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Part One of Three on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Variations for the Elite Level Athlete, and the rest of us…

My background

As a sprint freestyler and flyer in swimming (2 US Olympic Trials, 23 All-Americans, etc.), I lived most of my life in the world of high intensity, interval and mid-distance training with world class competitors. However, the majority of my training revolved around interval training and high intensity interval training (HIIT).

So, here, we’ll go over how HIIT can really help you achieve better performance results.  (For experienced athletes, feel free to jump to the end, “HIIT Examples,” where I offer some routines I use for my HIIT workouts.)

High Intensity Interval Training

HIIT is a super high grade method of training that offers many great benefits. It’s a superior way to help you improve:

  • VO2 Max;
  • Quadriceps, glutes, and overall leg power;
  • endurance (yes, it improves endurance);
  • weight loss;
  • And it adds to the maxim of “mixing it up.” This training method was and still is a critical element in my athletic success.  I strongly believe it should be in yours too.

How’d a swimmer end up running?

Morphing towards run training and HIIT

It was the Muddy Buddy event that got me into running. This “fun” athletic event involves running and biking (one person runs, the other bikes) in the mountains, or other scenic areas; and beer. (Beer when it’s over, of course!) My migration to running brought forward my long experience in HIIT in swimming to help me better train for my running events.

The Evolution to Ragnar Relays

At a Muddy Buddy event, I saw an advertisement for the Ragnar Relay Series. This is a 200-mile street relay race composed of 12 member teams, or 6 for Ultra teams. (They also have 130 mile, 8 member trail runs.) The average distance a runner handles is approximately 16 miles. Ultra teams double this mileage. (I’ve competed on ultras too.) To have a fun Ragnar event, you have to do the work and train properly.

My Training

My average Ragnar training runs are about 7 miles, 4 times a week. However, on my long days, I max out at 10, sometimes 12 mile runs. My real objective when training for a Rag is to train up for the longest leg so in some cases, my average weekly run may be closer to 10-ish.

Employing HIIT, Changing It Up

Outside of the usual training, it’s HIIT that makes the difference for me in terms of having a really good Ragnar event. During Ragnar training, I augment my regular mid distance and longer distance training with HIIT to achieve really great results. I practice this method between two and four times a month to help me prepare. You can do more or less as you see fit for your training routine. 

Let’s Get To It

Below are some guidelines and routines for your HIIT. How you employ them is really up to you. Just a small preamble here: for lesser experienced athletes, start slow and easy, gradually working your way up as you begin to understand the routine itself and what your body is capable of. And of course, you should consult a physician before conducting any exercise illustrated here, definitely if you’re pregnant or have any other ailments that might negatively affect your health. You’re responsible for good judgment and good sense.

Highly advanced athletes will know their bodies very well, know how to start, warm up, how to manage their way through the intervals and levels of difficulty, as well as how to wind-down to cool down.

Warming up

For this example, using a treadmill, I warm up in comfortable increments starting at speed level 3. (Don’t worry you tough runners out there, my workout is hard. Read on!) This is a simple and easy warm up, and I want it that way. I know I will actually begin this session in earnest at speed level 6. Since I aim high, it’s going to get difficult for me. So I move up to 6 at my own pace. Once at 6, I run ‘till I’m done. I’m all in.

Pay attention to your body

Let your body speak to you, pay attention to it, as you move through warming up towards your particular starting point speed level. For me, after about a 5 minute warm up (warm up times are highly individual. Do the warm up that’s right for you) or when I feel warmed up and ready to run, I simply press the speed button to speed level 6. Mentally speaking, I know when I lever up to speed 6, this workout has officially begun.

Start off easy

Because this workout can be designed to be very challenging, I suggest you start off easy until you understand the workout. On the other hand, for advanced athletes who know what they can do, considering advancing in ¾ or full level increments.

How to do it

The treadmills advance levels of speed in 10ths of points. Stating the obvious, but for illustration purposes, level 3 is slower than level 4. Moving up to level 4 from level 3 can be done in increments of 1/10s, e.g., 3.0, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3…… until you reach level 4.0.

HIIT Examples:

1) Using a zero incline position on a Treadmill, here’s one HIIT workout method. You can customize this idea to your own fitness level. Remember, after warming up, I……

  1. Run for 1 minute running at speed 6.0, 20 seconds rest. While resting, increase speed to 6.5.
  2. Run for 1 minute running at 6.5, 20 seconds rest. While resting, increase speed to 7.0.
  3. Run for 1 minute running at 7.0, 20 seconds rest. While resting, increase speed to 7.5.
  4. Run for 1 minute running at 7.5, 20 seconds rest. While resting, increase speed to 8.0.

You repeat this series until you reach your high speed goal. I aim between 12 and 15. Using the above series, let’s assume I achieve my high goal for today, speed level 12. I’ll now begin working back down the speed levels in the same manner that I went up, in .5 increments:

  1. Run for 1 minute running at speed 13.0, 20 seconds rest. While resting, decrease speed to 12.5.
  2. Run for 1 minute running at 12.5, 20 seconds rest. While resting, decrease speed to 12.0.
  3. Run for 1 minute running at 12.0, 20 seconds rest. While resting, decrease speed to 11.5.
  4. Run for 1 minute running at 11.5, 20 seconds rest. While resting, decrease speed to 11.0.

For an even higher intensity run, you can adjust the run and rest times, e.g., 20 seconds on, 20 seconds off; or 20 on, 10 off; or 30 on, 20 off, etc. There are so many variations that it’s not practical to cover them all here. But we’ll offer many different types over time.

Warming down

Once I’ve worked my way back down and have completed speed level 6, I immediately drop to speed level 3 and walk. From here, I simply work my way down to slower and slower walking levels. I may end up at level 1.5, or around there, but I simply walk as my reward until I’m cooled down enough.

A solid warm down is essential for this workout because you’ll build up high levels of lactic acid which need to be “off gassed.” So my warm down can be 10 minutes long, sometimes 15.

Workouts over! Go home!

I hope you found some value here. Email me with any questions at [email protected].


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