Which-Is-Better-HIIT or endurance training
By Joan Kent.

Several months ago, John interviewed Micah Zuhl, doctoral candidate at UNM, for an ICI/PRO Podcast. Among the questions John asked was which Zuhl considered better — high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or endurance training.

Zuhl”™s answer wasn”™t entirely clear to me; he sounded somewhat back-and-forth. But he did emphasize the need to give cycling students some intensity, along with some variety. He used the well-known phrase “change it up.”

Let me make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against HIIT. I use it frequently in my own training and have used it when teaching, as well.

Virtually any vigorous exercise, including indoor cycling, will trigger the release of beta-endorphin. That”™s neither good nor bad, just what is. The more intense the exercise, the greater the beta-endorphin release will be. No doubt that”™s one reason cycling students enjoy — or even prefer — harder workouts.

When it comes to comparing HIIT to endurance training, though, I”™ve noticed something interesting, and I”™m definitely not including Micah Zuhl in this statement, because he was asked the question by John and didn”™t bring it up himself.

Diehard HIIT advocates always seem to measure the benefits of HIIT against the lamest cardio they can find, then proudly proclaim that HIIT provides superior results. Have you noticed?

In reality, we don”™t have to choose between long, slow nothing and HIIT. If you train right, and train hard, you can go hard AND long. HIIT alone won”™t necessarily provide that training adaptation.

My background has taught me that progressive, periodized training can develop a power/endurance dyad, along with a mental discipline that short-duration bursts typically don”™t. Jim Karanas posted much on this website on the mental, emotional, even spiritual, benefits of endurance training. I frequently use HIIT as part of a long, structured, “authentic” training.

Having said all of that, I”™d like to switch directions. I also use HIIT when my day is slammed and I need to resort to my BTN Workout. (BTN means “better than nothing.”)

One of the convenient features of HIIT is how little time it takes. At this time of year, being able to fit in a short workout is very helpful.

Here”™s an 11-minute format that I devised for the Stairmaster (I”™m lucky enough to have one at home), but it can be done on any piece of cardio equipment. Set the timer, if you have one, for 11 minutes. On the Stairmaster, every workout is divided into 30 vertical rows of a duration that depends on the programmed time. An 11-minute workout yields 30 rows of 22 seconds each.

I warm up for 9 rows. That takes 3 minutes, 18 seconds. Every 3 rows, I increase the intensity by 1 MET. (Each vertical dot is another MET.) Then I begin my intervals.

The remaining time allows for 7 intervals total. The work segment is 2 rows (44 seconds), followed by a recovery of 1 row (22 seconds). The first work interval is moderately hard, a transition between the warm-up and the hard work to come. The other 6 intervals are done as high as the Stairmaster can go. I drop down in the recovery period to the level-3 warm-up intensity, but no lower.

If I find myself leaning on the Stairmaster during the work segment, I back off one vertical dot (1 MET) until I get back to good, disciplined form. It”™s rare that I need to back off more than one, but I”™ve dropped 2 METS once or twice. The goal is not to take extra recovery, just to regain good form and make it harder.

If you”™re at all like me, you prefer a serious cycling training to something like this. Still, the BTN approach can be used so easily, and on anything. It”™s gotten me through insane scheduling more than once. I”™ve done it on my indoor cycle, too, and it works. This approach could help students who are over-scheduled and missing classes this season.

Sure, it”™s just BTN for enthusiastic indoor cycling fans, but it”™s HIIT, which we know is authentic training. Better than nothing when there”™s no time for more, yes?

Joan Kent

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