Showing You The Ropes

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A jump rope costs less than $10 (the one I use in this video was $2.79) and is a fantastic tool for performing high-intensity cardiovascular exercise with minimal space — especially useful when you’re stuck indoors on rainy days. Additionally, a rope workout can help you improve agility, balance and coordination. Learning to perform different moves keeps things interesting and these advanced techniques can be added to make workouts more challenging. Here are demonstrations of 5 different jump rope exercises…

100 Ab Wheel Rollouts

“Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance.” -Virgil

Actually, I think it’s 101 ab wheel rollouts in this video, but I’m not very good at counting…

Cardio with BOB

“Standing ovations have become far too commonplace. What we need are ovations where the audience members all punch and kick one another.” – George Carlin

I’ve discussed my fondness for fitness boxing a few times before on this blog, and as you have probably guessed, it’s my personal favorite variety of cardio training. If you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out. Here’s a video of me training one of tonight’s rounds with my pal BOB…

Athletic Secrets of… Norway?

It shouldn’t surprise you to hear that Norway has had a successful run in the winter Olympics. With Sochi coming up, Norway’s present total is 303 medals — impressive, especially compared to the United States’ 253. Of those 303 medals, 96 of them have come in the brutal endurance sport of Cr0ss Country Skiing. If you’ve never tried cross country skiing, I assure you, that it taxes the body’s resources like no other. Of any athletic endeavor I’ve ever participated in, cross country skiing is one that — when performed at a high enough intensity — had me feeling like an ambulance ride would be a nice little break. Naturally, when I found out that Norwegians have spent decades putting a whupping on the competition, I set out to find out a little about their training philosophy. What I found out didn’t surprise me. I knew you were smart, Norway.

Let’s begin a study that was conducted in Trondheim, Norway…

Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers. Hoff J, Helgerud J, Wisløff U. Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jun;31(6):870-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10378915

“Maximal strength training in the upper-body improved the double-poling performance by improved work economy. Work economy was improved by a reduction in relative workload and time to peak force while double poling.”

Yes, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. A huge component for success in the most endurance-y of endurance sports is maximal strength training. Not only does it improve the generation of power as needed in propelling the body with a double-ski-poling movement, but it also helps improve work economy of the muscles, which, in turn improves efficiency of energy consumption. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’e a study from Olso, Norway…

Effect of heavy strength training on muscle mass and physical performance in elite cross country skiers. 
T. Losnegard, K. Mikkelsen, B. R. Rønnestad, J. Halle´n, B. Rud1, T. Raastad. The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2011: 21: 389–401.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20136751

“Supplemental strength training improved both VO(2max) during skate-rollerskiing and double-poling performance.”

The most important thing to remember when using maximal strength training to enhance performance in an endurance based sport is to make sure to program it in such a way that the strength training has its proper place, in a supporting — not a starring — role.

Occasionally, some points are so important that I feel the need to repeat them in a hilariously massive font.

When using maximal strength training to enhance performance in an endurance based sport, make sure that the role of strength training remains supplemental.

Allow me to illustrate my point with an example. If your 1-rep-maximum on the squat is a barbell equivalent to 1x your bodyweight, working up to squatting 2x your bodyweight will make you a better athlete. A 2x bodyweight squatter will be able to jump higher, run faster, and punch harder than a 1x bodyweight squatter. However, the point of diminishing returns usually lies somewhere between a 2x BW squat and a 3x BW squat. In other words, going from 1x to a 2x BW squat is a great idea, but going from a 2x to a 3x BW squat may not be, because it starts to detract from the goal of overall athleticism and eventually turns you into a squatting specialist. In an intelligently planned program, maximal strength training should be programmed in such a way as to avoid hindering other training. The authors of the above mentioned study did this by utilizing three exercises in an undulating periodization model.

These were the exercises they utilized:

  • Half Squat
  • Seated Pulldown
  • Triceps Pressdown

For our purposes, I’m just going to go ahead and change those to:

  • Back Squat
  • Weighted Chin-Up
  • Close-Grip Bench Press

You’re welcome.

