Why HIIT workouts should be part of every runner's training schedule

It's before dawn in Sydney's inner west and music is pumping from a converted warehouse. But there's no dancing.

People are working out – lifting weights, jumping up on boxes, busting out burpees and high-fiving one another. During a 15-second rest the runners suck in air and wipe their brows, harnessing the energy for the next set.

In 45-minutes their workout will be over, yet the benefits will last for hours, and the hard work they've put in this morning will help to make them stronger, faster runners. That's the beauty of High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT, as its commonly called.

HIIT-ing a new high

Former first grade Rugby Union player and Director at Coaching Zone Five Dock

Todd Liubinskas says HIIT workouts offer significant health benefits such as improved aerobic and anaerobic stamina.

"HIIT workouts are quick, challenging and very effective at building muscle strength and improved endurance for runners," says Liubinskas.

"It increases your heart rate, burns fat quickly and exhausts the muscles. This increases the body's need for oxygen, and then pushes oxygen-rich blood through your body - helping to strengthen your cardiovascular system.

"HIIT sessions also up your performance, improve your overall endurance, and increase your VO2 max, meaning you'll be able to run faster and farther," adds Liubinskas.

Century old tricks

HIIT may seem like the latest fitness fad, but coaches and athletes have recognised the value of interval training to enhance performance for more than a century. The technique was pioneered in Finland by coach Lauri Pikhala with champion runners including Hannes Kolehmainen and Paavo Nurmi. Nurmi was the most dominant distance runner in the world between 1920 and 1930, winning nine Olympic gold medals. His system of training focused on running a high number of repetitions at close to race pace with short rest intervals. 

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Recent studies have shown that 15 minutes of HIIT can deliver the same physiological benefits, such as improved endurance, and reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes as three hours of long, slow running.

In 2014, researchers from Hong Kong studied the effects of high intensity workouts on 16 runners. For six weeks, runners performed HIIT workouts three to four times a week. The exercises were picked to strengthen core muscles, and stress the respiratory muscles. At the end of the study, runners were put through a one-hour treadmill test. Runners that performed the HIIT training had higher core strength, increased endurance, and improved running performance.

Increase running fitness

There are many ways to get in a HIIT workout to help your running including sprint sessions, Tabata boot camp workouts, spin class and bodyweight interval training.

Liubinskas says Coaching Zone's 45-minute HIIT workout is designed to increase fitness fast.

"Our coaches guide the group through a series of full body exercises to take their fitness to the next level," says Liubinskas. "Kettlebell thrusters, mountain climbers, jump squats, lateral jumps and burpees are just some of the exercises we get people performing during the workout."

"These exercises strengthen the quads, glutes, and hamstrings and help runners to build a strong core, which is essential to running well and injury-free," adds Liubinskas.

Balancing act

"HIIT training also helps balance your body. As a runner, you work your legs a lot, but your upper body is often forgotten. Performing a HIIT workout involving upper body movements and core work can make you a stronger, more well-rounded runner. Core strength and strong arms will help you maintain good running form and stay in alignment during longer training runs," explains Liubinskas.

He says group heart rate zone tracking, using Myzone belts that participants wear during the class, add another dimension to the workout.

"Our coaches focus on ensuring people have the right technique, and they use the individualised heart rate data showing on screen during the workout to help our clients increase cardio fitness and muscle endurance."

Warm-up  

If you're not used to performing dynamic intense exercises such as jumping and moving direction quickly then make sure you warm up and cool down properly to avoid injury.

Liubinskas says that maximal exercise such as HIIT workouts put a lot of stress on the body.

"Working out to your max during a HIIT session puts a lot of strain on your muscles and connective tissues," he says.  "Like any exercise, you need to take time to recover between workouts. When starting out, allow at least one day of recovery between sessions."

The goal of one day completing an ultra-marathon inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. With a day job in the corporate world, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to clear her mind and challenge her body.

Follow Laura Hill on Twitter

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