High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Tabata and Wingate

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To run HIIT intervals requires a longer stride length, so other modes, such as a stationary bike may be more appropriate.

HIIT can be highly effective training, but involves a risk of injury. HIIT has been shown to improve aerobic capacity in untrained and moderately active individuals more quickly than Continuous Moderate Exercise, as well as having potential benefits for highly trained athletes. HIIT has also been shown to reduce body fat in untrained people more effectively than Continuous Moderate Exercise. However, there is no evidence to suggest that HIIT can replace other forms of training for endurance races. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) uses repeated short periods of very intense cardiovascular exercise separated by lower intensity recoveries. (I've found the Stryd estimate of power output is the best approach to gauging effort during HIIT, though Moxy can provide some interesting insight from Muscle Oxygen Saturation.)

1 What is HIIT?

High Intensity Interval Training is a form of Interval Training using short intervals of 10 seconds to 5 minutes at an intensity at or above 90% V̇O2max[1]. High Intensity Interval Training, abbreviated to HIIT or HIT, is sometimes called High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise[2] or Sprint Training[3].

2 HIIT Recommendations

Below are my recommendations based on my interpretation of the available evidence. These recommendations for incorporating HIIT in your training depend on your current fitness goals.

  • I reduce injury risk, I strongly recommend performing HIIT on a stationary bike trainer rather than running. See "HIIT Training Methods" below for details.
  • Ease into HIIT gently, following Safe Speedwork recommendations.
  • For sedentary people, HIIT is probably more effective in building initial fitness than Continuous Moderate Exercise. Three sessions per week of Wingate HIIT on a stationary bike should provide an improvement in fitness for a modest time commitment. Using WinTab style HIIT may produce similar benefits for a lower time commitment.
  • For people looking to lose weight, HIIT will probably produce a greater reduction in body fat than Continuous Moderate Exercise. Three sessions per week of Wingate HIIT on a stationary bike should help with Weight Loss and appetite control. The HIIT could be combined with other forms of exercise on the other days, which may further improve weight loss. (HIIT probably more effective than Continuous Moderate Exercise at improving insulin sensitivity.)
  • Recreationally active people looking for rounded fitness may benefit from including HIIT in their overall training program. Adding 1-3 sessions per week of Wingate or WinTab HIIT on a stationary bike should provide an improvement in fitness.
  • Athletes focused on improving their performance in endurance races lasting less than an hour will probably benefit from replacing some of their training load with a combination of both traditional HIIT and shorter Wingate or WinTab style HIIT. Up to one traditional HIIT or 1-3 shorter HIIT sessions could be included in a weekly training routine. Care should be taken to increase Training Load slowly with the additional HIIT and try to avoid increasing Training Monotony. The traditional HIIT should be performed by running on a track or other outdoor location. For the shorter HIIT, a stationary bike probably has a lower injury risk, but the additional benefits of outdoor running may outweigh the additional injury risk. However, the fast paces of the shorter HIIT should be introduced gradually, building up the pace over a number of workouts. See Cycling HIIT For Runners for details.
  • There is no direct evidence to indicate if HIIT will help athletes focused on improving their performance in events lasting longer than an hour. However, it seems reasonable that HIIT would provide some benefits. Including 1 or 2 Wingate or WinTab HIIT sessions per week may be appropriate. As noted in the prior bullet point for shorter duration athletes, care should be taken to monitor Training Load and Training Monotony. As with athletes focusing on events lasting less than an hour, the stationary bike has the lowest injury risk, but there may be benefits to other training modes. However, athletes competing in longer duration events typically don't have the same need for the very high paces that are sometimes seen at the end of shorter events.
  • There is no evidence to suggest that HIIT can be used to replace Continuous Moderate Exercise such as the Long Run that is a core part of endurance training.
  • HIIT can rapidly deplete Glycogen stores, and while these stores are restored fairly quickly afterward, it seems like much of that may come from breaking down muscle protein. For the research behind this, see Glycogen Depletion and HIIT. Taking in calories in the form of carbohydrate and protein very soon after HIIT will help prevent muscle loss.

3 Incorporating HIIT In Your Training Regime

Here are some suggestions for adding HIIT to your training. These are not hard and fast rules, as there is a lot of individual variability.