Now, here’s the training schematic from the study:

Week 1-3
Day 1: 3 x 6
Day 2: 3 x 10

Week 4
Day 1: 3 x 5
Day 2: 3 x 8

Week 5-8
Day 1: 4 x 8
(Train 1 day/week only in weeks 5-8)

Week 9-12
Day 1: 3 x 4
Day 2: 3 x 6

If all sets x reps are successfully completed in a session, increase the load by 2.5%-5% next session.

Fundamentally sound programming for the pre-season preparatory period. Use it in good health.

Sources

“Effect of heavy strength training on muscle mass and physical performance in elite cross country skiers.”
T. Losnegard, K. Mikkelsen, B. R. Rønnestad, J. Halle´n, B. Rud1, T. Raastad. The Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, Oslo, Norway, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2011: 21: 389–401.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20136751

“Maximal strength training improves work economy in trained female cross-country skiers.” Hoff J, Helgerud J, Wisløff U. Department of Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jun;31(6):870-7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10378915

“Norway at the Olympics” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norway_at_the_Olympics

The Breakfast Parfait of Magical Endurance

Uh, pardon the hyperbolic title. It’s just that I get more people’s attention when I allude to some sort of amazing magic. Since I didn’t attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, we can arrive at the logical conclusion that I can’t perform magic. I mean, do I look like Harry Potter to you? Well, maybe a little. But if I really was Harry Potter, do you think I would’ve ended up with Ginny Weasley instead of Hermione? Certainly not. Anyway, in somewhat related news, I’m pretty sure that other fitness trainers and nutritionists didn’t go to Hogwarts either. So let me be the first to tell you there’s no magical breakfast food that will maximize endurance. Furthermore, I’m not going to include any of my customary scientific research in this post. Yeah, you heard me right. To demonstrate that I’m not a total egghead, I’m about to go all anecdotal on you.

In his book “50/50,” ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes answered a question about his choice of pre-marathon breakfast:

“A bowl of Greek style yogurt and granola with banana slices. I find it easy to digest, and it provides carbohydrates for fuel, protein for muscle integrity and recovery, and fat for satiety.”

If you’re not familiar with “ultra” marathon running, it’s like a regular marathon, except way, way longer. Like fifty miles, or one-hundred miles, or sometimes even farther. And did I mention the races are often set in brutal heat or freezing cold? Well, they are. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get kicked in the face by a ‘roid raging Vitor Belfort after a TRT injection than run one-hundred miles. However, while I may not agree with Karnazes on his choice of sport, I certainly do support his choice of breakfast.

Hey, remember when I said I wasn’t going to include any scientific research in this post? I lied.

Let’s talk for a moment about Kenyan marathoners. Have you heard of them? I hope so, because they’re really, really good. Like 56 Olympic medals in long-distance running good. For a frame of reference on this impressive total, in long-distance running events, the United states has won… uh, way fewer olympic medals. Like, a paltry count-them-on-your-fingers amount. An American hasn’t won the Boston Marathon since 1983 and an American male hasn’t won an Olympic marathon since 1972. It would appear that if you weren’t born on the African continent, you shouldn’t show up at an international long distance running competition expecting to win. There are numerous reasons one could list to explain this recent dominance, including training methods, genetics, lifestyle, body composition, mental toughness, and race strategy. But since this post is about nutrition, well… You’re probably wondering what the macronutrient breakdown of Kenyan runners looks like, right? Great, me too! Let’s find out…

Food and macronutrient intake of elite kenyan distance runners. Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Dec;14(6):709-19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15657475

“The food and macronutrient intake of elite Kenyan runners was compared to recommendations for endurance athletes. Diet was high in carbohydrate (76.5%, 0.4 g/kg BM per day) and low in fat (13.4 %). Protein intake (10.1 %; 1.3 g/kg BM per day) matched recommendations for protein intake. Fluid intake was modest and mainly in the form of water (1113 +/- 269 mL; 0.34 +/- 0.16 mL/kcal) and tea (1243 +/- 348 mL).”

Approximately 75% carbs, 15% fat, 10% protein. Atkins would’ve been appalled.

