HIT training might be a super effective addition to your speed training regimen because it has been proven to increase fitness with less time than more traditional training.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you replace much of your training with HIT training, but it might be that you would want to do a HIT workout for one of your two harder workouts of the week, and that workout will involve fewer total miles.
If you struggle to find time for running, then HIT training could be a godsend because it will allow you to get a great in a much shorter time. However, as I’ve said many times, you don’t want to do intense workouts on back to back days.
HIT workout is a special, intense type of interval workout. So, you must first understand the concept of interval workouts. An interval workout is a series of running segments alternated with some time interval.
There is no agreed upon exact definition of high intensity training, but high intensity interval workouts generally mean the intensity is higher than in a traditional interval workout, and unfortunately, some coaches encourage their runners to work at an effort of 100 percent, but I don’t think that’s advisable. I would definitely say 95 percent would be the max, and an effort of, say 90 percent, provides excellent results as well.
So these are short bursts of running at high intensity with a brief recovery period, and the recovery could be a slow walk, just to keep moving, or a slow jog, and the time of the recovery period varies. The recovery periods could be from seconds on up to minutes.
Let’s look at the benefits of HIT training, when and how to work them into your schedule, the one piece of equipment you’ll need, and some examples of HIT workouts.
Let’s look at the benefits of high intensity interval training:
- It’s brief, only a fraction of the time of a full speed workout; yet, it may be very impactful. So, lots of bang for your buck.
- Because it’s intense – because you are working very hard, you burn more calories in the same time frame.
- It is appropriate for just about anyone because the intensity and interval can be adjusted, accordingly.
- It may improve blood pressure
- Cardiovascular health
- Insulin sensitivity (which helps the exercising muscles more readily use glucose for fuel to make energy)
- Cholesterol profiles
- Abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscles mass
- Improve VO2 max
Now, this information is not off the top of my head. I’ll link to resources at the end of this article.
Research is proving that, at least in some cases, it is possible to drastically reduce running mileage, run just as well, and be very fit by utilizing HIT. That is a big deal.
Of course, there is still much debate among runners, and as they say, “Results may vary, but HIT training has been around for a few years now, and with the results that many people are experiencing, I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.
Consider this, though: HIT training is intense, and training at that intensity should be – must be – carefully guided, preferably by a coach, and incorporated into your training appropriately; otherwise, the risk of injury is high, and the likelihood that you will experiences great results will be low.
It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it here, in case you haven’t yet internallized the hard easy principle of running training: Like any other intense training, never do two HIT workouts back to back. I would advise one HIT workout per week and one other speed workout such as a tempo run, but many people do two HIT workouts each week.
Even then, this training needs to be carefully planned, taking into consideration the fitness level of the runner, that runner’s goals, the runner’s goal race, and where the runner is in the training cycle. Remember, at the beginning of each training cycle, training should just be focused on base-building for several weeks, at least, before any speed work is added, including HIT workouts.
Then, ease into it, and like everything else with running training, you’ll learn what frequency and what type of HIT training is most effective for you, your body and your goals.
Now, I said there was one piece of equipment you’d need. That is a device for timing your bursts and your recovery. This is critical.
You have three options for timing your HIT segments.
- You can actually download an interval timer app for your smart phone. I have one, although I only use it as a backup. One nice thing about that is that you can hear it through headphones. So, you can dial up some super fast-paced tunes for your workout and still hear the timer.
- Many of the popular gps running watches have interval timers, but these do tend to be the pricier models. I think my watch does that, but I don’t use it because – and maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I try never to switch screens on my watch because invariably I have to look up the instructions to get back to the screen I want. I’m sure if I did it regularly, I’d get the hang of it, but I prefer to keep it simple. I don’t even upload the results of my runs to my computer – gasp. Yes, old school.
- This is my favorite. It’s a cute little device, maybe 1.5 inches by 1 inch, called a Gymboss, and it is an interval timer you set for whatever interval you want. It has a clip; so, you then clip it to your shirt, and you’re all set. It only costs $20, and I have found mine to be very durable. That’s spelled Gymboss. Most running stores probably carry them.
