3 minute weekly HIT trend, enough for a triathlete?



There has recently been some discussion and promotion of the benefits of extremely short and intense, High Intensity Training (HIT), particularly for those individuals who struggle for time in among their busy daily schedules.

Example of an HIT session that we are discussing here;
3 x 20 second sprint (all-out efforts)
40 second recoveries between each effort
(three times a week)

Some research appears to suggest that HIT as short as the session above, stimulates the same pathways that produce the benefits which we associate with endurance training along with cutting the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. However, what we want to know is whether this type of HIT session could benefit us in training for triathlon or any other sport.

To gain benefits from training we have to stress our body for a period of time after which a period of recovery must then occur. Stress is brought about by controlling and varying the duration, frequency and intensity ie the training workload of sessions during the training season. There is a fine balance between stressing the body appropriately and over stressing it but stress must occur to our bodies to promote greater delivery of oxygenated blood to the muscles and improve muscular strength, performance and fitness. At present there is not enough research done on athletic individuals for anyone to claim that incredibly short HIT workouts have the same oxygen uptake maximising benefits as they do in ‘untrained’ individuals. However, it is well known that interval training which combines periods of high intensity stress with periods of recovery, is a vital component of an athlete’s training to improve muscular and physical performance. Therefore, short HIT is likely to have some benefits, even if the benefits are not as high as seen in ‘untrained’ individuals as it has been shown as an efficient way to improve VO2 Max. This may offer some relief for age-group athletes struggling to fit training into their busy working/family lives, when lengthy interval or endurance sessions seem near on impossible to complete.

One important take away is that triathletes cannot just carry out HIT or short interval training. The very nature of triathlon being an endurance sport requires us to include a blend of training which works the body below, at and above lactate threshold to build strength, endurance and power and improve fitness and performance, enabling us to complete a triathlon. Only carrying out 1 minute sprints is not going to cut the mustard when you get to the start line of a triathlon lasting anything up to 17 hours long! So when it comes to planning your training make sure you build in the appropriate mix of training sessions including those which focus on speed, technique, endurance and power, they all have benefits. This does not suggest that you need to increase your training workload, efficiency in training is what you need to aim for. Interval training is a great way to bring about rapid performance gains and is therefore an efficient way to train. However, as mentioned above, this is not going to help you become a skilled and high performing athlete if you do not also combine it with time spent on the bike, in the pool and treading the streets to develop endurance and 'practice' your sport. Now, some have claimed, most notably Ericsson (1990) that it takes 10,000 hours of training to become an expert at your sport ( 20 hours for 50 weeks for 10 years). This may have some truth in it, for example Friel (2009) draws on great athletes such as Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan as figures who have become experts in their sports through 10 years of training and commitment. However, the 10,000 hours theory is also something that has been critiqued by many and this blog will add to that. Why? Well, Chrissie Wellington and the Brownlee Brothers who have been the most iconic figures in our sport did not take 10 years to break the boundaries of what had previously been perceived as impossible. One may argue that they still have/had more in them to reach their full potential but it can also be argued that they train/trained efficiently and learned to master their sport through an innate desire to achieve, quicker than others would. There is no disagreement that mastering the art of your sport is one of the ways that we find success in triathlon but it is not so much the time you spend training, it is how well you use the time that you are training which will make you become more skilled and experienced. Spending 10 years of your life aimlessly swimming, cycling and running might make you fit but you are not going to reach your potential as your workout (frequency, duration and intensity) balance is all out of kilter.

Overall, it would be wrong to advocate that triathletes should be carrying out HIT as there is not enough research to support this. It may offer something for those who have very limited time to train and still want to maintain some level of fitness to compete in the sport. However, for those who are looking to really see performance gains, get stuck in with nice long quality (in comparison to HIT) interval sessions which produce the results which triathletes need and train SMART.

Chantal
Tri Training Harder