  • HIIT sessions should be considered hard workouts, so don't try to replace easy or rest days with HIIT while leaving your hard training as is.
  • If your existing training is not already structured around hard days interspersed with rest days, then HIIT should be distributed through the week and you should take it easier on other days.
  • If you are already structuring your workouts around hard days, you should replace a hard workout with HIIT rather than adding to your workload. (Monitoring your Training Monotony may help prevent Overtraining.)
  • If you're looking to increase your training load, then HIIT may be an option. I would recommend starting off by replacing a hard workout with HIIT, then adding the original workload back over time. Remember that it can take several weeks for the additional fatigue to manifest itself, as fatigue builds up over a remarkably long time.
  • One approach to using HIIT to increase your workload would be to incorporate a HIIT workout with a moderate length long run. There's not much evidence to know the optimum approach, or how this might change the effectiveness of HIIT. It seems likely that the HIIT would create additional fatigue and Glycogen Depletion, which would make the run seem much longer than the distance would suggest. For instance, a 16 mile moderately long run could be replaced by a HIIT and 10 miles. The exact details are going to be quite individual, so experiment based on feeling.
  • Another way of increasing your training load via HIIT would be to use the HIIT workout as a second workout on a hard day. This may be of particular value if you're only running 3-4 days per week (as I recommend.)

4 Types of HIIT

There are various different protocols for performing HIIT. While the Tabata is probably the most widely recognized name in HIIT, it is one of the least studied and the least used.

4.1 Tabata

Main article: Tabata

The Tabata workout is one of the best-known protocols for HIIT and consists of 7-8 repeats of 20 seconds at 170% of V̇O2max with 10 seconds rest. The number of repetitions is defined by how long the required intensity can be maintained. An athlete should be able to complete 7-8 intervals; if 9 can be performed, the intensity is increased. However, few people actually follow the Tabata protocol because it requires specialist equipment to measure V̇O2max, then calculate 1.7x the V̇O2max workload that should be used. In practice, most people do what I call the WinTab workout (see below).

4.2 Wingate

This style of HIIT is based around the Wingate test, which is used to measure peak anaerobic power and anaerobic capacity[4]. The Wingate HIIT uses 30 seconds of 'all out' intensity, followed by ~4 minutes of recovery, repeated 4-6 times.

4.3 WinTab (Tabata style Wingate)

Most athletes that use the Tabata workout do not use the 170% V̇O2max intensity, but rather the Wingate style 'all out' intensity. Because the intensity is not fixed, the WinTab normally has 8 repetitions of 20 seconds all out plus 10 seconds rest, taking 4 minutes (plus Warmup), rather than the variable number of repetitions of the original Tabata protocol.

4.4 HillTab

Because the WinTab workout involves such fast paces, it can easily lead to injury as the stride length requires a greater range of motion than more common paces. You can reduce the pace while maintaining the intensity by running up hill, something I call HillTab (Hill Tabata). While similar to the WinTab in some ways, this workout has a variable length recovery, as you have to run down the hill after each time, and it uses different muscle groups. To perform a HillTab, find a hill that is moderately steep; about 10-12% gradient works well. Find a marker to use as the start point, such as a suitable tree or rock, then find an initial finish marker that is about 45 seconds up the path. You'll adjust the finish marker so that it takes about 30 seconds to cover the distance at your fastest speed. This will take a bit of trial and error, but don't worry if the first few intervals are too long or too short. You could use an audible timer, but I prefer a visible marker to aim for. If you want to time each interval, have a watch in your hand, held so you can press the lap button without fumbling. For each interval:

  1. Approach the start marker at an easy pace.
  2. A few yards/meters from the start, shorten your stride and increase your Cadence. Your stride will be quite short at this point.
  3. As you approach the start marker, lean forward so that your weight feels over the balls of your feet and toes.
  4. When you cross the start marker accelerate hard, grabbing the ground with each stride and propelling yourself forward. You'll accelerate to your maximum velocity within a handful of strides, and you'll probably be acutely aware of each footstep as the adrenaline seems to slow time. For the first few intervals this phase often has a wonderful sense of euphoria and power.
  5. Try to hold on to this pace to the end marker, which may seem to grow further away. Your legs will grow weak and distant as the lack of oxygen causes your vision to fade to gray.
  6. By the time your reach the end, just 30 seconds later, your lungs are starting to burn and the ecstasy you felt just moments ago has turned to desolation.
  7. Slow up carefully after the end marker. Do not let your form collapse or your feet slap the ground.
  8. When your pace has dropped, turn around and descend. You may find your lungs burn more after the interval than before as you start to recover.
  9. Run past the start marker, turn and repeat for a total of 8 intervals.

For HIIT, I suspect that the hard acceleration is a key to the benefits of the workout. The acceleration achieves high levels of muscle activation, mimicking the effects of Plyometrics. (There advantages to Downhill Running, but the risk of injury while running at HIIT pace downhill are much higher.)

