LT has been my running buddy since I moved back to Burlington. She drove with me to Philly, has logged countless miles with me around Vermont and I’m going to miss her terribly as she and Chris move to Oregon this summer. For the past two years, LT has been working on her Master’s in Exercise Physiology, the culmination of which was a thesis that aimed to quantify whether HIIT really makes you as fit as people claim. I was particularly interested in her findings because she used fit athletes and her control group did 30 minutes of vigorous running. Essentially, she emulated what summer training for XC looks like.
Study Design: LT took athletes from SUNY-Cortland’s Field Hockey team and divided them into two groups: endurance or HIIT. The Endurance group served as the control and did 30 minutes of runner at 75 to 85% of predicted HRmax, somewhere between easy and tempo. The HIIT group did a 3 minute warmup, 8 rounds of 20 second of burpees or squat-tuck jumps with 10 second recovery and a 3 minute cooldown for a total of 10 minutes. Training sessions were Monday, Wednesday and Friday for four weeks.
At baseline, athletes had an average VO2max of 44.96 and a Running Economy of 213.42.
Results: There was no statistically significant difference between the groups. However, both groups improved aerobic capacity as measured by VO2max by >6% over the four week intervention. Interestingly, the time invested to make these improvements was vastly different: the endurance group did 90 minutes per week while the HIIT group did 30 minutes per week.
At the end of the study, athletes had an average VO2max of 47.78, an increase of almost 2.8 points in 4 weeks.
Implication: The “so what” of LT’s research is incredible. Here’s what I’m most excited about:
- Time: We’re all busy and we generally acquiesce that when we’re busy, our training suffers. This research suggests that even though we may not improve running economy with just 10 minutes, we can maintain and even improve our VO2max.
- Injury Prevention: I am constantly trying to find ways to make my team fitter without more pounding on the roads and this study offers an idea about summer training approaches, when we only meet three days a week and when we delicately balance increasing fitness with increasing risk of injury. Same goes for the injury prone runner: if someone can maintain or improve VO2 max with just 6 minutes of running, I have a great option for my runners who just can’t tolerate a season of tempo runs.
I’m so excited about this study that I’ve already put it into action for our summer runs. On Wednesdays, we are no longer hitting the roads for a 30 to 45 minute jog. Instead, we’re doing a brief warmup followed by a circuit that includes HIIT. Last week, we used a short, steep hill and did hill sprints (real, all out sprints) between body weight exercises.
During the season, I’m not completely sure how I’ll fit this into our schedule. One thing I’m considering is using it in the awkward weeks where we have a Tuesday meet but still need to get a second workout in without totally ruining legs for a Saturday race.
If you’re interested in reading the whole paper, let me know.
Have you tried HIIT? Would you be willing to after reading this?