HIIT Training: What, When, and How

A man in a hat is running in a park.

By Coach Maria Simone


High Intensity Interval Training, a.k.a. HIIT, makes your muscles AND lungs burn and scream. These are the sessions where you beg for mercy – only to realize the endurance sport gods don’t care. 

More scientifically, HIIT works your anaerobic energy system, with intervals that are approximately 30 seconds to 3 minutes in length.

Depending on your goals and where you are in your periodization, you may want to consider including a measured dose of high intensity intervals in your training. However, bear in mind that these intervals come with the highest risk of injury, so it is VITAL that you develop the strength and endurance foundations to support this type of work. 

Basics of HIIT Training

Preparing for HIIT work prior to incorporating any sort of high intensity into your training plan, make sure you have a solid base of strength and endurance. We recommend about 3 months of aerobic base work if you are new to HIIT. If you’ve done HIIT before, you can reduce this period of aerobic base work. 

If you are injury prone, you should not reduce the focus on endurance and strength base. You may also want to consider whether to include HIIT at all. For athletes I coach who are injured frequently, we do NOT include HIIT in the rotation. Instead, we work with more tempo work.  Including HIIT work in your training when you begin to incorporate these sessions into your schedule, BE CONSERVATIVE. Start with short intervals and long rests. For example, 1 minute hard, 3-5 minutes of recovery.

Keep in mind, the body needs at least 3 minutes of easy recovery to fully recover from high intensity intervals. So to ensure you can hit the hard truly hard, you need to take the recovery equally as seriously – and you can’t make those recoveries easy enough! 

Additionally, it is VITAL that you do not stack HIIT days back-to-back as this will further increase injury risk. We recommend easier aerobic days for at least 1 day following HIIT sessions. Depending on how quickly you recover, and how intense the session, you may need 2-3 days of aerobic work to recovery. 

When working HIIT efforts, we recommend including them once a week for 3-4 weeks, then taking 1-2 weeks without HIIT. A little dose goes a long way!


Benefits of HIIT

The benefits of higher intensity workouts include: increased storage of muscle glycogen – this allows you to have more available energy. Keep in mind that the body can only burn carbohydrates at these higher intensities – and it will burn through your stores fast. For that reason, you should take on some calories during these sessions. Increased tolerance of lactate build up (lactic acidosis) and lactate removal capacity. This adaptation allows you to work at higher % of your LTHR or FTP without having to slow down. Improved lactate threshold and development of anaerobic capacity). This improvement will increase your threshold, which in turn develops how fast you can swim, bike and/or run at aerobic efforts. Improved force production (through greater recruitment of fast twitch muscle fibers) which equals more strength. Improved mitochondrial function that allows for an expanded energy and oxygen delivery at all intensities. 

If you need assistance with incorporating HIIT training into your training plan, reach out to us! We offer free consults.

HIIT Training: What, When, and How
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