4.5 Traditional Anaerobic Intervals

High intensity Interval Training has been in use since before the Tabata study made the term popular. The Jack Daniel's 'R' paced workouts are a classic example of this tradition of anaerobic interval training. The Jack Daniel's 'R' intervals are performed at around mile/1500m pace[5], which is generally close to 100% V̇O2max. The 'R' workouts are 12-40 repeats of 30-60 seconds with 1-4 min rests[6]. Jack Daniels mentions once having his athletes perform over 1,000 repetitions of one-minute HIIT (4-minute rest) in a 14-day period, with two male athletes averaging 5:00 min/mile pace and therefore covering 250 miles[6].

5 Fellrnr's Tabata Audio

I created a short audio file for my Tabata (WinTab), adding a countdown and interval counts. I started with Darude's Sandstorm, remixed it to 180 BPM and then extracted short snippets. I then recombined the snippets with voice countdowns so that I didn't need to look at a watch or timer to execute the workout. You can download or play the MP3 file of Fellrnr's Tabata. (I believe that I'm making fair use of Darude's work, given I am only using a short section of the original and modifying it heavily. If you want to enjoy the overall song, this MP3 file is not it!)

6 HIIT Training Methods

There are various ways that HIIT could be performed, each with their own pros and cons. As this site is dedicated to running, my assumption is that you're a runner primarily. If that's not the case, then you'll have to interpret the pros and cons slightly differently.

Mode Pros Cons
Stationary Bike HIIT
  • A stationary bike is much safer than writing outdoors at extreme intensities.
  • The many studies have used a stationary bike to perform HIIT.
  • Riding out of the saddle is closer to moderate running in terms of muscle usage than riding seated.
  • A direct measure of intensity through power is often possible.
  • Lowest risk of injury.
  • The bike doesn't use the same Muscles as running, nor the same range of motion.
  • There is no eccentric component to cycling.
  • The specific muscles recruited will vary depending on how much you pull up on the pedals as well is pushed down.
Outdoor Bike
  • Should be similar to the stationary bike, but at a lower cost.
  • It's easier to ride a bike out of the saddle than a stationary bike, which uses more muscles and is closer to the action of running.
  • Riding a bike at high intensity adds risk due to impaired mental functioning and coordination.
  • While it's possible to directly measure power output on a bike, it's expensive.
Running on the flat
  • For runners, roughly the right muscle groups are trained.
  • With Stryd it's possible to get a good measurement of pace, and even an estimate of power output. (The estimate of running power is not equivalent to cycling power, which can actually be measured rather than estimated.)
  • At high Intensity, the movements involved in running become dramatically different, requiring a greater range of motion. This difference creates a significant risk of injury. It also changes the muscles used compared with running at submaximal intensity.
  • The rapid acceleration and deceleration of HIIT creates stress that runners are not typically exposed to, again creating a risk of injury. (I suspect the risk of injury during the deceleration is often underestimated, as this is when where a runner's form often deteriorates.)
Running up hill
  • Running uphill generates a much higher intensity at a slower pace. This means that the biomechanical changes are not so extreme, reducing the risk of injury.
  • Running uphill uses somewhat different muscles to running on the flat, so the training stress is not identical.
  • It's hard to find a hill that's long enough to do a high intensity interval training session that includes only partial recovery.
  • Getting the right incline is a tricky balance. Too shallow, and you may as well be running on the flat. Too steep and your biomechanics become exaggeratedly different.
Running with extra drag
  • It's possible to use a Running Parachute, or drag a tire behind you to increase intensity at a slower pace.
  • The slower pace means a less extreme stride length and biomechanical changes, reducing risk of injury from those changes.
  • The additional track creates radically different muscle recruitment patterns.
  • For a full list of downsides see Running Parachutes.
  • It's possible to run in weather that is too hostile for outside activities.
  • Most treadmills will not change pace fast enough for the dramatic changes in pace between interval and recovery used in HIIT.
  • Matching acceleration and deceleration with the treadmill is not easy, especially when mental functioning is impaired, as it so often is at high intensity
  • If you cannot maintain the programmed pace, you could be injured by falling off the back of a treadmill.
  • A treadmill may not be able to go fast enough for HIIT.

7 HIIT Running Paces

I don't generally recommend running HIIT workouts because of the high speeds required. Below is a sampling of the HIIT paces for different fitness levels (V̇O2max). For each level, the 5K and marathon times are given, along with the pace that corresponds to 90%, 100% and 170% of V̇O2max.