Now, we’re going to use this information to create The Breakfast Parfait of Magical Endurance. According to caloriecount.about.com, the macronutrient content of a yogurt/granola parfait is: 84g carbs, 6g fat, 13g protein. I’m no mathemagician, but I do believe that puts us in the Kenyan macro ballpark (remember, there are about twice as many calories in a gram of fat as there are a gram of protein or carbs). By the way, if you’re interested in carrying this macronutrient breakdown through to lunch, one option is the Quinoa salad that I’ll be posting a recipe for in an upcoming blog (shameless plug). Have a yam or two, a mound of brown rice, and some lentils while you’re at it. Remember though, as I mentioned earlier, there’s no magical formula. What works for them may or may not work for you. But if ultra endurance is a goal of yours, you might as well give it a try and find out how your body responds.

In case you’re not familiar with parfaits, it’s a layered food (usually including some kind of fruit) arranged in a tall glass. Not only does it have a hilariously un-manly name, but it’s going to look eff-ing beautiful. Like, way more beautiful than Lindsey Lohan, plus touching the parfait won’t give you an STD.

You’ll need:

  • Yogurt (preferably Greek yogurt without added sugar)
  • Granola (or a healthy breakfast cereal)
  • Fruit

Then just arrange it in layers so it looks fantastic. Alternately, you can just throw all the ingredients together in a pile that looks like garbage if that’s more your style. Either way, it’s still going to taste great and give you a nice, natural few hours of energy.

Here’s a photo of one I made today:

296

These are easily prepared in advance and store well in the refrigerator. They’re also portable if assembled in a container with a lid. Give the breakfast parfait of magical endurance a try before your next run and see if it carries you one-hundred miles. Or three miles. Three sounds good to me.

Sources

“Dean Karnazes: Exploring the Limits of Human Endurance.” http://www.ultramarathonman.com/web/media/print/Adventures_Northwest_Magazine.pdf

Karnazes, Dean. “50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance.” Hachette Book Group. 2008.

“Food and macronutrient intake of elite kenyan distance runners.” Onywera VO, Kiplamai FK, Boit MK, Pitsiladis YP. Dept of Exercise and Sports Science, Kenyatta University, Nairobi, Kenya. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2004 Dec;14(6):709-19. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15657475

“Kenya at the Olympics” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenya_at_the_Olympics

“List of winners of the Boston Marathon” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_winners_of_the_Boston_Marathon

“List of Olympic medalists in athletics (men)” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Olympic_medalists_in_athletics_(men)

From Russia with Intelligent Training

Чем да́льше в лес, тем бо́льше дров.

With the conclusion of the Cold War, those of us in the west were given access to the wisdom and science from the Soviet Union’s extensive research into physical performance. Their contributions are numerous and include advances and innovations in strength/conditioning such as periodization, plyometrics, improving recovery, maximal force production, muscular contraction speed, optimal work/rest ratios, intervals, increasing aerobic and anaerobic thresholds, just to name a few. Russians continue to contribute to the landscape of physical culture and I’m thankful for the immense influence their work has had on me.

To distill some of these insights into blog-sized bits, I’ll begin with a few quotes. These snippets are intended to pique your interest in the authors. I encourage you to seek out the full texts of those that interest you.

“Many attempts have been made to determine which training is more effective, lifting maximal or intermediate weights. This is similar to the question of whether 800-meter runners should train at distances shorter or longer than 800 meters. It is advisable to run both. The same holds true for strength training; exercises with different resistances must be employed.” – Vladimir Zatsiorsky from “Science and Practice of Strength Training”

We can sit here arguing about some mythical ideal volume/intensity like true internet keyboard warriors, or we can train a wave of volume/intensity like Zatsiorsky would have us do.

“The long distance runner has more endurance than the weightlifter if there are long distances to be run. But he has poorer conditioning than the weightlifter if there are weights to be lifted. The muscle-work of the long distance runner is successful only with a very large oxygen supply. The effort the lifter spends is on the contrary so great that he is never able to maintain a complete oxygen supply. His muscles can work with an insufficient oxygen supply. In the first category the heart and vascular system are influenced as well as the breathing organs. In the other groups the emphasis is on the motion apparatus. The marked conditioning training of the long distance runners has a negative effect on the development of strength. Conversely, the strength training of weightlifters is not good for long distance runners. Weightlifters should be careful in each training session which signifies long-enduring work with low intensity.” – Arkady Vorobiev from “Russian Training Methods: Developing Speed and Flexibility.”

