekly) for about 20-30 minutes. Sequence your exercises in work-rest intervals. The less fit you are, then make the rest interval a little longer. For instance, 1 minute of hard effort ‘work’ followed by 2 or 3 minutes of rest. As you increase fitness, then increase the ‘work’ phase and decrease the ‘rest’ phase.

To prevent the loss of muscle tissue with age (Sarcopenia), perform two days of strength training. But avoid alternating cardio and strength moves which can decrease the benefits of both.

H.I.I.T. can be a best friend in perimenopause and beyond if you monitor how you feel and adapt a plan for your needs. The truth is that at this moment women in menopause are more susceptible to injury from HIIT. It’s only, however, due to the way HIIT is approached.

References for this post come from over 150 sources listed in:

Hot, Not Bothered

You Still Got It, Girl!

You might also like: 

Adrenal fatigue to Adrenal Reset with Dr. Alan Christianson

How to Exercise During Adrenal Fatigue Recovery After 50

[Both above are podcasts: You can also listen from iTunes]

Are You Doing HIIT Wrong? 

The Ultimate Guide to Your Recovery Day 

Is HIIT Really the Best?

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