High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a training idea that is based entirely on short, intense workouts as opposed to longer, more moderate sessions. This method has gained a lot of popularity in the last couple of years with the growth of programs such as Crossfit and P90X. HIIT is especially popular with athletes and enthusiasts in the strength conditioning crowd. But does it work as well for runners?
The HIIT philosophy actually originated in endurance sports as a tool for building speed and strength. However, it has always been just that – a tool to be used in conjunction with other training methods. Today trainers in gyms across the U.S. push this training style as a great way to see better results in a shorter period of time. While this works well for the average person trying to gain strength or lose weight without putting in a lot of time, a HIIT-only routine can cause problems for a distance runner.
Everyone’s body is different, and some may be able to handle a HIIT-only running routine. But for most of us, our bodies need long, low- to medium-intensity workouts to be able to adapt to the miles we’ll be covering in races. Without putting in the miles, there’s a good chance we’ll hit the wall early on race day.
HIIT can also be tough on runners because running is inherently a higher-impact sport than, say swimming or weight lifting. By running at an intense level for a shorter period, a runner puts a greater load on joints while simultaneously minimizing critical “time on feet.” It’s this time spent running that helps us refine our form and become more efficient runners, which on race day can be just as beneficial as being a strong runner.
The bottom line for competitive runners: use HIIT as a tool to improve strength and speed, but don’t cut out your long runs. A mixed training plan is the best bet for overall success.
The bottom line for recreational runners: have fun. This sport is all about being outside, staying healthy and enjoying time alone or with friends. If you can easily run five miles and want to take it to the next level, consider integrating HIIT (slowly) into your training. If you’re happy where you are, just keep on running!