Specificity in training. Like, don’t use a powerlifting cycle to train for a marathon.

“Strength, speed, and endurance are the important abilities for successful performance. The dominant ability is the one from which the sport requires a higher contribution (for instance, endurance is the dominant ability in long-distance running). Most sports require peak performance in at least two abilities. The relationships among strength, speed, and endurance create crucial physical athletic qualities. A better understanding of these relationships will help you understand power and muscular endurance and help you plan sport-specific strength training.” – Tudor Bompa from “Periodization Training For Sports”

When the stage of training moves beyond general physical preparation to specific preparation, it’s best to utilize an approach that pursues the most meaningful objectives.

“Work of moderate power for weeks and months does not deliver a high level of sports results, it significantly fortifies and stabilizes skills, creates a more perfect coordination of functions of organs and systems, and strengthens them and the whole organism through positive structural and morphological changes. This is how the so-called ‘special foundation’ is built.” – Nikolay Ozolin from “Specific Conditioning”

It’s easier to chisel a masterpiece if you have a solid base to work from. It helps to ensure things won’t fall apart when the demands of sport become more complex.

“When speaking of special strength training methods, one should turn particular attention to the so-called conjugate method. Essentially, it consists of the momentary influence on the key motor quality to the interconnections corresponding to the specific activity, while preserving the structure of the sport exercise. The conjugate method secures strength development in synthesis with other key qualities while preserving their rational interrelationships to the muscle groups. Furthermore, it furthers perfection of technique by preserving the structure of the sport movement.” – Laputin & Oleshko from “Managing The Training Of Weightlifters.”

The conjugate method sequences training to best develop strength in relation to neural motor skills. Simply put, the human body’s adaptation to training stimulus can be greatly enhanced with proper planning and organization.

“A rational sequence of exercises involves mixing the work of muscle groups. In order to keep the organism from adapting, (which leads to a reduction of the reciprocal reaction) to the exercise which is frequently done first, it is necessary to periodically begin the workout with different exercises.” – Robert Ansovich Roman from “The Training of The Weightlifter.”

And that’s about as confusing as “muscle confusion” needs to be.

“The constructive effect of adaptation has its basis in three phenomena: Specificity of protein synthesis during the post-work period, conditioned by the type of work executed, its intensity, and its source of energy; Super-compensation of the substrates used up during the workout and different structural and enzymatic proteins; A positive correlation between the catabolic and anabolic processes, brought about by muscular work.” – Yuri Verkhoshansky from “Special Strength Training Manual for Coaches”

The most succinct explanation of the complexities of hypertrophy ever put into a single paragraph.

“As simply as I can put it, the reason for a lack of progress or for poor progress is insufficient rest and recuperation outside the gym. You should sleep no less than 8 or 9 hours a night, and as far as possible, it would be desirable to nap for an hour each day as well.” – ‘Dr. Lyuber’ from “Bodybuilding Our Way”

Go get some rest, sleeping beauty. An extra hour of sleep per day will transform you from man to beast.

These methods are applicable to general and specific physical preparation for a wide variety of sports. For example, as many of you know, boxing is a sport close to my heart, and many of the modern training methods we’re seeing increasingly used by boxers originate from Russian science. For example, in a study by V.I. Filiminov titled “Means of Increasing the Strength of the Punch” he used tensionometric dynamometers to measure that force produced by the legs when pushing off from the floor was responsible for producing 38.46% of punching power. Trunk rotation was second most at 37.42%, followed by arm extension at 24.12%. This led to the use of explosive style lifts like the snatch and clean & press being utilized by Russian boxers to increase power in the legs and core. This is becoming very popular lately, especially dumbbell and kettlebell versions of the lifts. Additionally, a publication by Getke & Digtyraev called “Fundamental Means of Strength Training for Boxers of Different Ages and Qualifications” concluded that it was “easiest to increase explosive strength by increasing maximal strength.” This is best accomplished in the 2-5 reps per set range, which avoids sarcoplasmic hypertrophy that might bulk up a boxer out of his weight class (see Prilepin’s table below). Squats are one example of an appropriate lift to meet this objective.

