In recent years, there’s been a tidal wave of research and training methodologies to help athletes perform their best. There’s never been so much information to get bigger, faster, and stronger, particularly for younger athletes. Year-round sports, select travel teams, and social media have drastically increased competition in youth athletics over the past couple of decades.
This surge of competition has created the best young athletes the world has ever seen. Middle schoolers are throwing baseballs 90+ mph, bench pressing 300+ pounds, running sub-4-minute miles, showing their six packs on social media, and shaving their chest hair before they can drive. Young boys are as big, strong, and fast as their dads now. The strength, speed, and athleticism coming from the next generations of youth are hard to put into words. It’s incredibly impressive.
As with every advancement in society, there’s an ugly side too. Even though today’s average middle school team could kick my then-high school team’s butt, there comes a price to high levels of play at a young age. Injuries have equally skyrocketed. Youth athletes are suffering from overuse injuries and chronic pain that you used to expect out of athletes twice their age. ACL injuries, Tommy John surgeries, and back pain are also at levels never seen before in our youth athletes.
There’s been a ton of information on how to get bigger, faster, and stronger in recent years. That led to the high levels of athleticism we see today. But the recovery aspect of training has unfortunately been put to the side in favor of improving performance, sadly leading to the early demise of many young athletes’ careers. Part of why recovery training is overlooked is because it’s hard to directly correlate the results to better athleticism. However, recent research points towards new training methods to cater to both. Improving athleticism AND recovery simultaneously has been mostly thought very hard to achieve, if not possible. HIFT (High-intensity functional training) shows promise in doing just that, however.
HIFT (high-intensity functional training) is a derivative of the popular HIT or HIIT (high-intensity training/high-intensity interval training). That training style has mostly been popular in the fitness community for those looking to lose weight and attain general fitness levels. HIFT training, however, is showing good promise for athletes and their benefit.
HIFT training is the same training style as HIIT training, except the exercise selection is geared towards total body, compound moves such as pushups, chin-ups, various styled squats, and plyometrics.
A 2020 study from Greece took a group of physically active adults and put them through a HIFT training regimen. After two months of training, the adults, on average, lost body fat and improved their jump height and strength numbers. This isn’t necessarily unheard of, as most strength and conditioning protocols will accomplish this. What’s remarkable is the other half of the study. Their blood samples showed no increased muscle damage or inflammation throughout the two-month program.
HIFT for Athletes
Athletes frequently sustain injuries in the middle of a season. Many of those injuries do not come from contact or accidents on a field. Many are from overuse and the abuse that builds throughout a season. Most of these injuries come from the buildup of muscle damage and inflammation, which is why the study from Greece is so exciting, as they measured no adverse effects from the training style.
For in-season training, coaches and athletes must prioritize training that maintains the strength and speed required for their sport while prioritizing recovery at the same time. This makes HIFT training particularly intriguing, as the study points towards improved and sustained athleticism without the cost of further damaging effects on the body.
How To HIFT
For the study, the subjects performed nine different exercises. Each exercise lasted 30 seconds, with 15 seconds of rest. This was completed for four rounds and was done three times per week. That’s less than 10 minutes per day, three times per week. Obviously, that is very little time commitment that any coach can implement into practice.
When it comes to in-season training, it’s always encouraged to give athletes what’s called the minimum effective dose. What’s the best bang for our buck training we can do to maximize athleticism while also maximizing rest and recovery, reducing the risk of injury? The results from HIFT training appear to offer both of those benefits.
Every sport is different. A football team shouldn’t implement HIFT as a cross-country team does. Implementing HIFT still needs to be catered to the specific needs of athletes and their positions, so coaches still need to plan accordingly.
Examples of HIFT Exercises
The point of functional training is to replicate movements relevant to everyday activities or sports. For athletes, some good examples are:
- squats (goblet squats are my favorite)
- single leg RDLs
- Bulgarian split squats
- lunges of all varieties
- ring rows
- plyometrics such as box jumps, ice skaters, medicine ball throws
- bear crawls
- Olympic lifting variations
And many more. These can all be done with little to no equipment in a very time-efficient manner. Every practice for every athlete can utilize this style of training, regardless of environment.
A study from Germany further shows that HIFT training can produce better athleticism in ways superior to traditional strength and endurance training.
Implementing HIFT training can be an effective and highly time-efficient way to maintain or improve athleticism during the rigors of the season. Most importantly, this training style likely reduces the likelihood of injuries and chronic fatigue athletes experience as a season progresses. Saving this time and effort can allow coaches more time and energy to focus on fundamentals and game strategy during practice. When appropriately implemented, HIFT training can be a highly effective way to train our young and old athletes.