Should you be doing HIT training? Part 1: Sports Performance

With all the benefits ascribed to HIT training, it might seem like a no-brainer to incorporate it into your regime in some form or another, whether you’re an avid athlete or you lead a sedentary lifestyle and want to cut your risk of age-related disease. As with any training approach, you need to start by asking yourself ‘what do I want to achieve with it?’ and ‘how will it work for me’? In this article I’m going to focus on performance but stay tuned for the next posts where the effects on key health indicators and our fitness as we age are in the spotlight.

If you’re training for a particular sport or event like a competition or race, the principle of specificity is a good place to start. This states that your training should be related to the activity that you wish to train for.

If you’re a runner who thrives on lactate sprint training or laps of the track(!), anaerobic capacity is one of the key indicators of how fast you can run. Being able to use your muscles to power you around the track when your legs are screaming for more oxygen that your cardiorespiratory system is able to deliver is what gets you to the finish line of an 1500m race. With races taking about 2-4 minutes (or faster!) these are not relying on creatine stored in the muscles but burning through stored glycogen to be converted to energy quickly and without oxygen.

Olympic Stadium

As HIT training bursts tend to cover a similar duration and are designed to tax the anaerobic system maximally, it’s clear that the specific aspect of fitness required for middle-distance track athletes is trained using the HIT approach. This isn’t to say it’s the best form of training, given that it also trains the aerobic system maximally and may not result in running at the same speed as traditional sprint intervals which include longer recovery periods between intervals; the counter to the principle of specificity is that periodically ‘shocking’ the body by including variety in the training programme is known to help boost adaptation.

So what about endurance? How specific is HIT for running 10K or even an audax on the bike or iron-distance triathlon? It’s obvious that the longer the event, the less specific HIT training is. The ability to push the aerobic system to maximum capacity in a short time-frame is, however, worth paying attention to.

Mountain Bike XC Racing

With the training volumes required for a long-distance event like a marathon or long-distance triathlon, being able to tax the aerobic system in a small timeframe can be quite helpful and it may help to fatigue the energy systems while sparing the muscles the damage caused by conventional aerobic training. It won’t replace long steady training – the benefits of doing this go beyond simple aerobic endurance as it trains muscular and mental endurance too, as well as training your body to rehydrate and refuel on the go, but as for the short-distance athletes, adding it in to spice up your training plan, add variety and give the body a novel challenge periodically can be really worthwhile.

The question for endurance athletes is not necessarily whether to HIT-it, but when to drop these sessions into your plan. Endurance coach Joe Friel who is known for popularising periodised training looked at this in his blog “What’s Better for You: High Volume or High Intensity Training?”. If you will be racing around your lactate threshold – with sustained efforts that are somewhere between 10 minutes and half an hour (depending on the type of event – sprint triathlons would probably also be included here since you can recover briefly between disciplines), working on anaerobic endurance is specific to what you will do on race day, so it makes sense to do this in the final block of training leading up to your race.

If your race is measured in hours rather than minutes, a burst of HIT training before you start to increase your training mileage to race distances would help you begin that increase from a higher base and the fatigue from strenuous HIT sessions won’t get in the way of the long sessions you need to do as you get closer to the race.

If you want help tuning up your fitness for your sport, I can design a programme to fit your needs. I’m based at the gym at London Aquatics Centre in Stratford which has a great selection of equipment including wattbikes and a freeweights area and outdoor training in the Olympic Park literally on the doorstep. Find out more about training with me here.


Metcalfe RS, Babraj JA, Fawkner SG, Vollaard NB. Towards the minimal amount of exercise for improving metabolic health: beneficial effects of reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jul;112(7):2767-75. accessed 05/12/2015

Joe Friel – High Intensity Interval Duration accessed 05/12/2015


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