For further education, a very informative old-school documentary on Russian strength and endurance training for boxing can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZILMMYy9Lo

And a similar documentary on wrestling is viewable here (you MMA dudes could certainly incorporate some of this into your training): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMXadANmrXc

The insane bridge/pullover move performed by the gentleman in the video seems like an appropriate segue to the topic of kettlebells, a well-known Russian contribution to strength and endurance training. There are about a billion resources on kettlebells by now, but the coveted link goes to Valery Fedorenko who pressed a 35 lb kettlebell for 2006 reps at the 2006 Arnold Classic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mrrTj18i5M For a frame of reference on this feat, it’s about as easy as running a marathon backwards, uphill, while carrying a medium sized dog and simultaneously singing the HMS Pinafore in its entirety in four different languages.

Finally, here’s Alexander Sergeyevitch Prilepin’s table, a widely utilized reference for weightlifting set/rep/loading parameters:

prilepinstable

In conclusion, I demand a re-make of Rocky IV with Rocky being realistically knocked out in the 1st round by Drago.

Sources

Bompa, Tudor. “Periodization Training For Sports, 2nd Edition.” Human Kinetics. 2005.

Brokhin, Yuri. “The Big Red Machine: The Rise and Fall of Soviet Olympic Champions.” Random House. 1978.

Dr. Lyuber (pseudonym). “Bodybuilding Our Way” aka “The Secrets of the Basement.” Russian Translation.

Laputin, Nikolai & Oleshko, Valentin “Managing The Training Of Weightlifters.” Sportivny Press. 1986.

Ozolin, Nikolay. “Specific Conditioning, Track Technique Number 27.” 1967.

“Prilepin’s Table for Hypertrophy.” http://www.allthingsgym.com/prilepins-table-for-hypertrophy/

Roman, Robert Ansovich “The Training of The Weightlifter.” Sportinivy Press. 1974.

Verkhoshansky, Yuri. “Supertraining, 6th edition.” 2009.

Verkhoshansky, Yuri & Natalia. “Special Strength Training: Manual for Coaches.” 2011.

Vorobiev, Arkady. “Russian Training Methods: Developing Speed and Flexibility.” 1968.

Zatsiorsky, Vladimir & Kraemer, William. “Science and Practice of Strength Training, Second Edition”. Human Kinetics. 1995, 2006.

HIIT vs Moderate Intensity Cardio

High Intensity Interval Training is a method that combines brief periods of vigorous activity with brief rests. For example, 6-8 rounds of 20 second bursts on the stationary bike with 10 second rest periods in between rounds (yes, that’s the dreaded Tabata protocol).

Steady-State cardiovascular training involves working for lengthy periods of time at a moderate intensity, often at a target heart rate (percentage of maximum heart rate) or other quantitative method such as Rate of Perceived Exertion. An example of this would be a forty-five minute run at 65% of MHR.

HIIT vs moderate intensity cardio is quite a polarizing issue. For instance, it tends to sharply divide the “I hate jogging” crowd from the “I love jogging” crowd.  In the interest of full disclosure, you’ll find me positioned squarely on the hate side of lengthy moderate intensity endurance training, despite my reputation for near limitless stamina. However, because I’m always such a diplomatic guy (cough), I’ll be doing my best to provide an objective analysis of each method in this article, as I see merit in both.

I’ll begin by stating that I believe specificity in training is necessary to maximize results. Conditioning training for a sport should reflect the anerobic and aerobic requirements of that particular sport. Many popular sports are largely games of intervals. Football and baseball involve very short periods of intense activity followed by periods of rest. Soccer has intense sprints interspersed with periods of lighter intensity running. Basketball has similar blend of requirements — jumping, quick lateral movements, some sprinting and a lot of lighter running in transition. On the flip-side of that are sports like cross-country skiing that require sustained continuous effort. Though an effective HIIT program provides an aerobic base that could theoretically carry you through a prolonged event of sustained physical exertion, I would still recommend that if you’re going to attempt, hypothetically, a marathon, that most of your training for it should consist of the style of running that the event will be comprised of. The reason for this is that a marathoner needs to teach him/herself how to respond to the many adverse effects of such an endeavor. For instance, if a runner never hits the proverbial “Wall” in training, then he/she will be unprepared to handle it properly in competition.

