Is it okay to start high intensity interval training (HIIT) once you have restored your period after hypothalamic amenorrhea?
If you're a really long time reader, you probably know that I used to love HIIT workouts. I did them multiple times a week. I used to talk all the time how I don't want to spend too much time on working out. I told everyone how HIIT makes it possible do be in and out of the gym, park or wherever else you're working out, in 20-30 minutes.
I still think HIIT training can have its place and time, but I don't recommend it soon after you have restored your period after hypothalamic amenorrhea. Even for very healthy people, I probably wouldn't recommend HIIT more than 3-4 times a week, especially if they're not recovering and sleeping well.
But today, let's talk about why HIIT is not ideal for you if you've just gotten your first recovery periods. Keep in mind that the book “No Period, Now What” recommends you wait at least three cycles before start training again.
Why You Should Not Do HIIT Shortly After Hypothalamic Amenorrhea
There are several reasons why I don't recommend you start HIIT training shortly after you've seen your first periods after hypothalamic amenorrhea. I explain them here and add also my own personal experience.
The Focus of HIIT is Getting Totally “Destroyed”
How many times have we heard or seen it: If you're not absolutely crushed after your workout, you did it wrong! Or, You shouldn't be able to move after your workout! That's the only way it works!
The goal of HIIT is to burn you out. That's why it's such an effective fat burning workout (given that you also sleep well and eat in a way that supports it).
But someone with a recent history of hypothalamic amenorrhea, shouldn't push herself to the point where she's absolutely burnt out. This is exactly where your body sends out an alarm: STRESS!! I can't afford it, there's too much going on, so I better turn down the functions that are not crucial.
And your period may be one of the first ones to go.
You may be able to add HIIT in later. Right now, your body remembers the stress well because it was still very recent.
I personally haven't done much HIIT after my recovery. I've tried a few sessions here and there. but I find that it's hard for me to recover from them and it also starts to negatively affect my sleep.
HIIT Increases Your Cortisol Levels
Your body may be very sensitive and respond negatively to increased cortisol. Cortisol levels go up after doing a hard workout.
Cortisol is not a bad thing; we all need it but in right amounts and right times during our day. However, getting large spikes like the ones you get during a HIIT workout, are not ideal for you shortly after recovery.
Cortisol levels also get elevated when you do cardio workouts that last longer than approximately 20 minutes. That's why I wouldn't recommend running for longer than 20 minutes, either, if you're just getting back to working out after hypothalamic amenorrhea.
You May Not Be Conditioned Enough For HIIT
Depending on how long your break from working out was, you may not be physically ready for HIIT training. Because HIIT is done really fast, there's very little focus on form. That means that your risk of getting injured is also higher. Remember that you haven't probably done much training for months.
During that time, you've likely lost some strength and conditioning. (To me personally, this is harder to handle than weight gain.) HIIT is physically difficult, but seeing how your endurance and conditioning have decreased, doesn't feel good psychologically either.
Added weight can play a role too. We want it or not, doing a bunch of burpees takes us more time and is physically harder than it used to when we were lighter. In HIIT, you're expected to move extremely fast. I'm not saying you need to lose weight so you can do burpees faster. I'm actually saying that you should maintain your weight and maybe not do too many burpees for now. Build your strength and conditioning back up slowly!
HIIT Is Not Ideal for Building Strength
HIIT training is meant to burn a ton of calories and fat. It also increases your cardiovascular fitness. But isn't the best strength training method out there.
You may want to burn calories and lose weight, but it's too early to think about it shortly after you've gotten your first periods after hypothalamic amenorrhea. If you start HIIT and/or try to cut calories too soon, you may find yourself back at where you started — with no period.
Instead of focusing on calorie and fat burn, focus on building strength. Strength is what really keeps you healthy. Carrying muscle and being strong is healthy and functional.
Start with bodyweight exercises but don't do them in HIIT fashion. Take your time to focus on proper form. Then you can start adding in weights if you'd like, like resistance bands, dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and more. That's how you actually get physically strong.
What to Do Instead of HIIT
Many HIIT advocates say that you can get maximum results, spending minimum time, which makes HIIT so awesome. 20 minutes and you're done!
Doing HIIT in 20 minutes can be a great option for someone who is super fit (and also young… ah all the things you notice when you hit 30!) and very conditioned. They may not need a long warm-up and they can really “destroy” themselves several times a week and feel accomplished and great.
If you've just gotten your recovery period(s) though, I would say, skip the HIIT and do these things instead:
Find Ways to Move Throughout the Day
Many of us have a very sedentary lifestyle. It's not a great idea to be sitting at your desk for 8 hours, then get out and crush a HIIT without a proper warm-up and work so hard that you're about to black out. Think what kind of pressure doing so puts on your body, especially if you haven't worked out for a while!
Instead, go for walks, take the stairs, get up and do some squats and push ups if you have a sedentary job, and stretch a lot.
Focus on Getting Stronger
I recommend you start focusing on building strength first. Focused strength workouts take longer than HIIT, but it's for your health, so make time for them.
Depending on how long you weren't able to work out, you may have lost quite a bit of strength.
In my case, my historically weak glute muscles started giving me a lot of trouble, and I also needed to build up the core strength to support my back. You don't strengthen these muscles in a 20-minute HIIT session. You do it by taking time for proper warm-up, then use low resistance and high reps to slowly build the strength up. It's not a fast process.
Yoga and especially pilates are also great to build your strength, especially core strength, back up again. And they don't burn you out.
After you finish your workout, stretch. I see so many people leaving the class right after the workout part is done. But stretching is super important. That's also important for injury prevention, so make it a priority.
If you lost your period but got it back and are now wondering how to start working out again, don't start with HIIT. It's too strenuous, it puts a lot of pressure on your nervous system, joints and muscles that aren't used to it.
HIIT also causes cortisol spikes that you don't want to have too frequently. Your goal is to keep these levels moderate to avoid losing your period again.
Instead of destroying yourself by doing HIIT, choose smarter workouts. Do low-grade movement frequently and build strength by bodyweight or other types of strength workouts.
If you do that, you have much better chances that your newly found period will come again next month.
If you need support on your journey to recover from hypothalamic amenorrhea, get my guide: How to Eat for HA Recovery.
Are you recovered from hypothalamic amenorrhea and want to start training again? Do it safely, without losing your period again. Check out my online program, Simple Strength for Women.