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Can reducing your mileage and relying on short and fast intervals put you on a path to better running?
Is it possible to become a better distance runner by running fewer miles and putting more reliance on short bursts of fast-paced running?
Running traditionalists who follow the Arthur Lydiard concept of high-mileage training may scoff at the rising trend of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that emphasizes less is more, but recent studies and many coaches say it’s one of the most effective training techniques for recreational runners.
Calling for relatively short, intermit- tent bursts of running at very hard efforts, followed by short periods of recovery, proponents say HIIT knocks down training time while significantly increasing gains in maximum oxygen uptake (VO2 Max) and your ability to deal with the discomfort of racing.
In recent years, studies have shown HIIT can be as effective as traditional high-volume training based on steady-state running. By replacing moderate-paced and traditional speed work with one or two HIIT workouts per week, supporters say it can be a great training tool for time-crunched runners and those who can’t endure the rigors of high-mileage programs. But they believe it can also help lower PRs, make a runner stronger and potentially less injury-prone while also burning fat more efficiently.
In some ways, HIIT goes completely outside the box of how distance training is viewed, which is one of the reasons there is so much debate about it within the running community. But it also shares similarities to traditional interval training in that it engages the aerobic system at a more intense level than the slow- to moderate-paced distance running that is the staple of most recreational runners’ weekly regimens.
In that way, it’s especially beneficial to newer or undertrained runners who find themselves typically doing most of their running at the same, relatively slow pace.
“A lot of my runners have done traditional high-mileage plans and then after adding in HIIT, 90 percent of them PR’ed or did better than they projected,” says Thad McLaurin a certified personal trainer and RRCA- and USATF-certified running coach based in Greensboro, N.C.
Contrary to popular misconception, HIIT workouts do not entail all-out sprinting efforts. Instead, they’re meant to be hard but controlled efforts that can be consistently sustained for the duration of a workout.
“What bothers me more than anything else is the term ‘high-intensity interval training,’” says legendary American distance running coach Jack Daniels. “It sounds like you have to work as hard as you can, and that’s not right.”
Although Daniels believes in high-mileage training and tempo running, he prescribes various HIIT workouts to some of the runners he guides in the Run SMART Project, an online coaching program offering personalized training plans handwritten by Daniels and other high-level coaches around the U.S.
Daniels is quick to point out that the impacts of HIIT are different for every runner and must be implemented into a well-rounded training plan with a specific intent and purpose in order to achieve success.
“Training is a very individual thing and each person has to be treated as an individual person,” Daniels says. More so, he says, HIIT is just one building block of many in creating a stronger, faster and more injury-resistant runner. “There must be some other types of training.”