V̇O2max 35 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85
5K 26:57 24:05 21:50 20:00 18:28 17:10 16:03 15:05 14:15 13:32 12:51
Marathon 4:15:51 3:49:27 3:28:10 3:10:33 2:55:49 2:43:08 2:32:29 2:23:04 2:14:53 2:07:31 2:00:58
90% V̇O2max 9:09/Mile 8:13/Mile 7:28/Mile 6:52/Mile 6:21/Mile 5:55/Mile 5:33/Mile 5:13/Mile 4:56/Mile 4:41/Mile 4:27/Mile
100% V̇O2max 8:24/Mile 7:33/Mile 6:52/Mile 6:18/Mile 5:50/Mile 5:26/Mile 5:05/Mile 4:47/Mile 4:32/Mile 4:18/Mile 4:06/Mile
170% V̇O2max 5:28/Mile 4:54/Mile 4:27/Mile 4:06/Mile 3:48/Mile 3:33/Mile 3:19/Mile 3:08/Mile 2:58/Mile 2:49/Mile 2:41/Mile

8 HIIT and Stryd

The Stryd footpod gives an extremely accurate measure of pace and incline, and from this it calculates an estimate of your power output in Watts. This power estimate responds much faster than Heart Rate, which is pretty useless for evaluating a HIIT session.

A graph of Heart Rate against Stryd power estimate for a HIIT session.

9 The HIIT Science

For details of the science around HIIT, see The Science of High Intensity Interval Training.

10 Crossfit Endurance

Crossfit Endurance is a training approach that reduces the normal endurance training volumes while increasing the training intensity[7]. The reduction in volume is quite dramatic compared with other training plans; for instance, the Crossfit Endurance marathon training plan has a 10 mile time trial as its longest run, which is combined with weight training and interval training[8]. Crossfit Endurance claims that eight 100 meter intervals "accomplishes everything you would by jogging 20 miles but doesn't put the same level of stress and damage on the body." There is the caveat that "some kind of stamina work that lost more than the 70 seconds is required to "dial in technique, just rhythm, and formulate pace strategy." While there are some testimonials to the Crossfit Endurance methodology[9], their approach is controversial[10]. The science that is used to support Crossfit Endurance does not support replacing traditional Continuous Moderate Exercise with HIIT for endurance events, only using HIIT as a supplementary form of training[11]. Most of the anecdotal reports suggest that people have set personal records at 5K and 10K distances and completed half marathons using the Crossfit Endurance approach, but there are few reports of longer races. The anecdotal reports are hard to interpret objectively without knowing the individuals prior training methodology. (I have some other concerns with CrossFit, such as their emphasis on forefoot landing, then approach to hydration that includes the overly simplistic "sweat rate test", but that's outside of the scope of this article that focuses on interval training.)

11 References

  1. Stephen H. Boutcher, High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss, Journal of Obesity, volume 2011, 2011, pages 1–10, ISSN 2090-0708, doi 10.1155/2011/868305
  2. EG. Trapp, DJ. Chisholm, J. Freund, SH. Boutcher, The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women., Int J Obes (Lond), volume 32, issue 4, pages 684-91, Apr 2008, doi 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803781, PMID 18197184
  3. MJ. Gibala, JP. Little, M. van Essen, GP. Wilkin, KA. Burgomaster, A. Safdar, S. Raha, MA. Tarnopolsky, Short-term sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance., J Physiol, volume 575, issue Pt 3, pages 901-11, Sep 2006, doi 10.1113/jphysiol.2006.112094, PMID 16825308
  4. H. Vandewalle, G. Pérès, H. Monod, Standard anaerobic exercise tests., Sports Med, volume 4, issue 4, pages 268-89, PMID 3306867
  5. Jack Daniels, Daniels' running formula, date 2005, publisher Human Kinetics, location Champaign, IL, isbn 0-7360-5492-8
  6. 6.0 6.1 Jack Daniels, Daniels' running formula, date 2005, publisher Human Kinetics, location Champaign, IL, isbn 0-7360-5492-8, pages 132
  7. About Crossfit Endurance, http://www.crossfitendurance.com/whatiscfe, Accessed on 26 February 2013
  8. http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/endurance-training/CrossFit-Endurances-Unconventional-12-Week-Marathon-Training-Plan.html, http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/endurance-training/CrossFit-Endurances-Unconventional-12-Week-Marathon-Training-Plan.html, Accessed on 26 February 2013
  9. Testimonials, http://www.crossfitendurance.com/testimonials, Accessed on 26 February 2013
  10. Science of Running: Crossfit endurance, Tabata sprints, and why people just don’t get it, http://www.scienceofrunning.com/2012/01/crossfit-endurance-tabata-sprints-and.html, Accessed on 26 February 2013
  11. CrossFit MPH - Washington, DC, http://metamorphitness.wordpress.com/nutrition-enrichment/running-faqs/is-there-any-science-to-support-crossfit-endurance/, Accessed on 26 February 2013