There's a myth that cardio— in any way or form— is destructive for muscle-building. For this reason, some bodybuilders prefer to walk on an inclined treadmill rather than increasing their pace. On the other hand, those who want to lose weight (like me), tend to resort to slow and long jogs. Whatever your fitness goal is, high-intensity interval training might be the way to go. Recent research found that when you throw high-intensity workouts into the mix, physiological adaptations are greater. It turns out that aerobic exercises and muscle-building are very far from being incompatible, and that high-intense interval training (HIIT) helps you build more muscle and lose more fat.
But what exactly is high-intensity interval training?
PumpUp has covered its principles before, but in essence, HIIT is can be described as “short, high-intensity bouts of exercise followed by a short period of rest or low-intensity activity”. Believe it or not, you can make a fine workout for yourself in 4 minutes. It works because you’re able to incorporate lots of short vigorous exercises into your routine, all of which would be impossible to sustain for long periods of time if each individual exercise were to be performed on its own.
Research has suggested that the higher the intensity and shorter the duration of work and the rest period, the better.
HIIT and running are best friends
As far as running goes, higher intensity translates into a faster pace. You won't be able to maintain a fast pace for long because you’re gasping for air. This means you are near your maximum oxygen uptake and heart rate. If you're alarmed about higher intensity running workouts, check out the curative powers of HIIT: one study demonstrated that HIIT can play a role in preventing heart diseases.
Intense running workouts can improve your strength, muscle growth, metabolism (even after your workout), and build the endurance. But there are different forms of high intensity running workouts that can give you more results for less. Here’s how can you introduce High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into running with huge results, starting with moderate-intensity Fartlek and Tempo runs, and ending in style with the full-fledged high-intensity Interval Training, “All-out” Sprint-Interval Training and 400-meter sprints used by bodybuilders.
Swedish “Fartlek” or speed-play, is a training method that became popular in the 1940s. Swedish runners almost broke the 4-minute mile record. It consists of randomly selecting visual landmarks that you accelerate to— the next tree or a house, for example— followed by a recovery period. You can do it alone or in a group, with each person taking turns to choose the landmark and the pace.
It’s a great way to get back in shape and test your limits, while having some fun.
Tempo runs consist of continuous high-intensity sprints that last for 20 to 40 minutes or over a predetermined length. Professional runners use “tempos” to build endurance and to mimic a slightly more rapid pace but close enough to their competition pace - a “comfortably fast” pace. Sprinkling a “tempo” in your workout develops your aerobic system, stamina and efficiency.
To prepare you for faster paces of serious HIIT (as you’ll see next), you can throw a “short” burst of super-maximal intensity, every 5 minutes.
This is the most popular type of training the running world. Like Fartlek, it involves bouts of running between easy and very hard paces. However, in this case, you determine how fast you run and for how long, as well as the duration of rest period and how many times you repeat your intervals. According to Jonathan Savage, owner of running resource Fellrnr, the right pace for your intervals (which greatly varies) is the fastest you can run in 6 minutes.
An example of an workout would be 30s-1 minute at your fast pace, followed by half of the time recovering, and repeat it 5 times. Intervals should not last more than 5 minutes (excluding the rest period).
You won’t be able to recover from each fast interval. This is done on purpose, to build up the aerobic stress in your system. Research indicates that active recovery contributes to superior performance because of metabolite washout and lactate utilization. If it's hard at first, don't worry. You’ll get stronger!
- “All-out” Sprint Interval Training or Wintab
Shorter and very intense intervals are the ones that perform better. You cannot get more a intense workout than the WinTab protocol. It involves 20 seconds of an “all out” running sprint followed by 10 seconds rest, for 8 repetitions. The results are remarkable:
A 2014 study tested this program for 6 weeks (3 times a week) on 15 active women. It resulted in an average body fat mass decrease of 8% and a waist circumference reduction of 4%, while increasing muscle mass by 1.3%, peak running speed by5% and maximum oxygen consumption (an endurance metric) by 9%. All of this happened without a change in the athletes' food intake.
- 400-meter Sprint Program
This is bodybuilder trainer Christian Thibaudeau’s favorite workout for fat loss. He says that it has a “high fat-burning potency.” He found that his athletes were getting leaner and stronger after this programme.
The workout consists of 400m sprint repetitions followed by at least 1 minute and half of rest. This exercise is so intense that he recommends doing just one time per week.
See his guideline table for a recommended 8 week plan that can be adjusted for different fitness levels.
After such high-intensity running workouts, you can rest assured that your post-workout cookie will hardly affect your system. After all, you deserved it.
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