I should point out that it has been my personal experience that properly programmed HIIT can build an incredible base of endurance and do so very efficiently in condensed time periods (the studies I review below will reveal similar opinions). As always, remember that we are all individuals and should approach all challenges with that in mind. Precise training for a precise outcome.

However, the more pressing question for most people is that of which to employ when training for desired body composition — HIIT or traditional lengthy cardio training?

Also of great importance is the issue of overall health — are lengthy sessions needed, or is HIIT suited for the improvement and maintenance of proper cardiovascular function?

Without further ado, let’s go straight to the scientific studies. Roll up your sleeves, we’re about to get very academic.

High intensity interval training vs. high-volume running training during pre-season conditioning in high-level youth football.
Faude O, Schnittker R, Schulte-Zurhausen R, Müller F, Meyer T. A Saarland University, Institute of Sports and Preventive Medicine , Saarbrücken , Germany. J Sports Sci. 2013 Sep;31(13):1441-50. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2013.792953. Epub 2013 May 31.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23725006

“Both training programmes seem to be promising means to improve endurance capacity in high-level youth football players during pre-season conditioning.”

This study cuts right to the core of the issue: High intensity interval training versus high volume running training, using youth football players as test subjects (for you American folks, this study was done in Germany, where football = soccer). Unfortunately, the conclusion lacks any clear direction, except to say that both methods work. I suppose that’s a good starting point though. The take-away lesson from this study is that both methods are effective for general physical preparation for an endurance-based sport. If prolonged endurance training sessions make you happy, do it. If HIIT is more entertaining for you, it is a valid substitute for moderate intensity training.

Physiological and performance adaptations to high-intensity interval training.
Gibala MJ, Jones AM. Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada.
Nutr Inst Workshop Ser.  2013;76:51-60. doi: 10.1159/000350256. Epub 2013 Jul 25.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23899754

“As little as six sessions of ‘all-out’ HIIT over 14 days, totaling ∼15 min of intense cycle exercise within total training time commitment of ∼2.5 h, is sufficient to enhance exercise capacity and improve skeletal muscle oxidative capacity.”

We’re still not really getting solid answers yet, although this article states in very concrete terms that HIIT is an effective at enhancing endurance performance without the time commitment of longer moderate intensity sessions. The study also provides specific parameters for the volume of HIIT that it takes to create desired adaptations for an aerobic base. Their recommendation translates to a 15-minute session performed 3 times per week. Nice, eh? HIIT isn’t easy, but it’s fast and effective.

High intensity interval exercise training in overweight young women.
Sijie T, Hainai Y, Fengying Y, Jianxiong W. Department of Health and Exercise Science, Tianjin University of Sport, China. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2012 Jun;52(3):255-62.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22648463

“The tangible results achieved by our relatively large groups of homogeneous subjects have demonstrated that the HIIT program is an effective measure for the treatment of young women who are overweight.”

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. This study was conducted on overweight female college students and concluded that both the HIIT group and the sustained moderate intensity exercise group experienced benefits in body composition, cardiac function and aerobic capacity, but the HIIT group had slightly better results overall. Obviously, the effectiveness of both methods for body composition and cardiovascular health is of great importance, but particularly the HIIT method, which fits more easily into the average college student’s busy schedule of playing video games and watching Hulu (joking, sort of).

Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism.
Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Ste-Foy, Quebec, Canada. Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8028502

“Despite its lower energy cost, the HIIT program induced a more pronounced reduction in subcutaneous adiposity compared with the ET program. When corrected for the energy cost of training, the decrease in the sum of six subcutaneous skinfolds induced by the HIIT program was ninefold greater than by the ET program.”

I should mention that this is the first time I’ve ever seen the word “fatness” used in the title of a university study. In somewhat related news, fatness is my new favorite word. This study compared results of subjects who participated in a 15 week HIIT program to those who undertook a 20 week program of conventional endurance training.  This is a victory for the HIIT camp, as the program resulted in greater subcutaneous fat loss even though the mean energy expenditure was less. These results further support the hypothesis that HIIT is an efficient training method for body composition goals.

