Andy Hawthorne

High intensity interval training: hit or miss?

High Intensity Training has been getting a lot of attention lately. Is all the hype true?

High intensity training is popular and getting a lot of attention. Is the attention justified, though? And is HIT enough to keep you fit?

High Intensity Training (HIT) can keep you fit with just one three-minute session per week - or so it’s claimed. But there are caveats based on your genes.

Dr Michael Mosley investigated this and found that you have to be genetically hard-wired to respond well to this kind of training.

The bottom line? If you’re not, it won’t make any difference to your overall fitness.

How do you do HIT?

Using an exercise bike, you start with a couple of minutes of easy pedalling. Then you let rip for 20 seconds.

Follow that with a couple more minutes of easy pedalling and then you give it the full beans again for 20 seconds.

Another couple of minutes of easy pedalling and then another 20-second big effort.

That’s it.

Workout done.

It works around 80% of your muscles when you are giving it the full beans. That’s compared with 20-40% for walking, cycling or running at a moderate intensity.

Blimey. Don’t I feel stupid? There’s me slogging my guts out for at least an hour at a time, 4-5 times a week. When all I need is a couple of minutes a week.

Hit or miss, now for the miss

I did say that HIT comes with a serious: “yeah, but...” You have to have a genetic infrastructure that responds well to this kind of exercise. Otherwise, you are not improving your aerobic fitness.

Being a runner means I run interval sessions. Or surges where you hit a much faster pace for a period of time, recover and do it again. Keep that up until you’re knackered and it’s a good workout.

I run that kind of session a couple of times a week. It’s the only way I know to improve my otherwise slow pace.

Would I get away with just a couple of minutes of it? No chance. I have to do more to get more.

So, while I get the idea of HIT I’m dubious as to how well it works when you are training to run medium to long distances.

I don’t see how you’d have the muscle memory to run a half marathon (for example) with only a few minutes of training a week.

HIT is for general fitness

Okay, so I’m being a bit unfair. The idea of HIT is to build your core fitness. It’s not specific training for anything - just part of a training regime to build a foundation of fitness.

I can see how that might work.

Personally, I don’t use gyms. I find the idea of running on a treadmill mind-numbing. My gym is the great outdoors.

I can see how HIT training can be introduced into a running schedule, though.

It’s a bit like running hill repeats. They hurt and the repeated action is designed to keep hurting and therefore build strength.

Intensity is a good thing

One thing I’ve learned over the last four years is that the long slow stuff is good for endurance.

But too much of it makes you a slow runner. You have to ramp up the intensity to get stronger and run faster.

Whether you call that HIT, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or just an expletive like I do (I call my interval sessions “bastards” or something similar) they are sessions that definitely work.

* I’m not a follower of fashion. But I can see the merits of HIT sessions and have evidence that to get faster you have to run harder.

And of course, my sense of humour wonders if there will be a new variant soon that involves strength. Then, it would be called Strong High Intensity Training. The fun would be endless. You’d announce to your colleagues, mates etc, that you were going to the gym for a SHIT session. Or, you’d get back home in your sports gear, looking sweaty and out of breath, announcing that you’d had a good SHIT...