Should you be doing HIT training? Part 3: Older Athletes

In the previous two posts I looked at how HIT can benefit sports performance and can also have health benefits to people who want to get fit. One of the key themes in the research by Jamie Timmons, who consulted with Michael Mosely for his BBC Horizon programme, is the process of aging and how this affects our physiology.

This leads neatly into thinking of other population groups in sport. Jamie Timmons, who worked with Mosely in his investigations, is interested in the biological processes behind aging. As a big health concern for the aging population is Type II Diabetes, it’s no surprise that the effects of HIT training are relevant to us as we grow older. So what effect does HIT training have on the older athlete? Increasing numbers of people are taking up endurance sports like running, cycling and triathlon in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond; can the principles of HIT keep us fit as we get older and avoid high mileage taking its toll?

Well-known cycling and triathlon coach Joe Friel is known for his gruelling, high-volume training programmes he used to coach some of the fastest people in the sport, but approaching 70 himself, took some time to reflect on what training approaches made most sense to us as we get older. There are three physiological factors affecting how fast we are; VO2 Max, lactate threshold and economy. VO2 Max is the volume of oxygen we are able to absorb into the bloodstream per minute, lactate threshold is the maximum intensity we can sustain while working aerobically (i.e. using oxygen) and economy is largely to do with technique and getting the maximum power at the smallest cost to the body. As we age, Friel says that of these three factors, it is VO2 Max that decreases most.

As explained in my previous post introducing the concept of HIT training, one of the most effective ways to improve VO2 Max is HIT training so it’s perhaps not surprising that Friel advocates this approach in his book, Fast After 50. Remember, though, that HIT training can be very strenuous (particularly if your protocol more closely resembles Tabata than Metcalfe’s REHIT) and we are more prone to injury as we age. As with any new training approach, HIT should be phased in gradually to fit with existing fitness levels – Friel talks about ‘dose’ and ‘density’ and as shown by the variance in interval and recovery duration as well as the number of repetitions in the studies discussed here, both have marked improvements on the body – even small volumes will stimulate adaptation.


Joe Friel – What It Takes to Be Fast After 50 accessed 05/12/2015

Fast After 50: High Intensity Interval Training and the Aging Athlete accessed 05/12/2015


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