Of course, you don’t have to have a timing device because the intervals don’t absolutely have to be determined by time. You can do them as fartleks, marking the intervals by physical landmarks like mailboxes or streetlights. So, this would be like any other fartlek except what would make it high intensity is that – well – it’s high intensity, higher intensity.
Let’s look at some examples of high intensity interval training:
The first time I heard of HIT training, it was in reference to tabata sets. These are named after Dr. Izumi Tabata, a Japanese physician and researcher. There are many variations, but the original protocol was to perform the exercise at maximum intensity for 20 seconds, then rest 10 seconds and repeat that pattern for four minutes. We’re talking about running here, but just so you know, there are plenty of other exercises or groups of exercises that lend themselves to tabata sets: jumping jacks, jumping rope, burpees, cycling, rowing and many more.
I’m almost afraid to mention this because these are intense sets and the possibility of injury is very high unless you are in excellent condition, start with only a few reps and build over a period of weeks, and use perfect form.
Personally, I think most people should never be performing at that maximum effort. You can see excellent fitness gains with a lower intensity – that is still very high – and you will be much less likely to get hurt.
So, to be clear, I am recommending HIT training, but I am not recommending doing it at the highest possible intensity. The difference between all out effort and, say 95%, as far as performance gains, is not worth the risk.
Here is another example of HIT:
Run at about a 90 percent effort for a period of 30 seconds to two minutes and then drop back to an easy jog for the same time, and repeat that for the duration of the workout.
Run up hill at a challenging pace for 30 seconds. Easy jog downhill for 30 seconds. Next, run uphill at a challenging pace for 45 seconds. Easy jog downhill for 45 seconds. Continue to make each running segment 15 seconds longer than the last up to 2 minutes or 7 segments. Since you’ll cover more ground on the running segments, eventually you’ll be a ways up the hill, and after the last segment, you’ll enjoy an easy jog all the way back.
That same workout could be done by a much fitter runner with segments starting at 2 minutes and adding 30 seconds or a minute with each repetition. That’s just an example of how these workouts must be customized to be appropriate for the individual runner.
Here is a HIT workout for the track:
Run one quarter way around the track at 90 to 95 percent effort alternated with easy, easy jog for the in between quarters for four times around the track or one mile. Take an extra rest of a couple minutes and repeat. That is a very effective workout. For a less experienced or less fit runner, that could be modified to run a quarter lap at 90 percent and then easy jog for a half lap before the next high intensity quarter.
The Biggest Problem and a Potential Solution
I hope you can see that HIT is just interval training that focuses on shorter, more intense distances. The number of possible variations is unlimited. The one huge negative – besides that injury is more likely – is that due to the intensity, many people avoid these workouts, despite the fact that they’ve been proven to be effective. This is especially true with middle of the pack exercisers, who may want to get more fit, but who aren’t vying for a spot on the podium.
In an article on the New York Times website, titled “A Way to ‘get Fit and Also Have Fun” Gretchen Reynolds explains this common problem and describes a possible solution.
The article describes how Dr. Jens Bangsbo, a professor of physiology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, studied the effects of HIT training. He confirmed that HIT was effective, but that only very serious athletes would stick to this type of training. He sought to find a version of HIT training that people would actually do, which, of course is the point.
They came up with something they call 10-20-30 training, although, it would be more fitting to call it 30-20-10 training.
To do this HIT training, you perform the exercise – in our case, running – for 30 seconds, then ramp up the speed for 20 seconds, then sprint for just 10 seconds. The author of that article, Gretchen Reynolds, found that series palatable, and when Dr. Bagsbo tested it on a large group compared to a control group, the results were excellent. As Reynolds points out, any interval program would, no doubt, make the participants healthier; the point here, though, is that more people were more consistent in sticking with this 10-20-30 program than in other HIT workouts Bagsbo had researched before.
This week, go out there and give it a try. I recommend trying one of the workouts I described above. For week one, I suggest going with the 10-20-30 program. Let me know how it goes. Try adding one HIT workout per week; then, do a race a month from now to see if your time improves.
“A Way to ‘get Fit and Also Have Fun”, Gretchen Reynolds, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/
High Intensity Interval Training, ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) blog, http://acsm.org