The last few days have made even the most committed runner pause to consider whether they really ought to venture out. No shoe tread could cope without slipping on icy pavements and freezing fog rendered visibility so poor that drivers' headlights couldn't penetrate to find a high-viz reflective vest. For the last two nights I've run under street lights amongst the safety of fellow athletics club members. We'd sufficient bodies & phones to cope if someone slipped & needed to be transported home. However, this evening I'm on my own. I've walked my dogs, but will not be running. What then? Maybe a lazy evening with book and fire? Yet there's that problem with conscience. My athletics club has certain expectations of my performance. I have certain expectations of my performance. Such expectations will not be met if I don't do something to improve upon a fitness level somewhat depleted by recent illness. What to do? Indoor exercise? Sweating inside is as appealing as monotonous miles on a treadmill or stationary bike. Indoor rowing I can tolerate. My rowing machine has no fancy LED displays or built-in racing programme, but I can SIT on it!
Sprint interval training (SIT) and its slightly less energetic sibling, high intensity interval training (HIIT or HIT) are very useful for those amongst us either suffering a lack of motivation for a sustained effort or too busy to find the time for it. These are low volume, minimal time options which, an increasing body of research suggests, are as good for us as high mileage programmes. A HIIT programme involves nothing more complicated than repetitions of 20 - 60 seconds vigorous don't-hold-back activity with short rest periods of 10 - 60 seconds . It's nothing new, indeed for middle distance runners it is an old standard. Roger Bannister, as a busy medical student, used HIIT (although not known by that acronym yet) to prepare for his sub-4 minute mile. What is new is the ever-building research evidence that HIIT can be as effective for endurance athletes as long tempo runs. Both strategies are as good as each other in developing VO2 max. That's not to say that endurance athletes could replace all their tempo runs with HIIT. For a fast 10K or further you'll still need tempo runs, perhaps mostly to prepare mentally for the repetition, discomfort and pain of endurance races. Of course, we'll all continue to look forward to those fresh days when a long run is its own reward - just to feel strong, breathe easily and enjoy the smells, sights & sounds around you as you eat up the miles. What HIIT can provide is a time-efficient element for achieving & maintaining a body able to take us on such running adventures.
To make the best use of limited daylight, I recently embarked upon a SIT programme. SIT is really just HIIT with really short (10-20 secs), maximal exertion efforts. I began my programme with 10 repetitions of 20secs at maximum effort with 10 secs recovery at easy pace i.e. less than 5 mins effort. Even with 5 mins warm-up and 5 mins cool-down, I'm done & dusted in 15 mins. I compliment my longer distance training with two such sessions each week on the rower and (until sheep arrived in the field behind us) one running in the fields with two energetic dogs. So I'm off for a wee SIT before a restful evening. Ah the life of a disciplined athlete!
Over the next few weeks MoJournal will publish several articles on HIIT - why we should, and how we can, employ HIIT whether we're aiming for a UK/Ireland record or trying to fit healthy activities into an over-busy schedule. In the interim, for further information try:
Fast Exercise book by Dr Michael Mosley & Peta Bee. This short guide is very readable and well researched.
Weston et al, 2014 research paper. This is a fresh up-to-date review of the effects of low volume HIIT on adult fitness. It is an open access paper so anyone can read it in full, for free, using the link provided.