Sex specific responses to self-paced, high-intensity interval training with variable recovery periods.
Laurent CM, Vervaecke LS, Kutz MR, Green JM. (1) School of Human Movement, Sport, and Leisure Studies, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH (2) Division of Applied Physiology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC (3) Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, University of North Alabama, Florence, AL. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jul 8.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23838976

“These findings support the notion that women may demonstrate improved recovery during high-intensity exercise, as they will self-select intensities resulting in greater cardiovascular strain. Moreover, results confirm previous findings suggesting a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio is optimal during HIIT for both men and women.”

Oh good, males versus females. Hopefully the mere insinuation that males and females could have biological differences that impact physical performance enrages Billie Jean King enough to challenge some random elderly gentleman to a public athletic competition. But seriously folks, the most notable element of this study is that the abstract actually suggests an optimal work/rest ratio — 2:1. Aside from that, I’m pretty sure the author is saying that the male subjects were lazy.

Physiological responses to a 6-d taper in middle-distance runners: influence of training intensity and volume.
Mujika I, Goya A, Padilla S, Grijalba A, Gorostiaga E, Ibañez J. Departamento de Investigación y Desarrollo, Servicios Médicos, Athletic Club de Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Feb;32(2):511-7.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10694140

“It is concluded that taper-induced physiological changes in trained middle-distance runners are mainly hematological, and that distinct physiological changes are elicited from LICT and HIIT during taper.”

This study is strictly focused on volume tapering after periods of intense training (think of this in terms of a periodization style program where the athlete would reduce training intensity and volume prior to competition). The researchers set a HIIT based taper against a low intensity continuous effort based taper in an effort to determine the physiological implications on intensity and volume. The findings concluded that effects on performance elicited by the different protocols were … drumroll please … insignificant. However, there were some physiological differences in blood profiles of the two groups that may be noteworthy to elite endurance athletes.

Effects of high vs. moderate exercise intensity during interval training on lipids and adiponectin levels in obese young females.
Racil G, Ben Ounis O, Hammouda O, Kallel A, Zouhal H, Chamari K, Amri M.Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science of Tunis, University Tunis el Manar, Tunis, Tunisia. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Jul 4.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23824463

“The results show that HIIT positively changes blood lipids and adiponectin variables in obese adolescent girls, resulting in improved insulin sensitivity, as attested by a lower HOMA-IR, and achieving better results compared to moderate-intensity exercise.”

Here’s another direct comparison of HIIT vs traditional cardio, this time in obese adolescent females. The researchers were specifically looking at lipid levels and adiponectin, which is a protein involved in regulation of glucose and breakdown of fatty acids. They declare HIIT the winner. Clearly, this study further supports HIIT as an effective method for achieving body composition goals. Have I made my point yet?

Long-term high-intensity interval training associated with lifestyle modifications improves QT dispersion parameters in metabolic syndrome patients.
Drigny J, Gremeaux V, Guiraud T, Gayda M, Juneau M, Nigam A. Montreal Heart Institute Cardiovascular and Prevention Center (ÉPIC) and “Université de Montréal”, 5055, St-Zotique Street East, Montreal, Quebec H1T 1N6, Canada. Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2013 Jul;56(5):356-70. doi: 10.1016/j.rehab.2013.03.005. Epub 2013 Apr 17.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23669144

“In MetS, long-term HIIT and MICE training led to comparable effects on ventricular repolarization indices, and HIIT might be associated with greater improvements in certain cardiometabolic risk factors.”

Another study pitting HIIT against traditional cardio, this time for treatment of Metabolic Syndrome. For those unfamiliar with the term, Metabolic Syndrome is basically a fancy term for grouping together all the health problems that result from obesity. Obviously, this information should be of interest to, well… to phrase it politely, a whole lot of people. In this study they refer to steady state exercise as “Moderate Intensity Continuous Exercise” and abbreviate it as “MICE,” which I think most people will find adorable (hmm, does this indicate a steady state bias?). The result though, gives the advantage to HIIT. But the authors seem to suggest (as I do) that people who are overweight should please be doing something — anything — about it.

That’s a lot of information to digest in one day, especially if you’re like me and have the attention span of a gnat.

