High Intensity Interval Training Will it Help or Hurt Your Performance?

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To HIIT or not to HIIT is the question

HIIT or High-intensity interval training is often touted as the holy grail of training for athletes who have very little time to train or who have stopped seeing gains in their regular training. The big question is does HIIT live up to the hype and is it right for your training regimen and performance goals.

By now some of you maybe wondering where I come up with show topics and this one is easy. Stewart from Australia reached out to me for some consulting on the subject of HIIT. Stewart’s original questions lead to more emails and finally, the questions were boiled down to “Is HIIT training more beneficial and/or time effective than longer and more mentally challenging threshold sets?”

Here is a little background on Stewart that may help our listeners with the context of the question. Stewart is a life long cyclist with some breaks from riding here and there that have raced in the past but now focuses primarily on buddy and club rides. Stewart is like most modern cyclists and battles with time constraints and consistency of training.

Before we dive in I have a couple of quick notes…

Note: Before you get out pencil and paper for the show I want to let everyone know that that this show will have extensive show notes. To find the show notes simply go to PositivePerformanceCoaching.com/blog/ or search for the show title on our website.

Note: I would also like to add that we are working on several new training plans in development that support what you are about to learn on this show. One is my new 6 Week HIIT program and the others are based on my proven race winning 8 Week Kitchen Sink Programs. In either case, those listening to the show can use the promo code * julyhiit to get 25% off the regular price of all the new training programs until September 30th, 2017 at Midnight Eastern Standard Time. All these plans will support Heart Rate and Power Based Training zones as well as have FIT, ZWO, ERG and MRC training files to add to your Garmin Edge Bike Computers and favorite Smart Trainer Control Applications. There are also audio notes with each plan!!! The audio notes provide you with even more insight to what is expected in the training plans. It’s almost like having me as your dedicated coach! If you are new to training and don’t have a Heart Rate Monitor or Power Meter check out our new Season Opener Plan that utilizes HIIT training based on Perceived Exertion Training Zones. The new plans will start being released as early as next week! *The podcast has the wrong coupn code the one in this post is correct.

Note: While you may have missed out on the initial free offering of our 10 Week Century Training Plan you can still get a free one! Go to PositivePerformanceCoaching.com and register for our new newsletter and I will contact you directly to give you the necessary information to receive the 10-week plan available on TrainingPeaks.com. Don’t have a TrainingPeaks.com account? No worries I will set you up with your very own free account! This offer ends July 31st, 2017 at midnight Eastern Standard Time. If you have registered for the newsletter and have not heard from me, no fear I will be in touch with you shortly.

All right with the spirit of HIIT lets jump right in. What are we going to cover on today’s show?

  • What constitutes HIIT/ High-intensity interval training?
  • Is HIIT training safe?
  • What are the promised results from HIIT training?
  • How does HIIT deliver on these promises?
  • What are some of the proven HIIT protocols?
  • Can or should HIIT replace the rest of your training?
  • How often should HIIT training occur?
  • Are there better solutions to HIIT training?
  • Back to Stewart’s Question and my answer.

What constitutes HIIT/ High-intensity interval training?

“HIIT is the concept where one performs a short burst of high-intensity (or max-intensity) exercise followed by a brief low-intensity activity, repeatedly, until too exhausted to continue.” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training

The nice thing about HIIT work is it can be done as the sole workout or as part of a longer workout comprising various training factors. High-intensity intervals, depending on the protocol can be as short as a few seconds and as a long as 8 minutes but popular protocols have work intervals measured in seconds and rest intervals in several minutes. Short Intervals are often all out affairs and rest intervals are usually soft-pedaling or walking if you are a runner. Swimmers may take an easy lap or two between work intervals or may even tread water between work intervals.

While HIIT is primarily used in endurance based training programs you may discover that some strength programs will utilize an HIIT based approach to resistance training. I have always felt that more traditional strength training programs such as Olympic weight lifting and plyometrics were better alternatives to developing explosive power in the weight room.

Is HIIT training safe?

As usual, it depends…

It depends if you have been training regularly and have had a solid amount of base miles and have no prior cardiac issues. Then I would say yes after medical approvals. I do have some caveats: HIIT training requires you to DIG DEEP. You may see stars at the end of latter intervals; you may want to even throw up after completing the latter intervals. Yes HIIT can be brutal! I want to also caution those who train outdoors on open roads. If you are going to complete any HIIT workout on open roads you must be aware of your surroundings. Sprinting blindly can turn you into a hood ornament fast!

To follow up on my statement of what constitutes a solid amount of base training? This also depends on the athlete but I will say this if you just dusted off your bike 3-6 weeks ago DO NOT start an HIIT program!!!! If you are not sure if you have done enough base training we have a great base training program for recreational and Cat 5 Competitive Cyclists! I would say that anyone taking on a new training program should visit his or her healthcare professional before beginning any training.

What are the promised results from HIIT training?

As usual, it depends…

It depends on the protocol, however, the typical promised benefits of HIIT training include more work in less time, improved metabolic response, improvement in an aerobic and anaerobic capacity as well as improved neuromuscular power and even improvement in economy.

How does HIIT deliver on these promises?

Actually, this is pretty easy. HIIT protocols will see athletes perform intervals over or just under their VO2 Max.

