Working off of the buzz of last week”™s tirade on Tabata training in indoor cycling, I thought I”™d touch on a related cousin that also carries some confusion and thus misuse — High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

The main contributor to misuse in indoor cycling with training methods like Tabata and HIIT has more to do with how it is interpreted and embraced and not that the methods are invalid. Many people are busy and also frustrated with lack of results (or the speed of results) in their fitness. The pendulum swingers arrive on the scene and claim that this NEW way of training is the end-all. So the pendulum swings to the other side implying that this new way is the only “right” way.

Tom Goes Off-Road

Let me take this opportunity to help you understand why it has been a hard sell to get outdoor cyclists and competitive riders into indoor cycling classes (or the gym for that matter).  Going back to our pendulum swingers; the groups of people they affect most are the fitness crowd and those stuck in between fitness and athletics (for example those branching out to attempt their first century ride, event, etc.). In a few weeks I”™m going to write an entire article on the topic of the Fitness Enthusiast vs. the Athlete, but let me share one of the biggest differences between these two types of individuals and how this has impacted who attends our indoor cycling classes.

It can be summed up in one word — Performance.  The athlete actually has to perform on a high level, and further, is required to measure their performance. In general, fitness enthusiasts wants to condition their body to improve their overall health. This can include weight loss, gaining strength and body sculpting. I”™m not trying to bash the fitness enthusiast in the least, but rather want to encourage everyone to continue taking care of their body and staying healthy.  What I am saying, is the proof whether a training method like HIIT actually works is on the road.

So where am I going with this? When the fitness world gets swayed by yet another “new” way of training, we often don”™t get to see if this is really effective, because we are not truly putting it to the test.  We just see some super fit guy or girl touting how great it is (and “hey, look at me”).  The athlete looks in on the latest thing the fitness world (and indoor cycling) is hanging their hat on and says (with some arrogance) “they don”™t know what they are doing or how to really train”. All arrogance aside, in most cases they are correct. In many ways, this is how outdoor and competitive cyclists view indoor cycling.

There's an App for That

As we reel this baby back into HIIT and indoor cycling and we find another case of “here we go again”.  The problem is not indoor cycling or HIIT, but rather the contagious blanket statements that lead indoor cycling instructors astray.  Research studies claim better fat utilization, higher VO2max, increase in stroke volume, left-ventricle heart mass and cardiac contractibility to name a few. Are these all good things? Yes. Are these research studies wrong or lying? No.  So what”™s the problem?  The problem is application.

First, they are often comparing HIIT to endurance training which they inaccurately define as 30 to 60 minutes of continuous running or cycling. 30 to 60 minutes is NOT the definition of endurance training for everyone. I”™ve been on “recreational” outdoor group rides with cyclists all around the country. I”™ve yet to get home in an hour. Just to clarify, I”™m not only riding with racers, but those who motor along at 12-14mph and just like to ride. So if one ONLY trains using HIIT which consists of 5-second to 8-minute intense efforts followed by 3-4 minutes of active recovery, how effective will the training be if the person has to endure 2+ hours in the saddle at close to 75-80% of their perceived effort? This is where the studies are misleading.

That”™s A Lot of Science Stuff

HIIT studies claim increases in oxidative enzymes such as citrate synthase, malate dehydrogenase and succinate dehydrogenase, and increases in mitochondrial density and more effective signaling through the AMPK pathway (Jennifer Klau…HELP!).  I”™m not debating this (...I have a hard time pronouncing these words). However, when a 4-hour bike race is concluded, scientists don”™t go and start measuring oxidative enzymes — “The winner is…. Number 354 with the highest level of citrate synthase!” No the winner is the one who has endured the challenges of the terrain and distance and came across the finish line first.

So, when a Tour de France team trains solely with HIIT and wins….no forget that….completes the first week, OR a HIIT-only marathon runner OR a HIIT-only triathlete wins, then HIIT will have our attention and will have proven something.

As Usual — We Need Both…But….

It is usually no big surprise to find out that when the dust clears and the emotions subside, both types of training are necessary to produce well-rounded fitness for both the enthusiast and athlete.  However, I”™ll leave you with two things to consider when applying all of this to your indoor cycling classes:

(1)  HIIT (like Tabata) is not a license  to justify blood-snorting intervals in all of one”™s classes. High intensity intervals (usually defined as 80-100% of max effort) should be greatly limited in the early part of the year in our classes and always sprinkled with caution depending on our demographic.

(2)  Endurance training should also be limited during indoor cycling classes (WHAT!?). Yes, you heard me right. 45-60 minute classes are not the best format for performing extended low-intensity (60-70% max efforts). Classes that are 90 minutes or greater are more ideal for these long steady efforts. There is still plenty of highly effective and appropriate training to do during indoor cycling classes in the early season (base building) such as muscular endurance, steady-state tempo (Zone 3), muscular strength and leg speed work to name a few.

Remember: Real Training. Real Cycling. Real Results. All beautifully packaged in a fun-wrapper.

Originally posted 2012-02-09 09:52:54.

Add Your Thoughts...