Let’s summarize:

  • For those who compete in a sport, the majority of your physical preparation should be focused on simulating the physical demands of the sport. If you play football, then squat, power clean, bench press and do interval sprints. If you run marathons, then run long distances at moderate intensities.
  • In the case of off-season general physical preparation, HIIT is easily programmed into a periodized plan and can be used to build a base of aerobic conditioning.
  • HIIT is an effective and efficient method to improve body composition.
  • HIIT is an effective and efficient method to improve cardiovascular health.
  • HIIT is an effective and efficient method to address health concerns related to obesity.
  • HIIT is favorable for people with busy schedules.
  • HIIT is fun for people with short attention spans.
  • If you’re new to HIIT, a good starting point would be 15 minute sessions, 3 times per week, with a work/rest ratio of 2:1.
  • Studies seem to indicate fairly equal benefits from varying methods, so if you prefer long moderate intensity sessions to shorter more intense workouts, then go with what you enjoy.
  • Keep in mind that intensity and volume have an inverse relationship — as you increase one, it would be wise to decrease the other.

In the interest of general health, it’s most important to do something, regardless of which training style you utilize. Pick exercises you like and perform them on a consistent basis. Make adjustments as necessary, but stick with the program over the long-term. By long-term, I mean forever. Being physically active has a list of benefits a mile long. Whether you raise the intensity and lower the volume or the other way around, the most important thing is that you are improving your health and physical abilities. When I repeatedly make the point that increasing and/or maintaining cardiovascular health can be achieved in less than an hour of total workout time per week with HIIT, and likewise remind you that if you have physical limitations that stop you from engaging in intense exercise, you can still achieve health benefits in less than three hours of total workout time per week by working at lower intensities, that means that I’ve logically stripped away all possible excuses. So get moving.

Sources

Drigny J, Gremeaux V, Guiraud T, Gayda M, Juneau M, Nigam A. “Long-term high-intensity interval training associated with lifestyle modifications improves QT dispersion parameters in metabolic syndrome patients.” Montreal Heart Institute Cardiovascular and Prevention Center (ÉPIC) and “Université de Montréal”, 5055, St-Zotique Street East, Montreal, Quebec H1T 1N6, Canada. Ann Phys Rehabil Med. 2013 Jul;56(5):356-70. doi: 10.1016/j.rehab.2013.03.005. Epub 2013 Apr 17.

Faude O, Schnittker R, Schulte-Zurhausen R, Müller F, Meyer T. “High intensity interval training vs. high-volume running training during pre-season conditioning in high-level youth football: a cross-over trial.” A Saarland University, Institute of Sports and Preventive Medicine, Saarbrücken , Germany. J Sports Sci. 2013 Sep;31(13):1441-50. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2013.792953. Epub 2013 May 31.

Gibala MJ, Jones AM. “Physiological and performance adaptations to high-intensity interval training.” Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON, Canada. Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2013;76:51-60. doi: 10.1159/000350256. Epub 2013 Jul 25.

Laurent CM, Vervaecke LS, Kutz MR, Green JM. “Sex specific responses to self-paced, high-intensity interval training with variable recovery periods.” (1) School of Human Movement, Sport, and Leisure Studies, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH (2) Division of Applied Physiology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC (3) Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, University of North Alabama, Florence, AL. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jul 8.

Mujika I, Goya A, Padilla S, Grijalba A, Gorostiaga E, Ibañez J. “Physiological responses to a 6-d taper in middle-distance runners: influence of training intensity and volume.” Departamento de Investigación y Desarrollo, Servicios Médicos, Athletic Club de Bilbao, Basque Country, Spain. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Feb;32(2):511-7.

Racil G, Ben Ounis O, Hammouda O, Kallel A, Zouhal H, Chamari K, Amri M. “Effects of high vs. moderate exercise intensity during interval training on lipids and adiponectin levels in obese young females.” Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science of Tunis, University Tunis el Manar, Tunis, Tunisia. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2013 Jul 4.

Sijie T, Hainai Y, Fengying Y, Jianxiong W. “High intensity interval exercise training in overweight young women.” Department of Health and Exercise Science, Tianjin University of Sport, China. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2012 Jun;52(3):255-62.

Tremblay A, Simoneau JA, Bouchard C. “Impact of exercise intensity on body fatness and skeletal muscle metabolism.” Physical Activity Sciences Laboratory, Laval University, Ste-Foy, Quebec, Canada. Metabolism. 1994 Jul;43(7):814-8.