VO2 max (also maximal oxygen consumption, maximal oxygen uptake, peak oxygen uptake or maximal aerobic capacity) is the maximum rate of oxygen consumption measured during various testing protocols or estimated from existing workouts and or races. VO2 max is expressed either as an absolute rate in (for example) litres of oxygen per minute (L/min) or as a relative rate in (for example) millilitres of oxygen per kilogram of body mass per minute (e.g., mL/(kg·min)). The latter expression is often used to compare the performance of endurance athletes.

In terms of power what percentage of FTP equates to VO2 Max? Well, it doesn’t, not really. There are all sorts of formulas available to coaches and athletes that can calculate VO2 based on tests and wattage captured in those tests but the tried and true methods of capturing true VO2 require a visit to a lab. In all fairness, I find that most efforts 90% and greater than FTP will get you to VO2 Max rather quickly! When you are thinking about 90% FTP efforts you may think Sweet Spot training (SST) which really isn’t HIIT. While I incorporate SST into a schedule that includes HIIT when I create HIIT workouts for most of my athletes HIIT intervals start at 30 seconds and can last as long as 8 minutes in length. The shorter the interval the higher percentage of FTP is required. I may shoot for 160+% of FTP over a minute but would likely only shoot for 125%-105% for a 6-8 minute interval.

What are some of the proven HIIT protocols?

Tabata 30seconds full gas 20 seconds rest repeat 4x for 2 sets

T-Max Protocol

10×1 minute at 160% of FTP after 20-40 min WU – RI is 5min soft pedal – CD 5min

4×4 minute at 131% of FTP after 20-40 min WU – RI is 5min soft pedal – CD 5min

4×6 minute at 125% of FTP after 20-40 min WU – RI is 4min soft pedal – CD 5min

4×8 minute at 113% of FTP after 20-40 min WU – RI is 3min soft pedal – CD 5min

Can or should HIIT replace the rest of your training?

Absolutely not! The intensities are too great to recover from in even a 3-4 workout a week program! While I have coached athletes that will race 3 or more times a week you must understand that racing doesn’t produce the same training stresses that HIIT does. For the vast majority of athletes, I coach I only prescribe one HIIT session per week if they are racing. Even if they were not racing then the second hard effort of the week would likely be a fast group ride or a race simulation ride.

How often should HIIT training occur?

As I just said I only schedule one HIIT session per week for competitive athletes. However, HIIT isn’t given year round. I know that there are MANY coaches that wax poetically that off-season/winter base training is a useless old school protocol from the days that dinosaurs ruled the earth and to a point, I agree. What I don’t agree with is high-intensity work in the off-season. I have seen it lead to burn out, over training and the cause for so many to leave their beloved sport.

Before I became a coach I was self-coached and eventually worked with a couple of coaches before becoming a coach and what I learned then about setting up an annual training program still holds true today. A well-structured periodized program trumps most other formats. I have talked about Meta studies on past shows and one of my favorites is from Stephen Seiler in a study titled “What is Best Practice for Training Intensity and Duration Distribution in Endurance Athletes?” Mr. Seiler concluded –

“There is reasonably strong evidence for concluding that an approximate 80-to-

20 ratio of LIT to HIT gives excellent long-term results among endurance athletes. Frequent, low-intensity longer duration training is effective in stimulating physiological adaptations.

Over a broad range, increases in total training volume correlate well with improvements in physiological variables and performance. HIT is a critical component in the training of all successful endurance athletes. However, about two HIT training sessions per week seem to be sufficient for inducing physiological adaptations and performance gains without inducing excessive stress over the long term. “

Are there better solutions to HIIT training?

Once again it depends…

What are you trying to accomplish as an athlete? How much time do you have to train? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you understand how to train specifically for your disciplines? How prepared/willing are you to dig deep when you must go hard?

I probably agree the most with Steven Seiler’s resulting study that 80% of training is considered to be light intensity or endurance intensity and that 20% is HIT. But what I also subscribe to is that specificity is king when selecting any workout. So for that, I created what I call MY Kitchen Sink workouts. These like HIIT are only scheduled once a week. My kitchen sink 6-8 week programs are designed with specificity in mind. I have a program specifically for road racing, criteriums and climbing. These KS Programs aren’t just for racers but have also been successfully completed by recreational cyclists who wanted to improve their group riding experiences and their climbing experiences. They are a wonderful way to implement multiple training factors into one workout. This inclusion of intervals that range from 10 seconds all they up to 10 minutes in length that cover Zones 1-7 Hear Rate and power will mimic what is required in harder rides and races. So once again Specificity is King!

Back to Stewart’s Question…

Is HIIT training more beneficial and/or time effective than longer and more mentally challenging threshold sets?”

My Answer to Stewart

The inclusion of 1-2 HIIT sessions a week is beneficial to the improvement of performance but 1-2 session per week is about it. I would also look to add 1-2 Sweet Spot workouts per week that are 82-90% of FTP. If you were going to add 2 SST workouts along side of 1-2 HIIT workouts per week I would limit SST to 82% of FTP in a 2×20 workout. Finally, I would try and get in at least 1 LONG easy endurance day on the weekend. If you can squeeze one more than one day in then I would recommend a recovery ride in zone one the day after your last HIIT workout of the week.

Check out the HIIT Interval Training Plan Here!

Music for show intro, outro, and mid-play break: “Jahzzar (betterwithmusic.com) CC BY-SA
Intro and Outro music: Battle from the Crime Scene Album from Jahzzar
Mid-play break music: Please Listen Carefully from the Tumbling Dishes Like Old-Man’s Wishes Album

Other Resources:








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