The Death of Endurance Training

With the significant rise in popularity of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), Matt Ham asks “is the importance of endurance training being neglected?”

A while ago I wrote a blog on the rise of CrossFit, 24/7 facilities and places like F45. As you may be aware, I am not a big fan of their model; well, morally anyway. While they might absolutely kill it financially, I couldn’t sleep at night if I ran our business edin a similar fashion (which is ironic, cause if I did I probably could sleep quite comfortably as I would be able to afford a better bed).

I digress; surprisingly I am not here to bash these guys and rant on how boutique places like Hammer are better. What I actually wanted to touch on was the significant rise in popularity of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), or Energy System Training (EST).

All of us here at Hammer are massive advocates of these forms of training from prehab to strength, high intensity to (gasp!) endurance training. In fact, our training calendar revolves around these methods as they one of the most effective ways to get fit and lose weight without a significant risk of injury.

Why is HIIT so great?

Well, increased training intensity over short periods results in higher EPOC, or Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. This is a response to intense training, the result of which is physiological adaptations by way of a significant increase in metabolic processes, allowing the body to prepare for similar training intensities in the future. As result, the body will burn more calories at rest in order for us to become more efficient and functional beings.

So, it burns more calories at rest in half the time than what a ‘normal’ run or ride session might burn. However, if it is so intense, how does it reduce the likelihood of injury?

This is a loaded question, as not all HIIT sessions are created equal and aren’t always that safe – see my previous blogs for my thoughts on CrossFit. However, the reason why HIIT is a safer modality is simply due to the fact that it means less time on your feet. The less time we are pounding the pavement, the less likelihood of an overuse related injury; considering that long efforts of exercise incur fatigue, that fatigue influences poor motor patterns and thought processes which ultimately results in poor decisions and the accompanying consequences.

All good, right?

Well yes and no. The case for yes as outlined above seems compelling; however, the increase in facilities specialising in these modalities has seen a dramatic reduction in aerobic or endurance based work.

Most of us are familiar with the notion that ‘walking or slow jogging burns fat and we have to stay in the fat burning zone.’ Like any novel concept within this industry, this was flogged worse than the proverbial and that overexposure relegated aerobic training to the sole domain of triathletes and endurance based sporting enthusiasts.

For years I have had to convince clients that you have to mix it up with interval work if you want to get anywhere. Now, lo and behold, the industry has torn off in the other direction, seemingly outlawing long, aerobic cardiovascular training and promoting HIIT as the magic tonic to remedy the perils of a time-poor society.

However, just like weights training you cannot just put all your eggs in one basket; you have to approach every performance goal with a mixed method approach to attain the optimum result. Sure, there is need for specificity but specificity through variety will always yield better results then just focussing on one modality.

I know a significant number of clients who have absolutely smashed HIIT, lost shitloads of weight and look brilliant; I’m definitely not saying stop. Hell, we would be out of business if I thought that. What is critical, however, is that aerobic training has to also be entertained.

The importance of aerobic training

The aerobic system is the very foundation of your recovery processes and without a good foundation, the ability to perform repeat sessions day in, day out will suffer. Aerobic exercise initiates similar physiological responses as HIIT, but it simply takes a fraction longer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as getting runs on the board (whatever the mode of training) allows the body not only to adapt to the mental aspect of endurance performance but also enhances our recovery modality as the body remains at a steady intensity. That is to say that effort and exertion is matching the demands of placed on the body; whatever energy is expended is being replaced and used efficiently. These types of metabolic and physiological processes increase the body’s ability to expel free radicals and waste, allowing the body to become a better, more durable machine which results in an increase in the capability to recover.

Final Verdict: And the Winner of the Battle of the Aerobic Titans is…

The primary goals of most endurance exercise programs are to improve cardiovascular, metabolic, and skeletal muscle function in the body. In the past, continuous aerobic exercise has been the chosen method to achieve these goals; however, recent research has shown that HIIT provides similar, if not better (in some cases) improvements in similar physiological markers in a shorter period. Incorporating HIIT (at the appropriate level of intensity and frequency) into a client’s cardiovascular training provides participants with an efficient method to reach their goals.

Further, since both HIIT and continuous aerobic exercise programs improve all of these meaningful physiological and metabolic functions, by implementing a balance of both programs for clients in their training is clearly the ‘win-win’ approach for successful cardiovascular exercise improvement and performance. So, go HIIT and go endurance!

So remember to add that little bit of variety and ensure that at least one session a week (whether that is running, riding or swimming for example) that gets the heart rate at an elevated but controlled level for an extended period. You will witness the advantages not only in the mirror but also in your day to day recovery ability and your capacity to maintain high intensities in your HIIT sessions.

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