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Can Burst Training Be Effective For Individuals With High Blood Pressure?

I received a good question today from a fellow fitness professional regarding my position on burst training as it relates to individuals with high blood pressure. I’ll share with you our correspondence to explain my position based on experience working with numerous clients over the years.

You’ll see a lot of different expert opinions on what type of exercise should be done with people who have high blood pressure. There’s research on both the low intensity and high intensity sides to back up their positions.

While research can certainly provide us with insight on the most appropriate strategies, I think it’s important to remember that no two people are exactly the like. Exercise is scalable and intensities, volume, and duration can and should be adjusted to each situation.

Here’s the context of our conversation.

Question

Hey Shane,

I am a fitness and nutrition enthusiast from Michigan working towards my CPT, and I have taken a particular interest in burst training.

From my research, you are one of the dominant voices in this philosophy of exercise.  I have plans to open a studio following my certification and I must say that seeing what you have created absolutely fits with my vision. It inspires me immensely.

I talk a lot about burst training to all of my friends because of what it has done for me, and what I see it doing for other people. I have a friend who is very interested in changing his workout routine from the typical 45+ min cardio on an elliptical, to doing more high intensity low duration stuff.

However, he recently was rushed to the ER because of severe heart palpitations.  After several tests – including a stress test – it was determined that it was entirely linked to high blood pressure.

I have tried to do some research on whether or not bursting would be a good or terrible idea for someone with his condition and I am getting mixed reviews.  Most sources are saying bursting is great for people with high blood pressure because of it’s nature of lowering your resting heart rate.

One specialist suggested that it could be detrimental due to the intensity it puts on the heart during the workout.

Have you encountered this with any of your clients before? Is bursting safe for people with high blood pressure? What is your professional opinion?

Thanks for your time, Shane!

Response:

Hi, thanks the email and I sincerely appreciate the kind words. I commend you for your aspiration to open your own studio and would encourage you to follow that passion. Anything I can do to help you along the way I’d be happy to do so.

In regards to your questions about burst training and individuals with high blood pressure. Yes, I’ve most certainly encountered this numerous times and can share with you some practical experience from working with clients.

Burst training can have a significant impact on improving blood pressure and resting heart rate, but there’s often adjustments that need to be made.

I’ve seen more and more individuals coming in with not only high blood pressure but also signs of adrenal weakness and insulin resistance. These things frequently go hand in hand with Metabolic X syndrome. High blood pressure is rarely an isolated issue….it’s a sign of other hormonal imbalances and inflammation in the body.

Starting these individuals out with full scale burst training can be counterproductive because the adrenals are in no condition to respond to the central nervous system stimulation.

I’ve seen individuals even in their twenties become dizzy, nauseous, and light-headed with a single 20-30 second burst. I believe a lot of this has to do with their ability to buffer the adrenaline and norepinephrine hitting the blood stream and nerve endings. Adaptation can come fairly quick but I’ve definitely found it beneficial to scale the intensity and workloads.

When symptoms of adrenal fatigue and poor insulin sensitivity are discovered during the assessment process I typically adjust their exercise prescription.

For starters, aerobic exercise at 50-70% max heart rate is issued for cardio work. This basically is walking or low-moderate aerobic work. No intervals, etc. in the first 4-6 weeks.

On the resistance training side the burst training is scaled back to incorporate longer periods of rest between movements. I’ll still stick with the basic human movements using functional exercise as a starting point.

Push-up’s, assisted pull-up’s, bodyweight squats, kettlebell swings, band push-pull, rotations, chops, etc. Typically I’ll have circuits of 7-8 exercises and complete 2-3 rounds in a 30 minute workout.

Basically you just want to minimize movements that would require holding of breath (valsalva maneuver), getting up and down from the floor quickly (burpees, etc), and combining compound movements back to back.

Here’s a quick example of a scaled total body burst training workout that I might use….

Bodyweight Squats
Resistance Band Pulls
Push-Up’s
Kettlebell Swings
Cable or Band Rotations
Plank
Dumbbell Curl to Overhead Press

Repeat for 2-3 rounds. Allow adequate rest between movements.

As you can see this isn’t the typical 3-4 sets for one exercise then move to the next, but it’s also not “rapid fire” burst training. As the individual becomes more conditioned and develops better movement patterns I’d add more weighted resistance and increase intensity by shortening rest periods, adding more volume, load, and combining compound movements, etc.

By using this approach I’ve had very positive results with lowering blood pressure. Much faster response times than traditional weight training workouts and cardio combinations.

I think there’s definitely something to be said with 50-70% heart rate for cardio being best in the beginning with HBP. Staggered intensity work with cardio can come after an aerobic base is developed.

In essence, I start slow and build up to burst and higher intensity routines. I think individuals need time to adapt to the hormonal responses with higher intensity bursts, more so than just the elevated heart rate. You’ve got to wait to capitalize on the adrenal responses. They just need more time.

I hope this helps answer your questions. Burst training like anything else can and should be scaled in intensity and volume. Giving someone even 30 seconds rest between movements can make burst training more effective in the beginning.

It doesn’t have to be 5-8 movements done back to back without rest. This is where we get into the modalities you’d typically see with Crossfit, which in my professional opinion are NOT suitable for adults with Metabolic X syndrome.

Scaling the resistance training, functional exercise, and cardio in the way I’ve shared with you can help lower blood pressure without putting the individual at risk. It’s not that you can’t get their heart rate up or work exclusively in the aerobic energy system.

It’s more about scaling things so you don’t get into really high systolic blood pressure ranges and 90% plus heart rate ranges in the beginning.

Bottom line…

Burst training can most definitely be used as a safe and effective exercise modality with individuals who have high blood pressure. When scaled properly and progression carefully considered, I’ve found it to be a highly effective strategy when combined with low intensity aerobic exercise.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. Personal training in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation using 30 minute burst training workouts and Primal Blueprint nutrition strategies. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference for yourself today.

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Category: Burst Training.