Friday, July 6, 2012

Go Faster, Leaner and Longer with HIIT

Today I turned a corner. I turned a corner and there was the treadmill waiting for me, tempting me to do something I hadn’t been able to do for awhile.

HIIT - High Intensity Interval Training

I don’t love the treadmill. In fact, I give it the finger on a regularly basis. But, I think the treadmill is hands down the best place to do speed intervals because you can completely control pace and incline.

I haven’t HIIT it in at least a year and half because my body’s been out of whack. Ever since my femoral neck stress fracture (fancy way of saying hip stress fracture) in October 2010, I’ve had to put any kind of speed/interval training on the back burner. Every time I did speed work, it set me back. Today was the first day I really felt like my body was up for the challenge. The fact that I am finally here tells me that dedicating the past 10 weeks to changing some elements of my running form has really paid off.

The HIIT verdict? Invigorating and amazing. There is NOTHING like pushing yourself to the almost-puking, short-soaking, heart-racing edge.  Honestly, when I was done I felt energized and giddy like a school girl in heat (what?).

What is HIIT?

HIIT alternates very intense bursts of anaerobic activity (running, biking, jump roping, rowing, etc.) with periods of aerobic recovery. The key to HIIT is that the intervals are at your maximum effort, not just an increased pace or heart rate.

HIIT is for anyone who wants to improve overall endurance and speed and to burn fat.

Why you should do it:

  • Improves your VO2 max (your ability to utilize oxygen), thereby improving overall endurance
  • Increases the amount of calories you burn during and after exercising because it increases the length of time it takes your body to recover from each exercise session
  • Is a very intense workout for a shorter period of time (20-60 minutes max). That means if you normally start drinking beer at 10 a.m., you can start at 9:30 a.m.
  • Effectively burns fat (two magical words in the English dictionary) by using fat stores as energy.
  • Allows for fat, not muscle, loss
  • Because the max effort intervals recruit fast twitch muscles, you can keep burning calories (after burn) for one to many hours post workout (depending on your fitness level and how hard you pushed).
  • HIIT might increase your resting metabolic rate.

Note:  “To get the benefits HIIT, you need to push yourself past the upper end of your aerobic zone and allow your body to replenish your anaerobic energy system during the recovery intervals" (source).

How to do it:

  • Be ready to get the hell out of your comfort zone and to sweat!
  • Play around with the treadmill to find out at what speed, incline or speed/combo incline you will be at a PRE (perceived rate of exertion) of a 9 or 10. Being at this effort is the key to HIIT. Don’t wuss out.


  • Decide on your interval times. You can do an even ratio (1 minute max effort to 1 minute recovery), or make the recovery slightly longer. Intervals can be up to 4 minutes, but are usually much shorter (1 minute is common).
  • Decide on how many repeats you will do. 6 to 10 is the norm.
  • Warm up for at least 5 minutes before you shock the hell out of your body.
  • If you like music while you run, this is the time to blast your best, loudest and most energizing playlist
  • Take a deep breath, press the “increase speed” button on the treadmill, take a deep breath and  and GO!
  • NO HANDS ON THE TREADMILL (as our friend Dolvett says, “Get your hands OFF my treadmill!”). Try not to fall off. It would hurt. A lot.
  • Initially, limit HIIT workouts to twice per week and space them 48 hours apart to let muscles recover, adapt and get stronger.
  • Increase workouts to three times per week for optimal results
  • Before you begin HIIT workouts, you should be able to exercise for 20-30 minutes at 70-85% of your estimated maximum heart rate.
  • If you have any cardiovascular or other health problems or you are just starting a fitness program, don’t try this one yet. Not until your doctor clears you.

My Ball  Bustin’ Workout:

5 minute warm up @ 6.5 mph
60 second burst @ 8.8 mph (6:49 min/mile pace)
90 second recovery @ 6.3 mph
Repeat 5 times

60 second burst @ 9.0 mph (6:39 min/mile pace)
90 second recovery @ 6.3 mph
Repeat 5 times
5 minute cool down at 6.5 mph

Total time: 33 ½ minutes
Total distance: 4 miles

I realize there are some people who run entire marathons at 9.0 mph. The fact that I can hardly hang on for a minute at that pace makes me think that I am either very out of shape or those people are freaks of nature (I say that in the nicest way possible).

If you are trying to decide what incline and/or speed to do your intervals at, below is a nifty chart that shows you equivalent paces per treadmill incline increases. You can see the full chart HERE. Keep in mind that you can also do a fast walk for your recovery, you do not need to run or jog.



So, what’s the advantage of this type of workout for long distance runners who might take 3 to 5 hours to finish a marathon? My opinion is that HIIT should be used as a variation of your speed work in your training.   HIIT may not be as specific for marathon training as say Yasso 800s, but it might help overall speed and endurance. Arguably, HIIT might be best utilized when training for 5K to half marathon distances, although I could not find a lot of research on this.

Have you incorporated HIIT workouts into your training? If so, have you noticed in improvement in your speed and endurance?

If not HIIT, what type of interval or speed work do you do? When marathon training, I typically stick to the Yasso 800s, because I’ve found them the most helpful with my race day performance.


Sources for this post:
8 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
High Intensity Interval Training
Treadmill Workouts Using High Intensity Intervals – HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Marathon


  1. Give it the finger?!?!

    A little treadmill love please.

    HIIT workouts rock.

    1. I knew you were going to say that!!

    2. Two summers ago, I worked with a great gal from Hollywood, Rachel Nichols.
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      Here's my answer...

      I would have control over every single thing that they eat. That's
      the biggest ticket to success here. No booze, no excess sugar, and
      just giving them enough reward to stick with the program.

      If this "star" is a typical overweight, sedentary individual, we'll have
      no problem getting rid of 20 pounds of fat through nutrition.

      As for exercise, we need to be consistent, and stick with our intensity
      principles. We would do 3 hard workouts per week using strength
      training followed by interval training with the program being centered
      around basic movement patterns done with free weights.

      Everything is done in supersets in the workout to get more done in
      less time. For example, we might do a squat supersetted with a
      pressing exercise. I also like to pair free weight exercises and
      bodyweight exercises in supersets, for example, a dumbbell split
      squat paired with a decline pushup.

      We'll do 3 superset pairs, each for 1-3 sets, and stick to 8
      repetitions per set. Then we'll finish the workout with 6 hard
      intervals of 30-60 seconds (with 60-120 seconds rest between each).
      This way, we are in and out of the gym in 45 minutes.

      On "off days", we'd still get at least 30 minutes, if not 60
      minutes, of low-intensity exercise. But it wouldn't just be slow
      cardio. Instead, we'd focus on low-intensity bodyweight training.
      For example, if the actor can do a maximum of 25 bodyweight squats,
      15 pushups, and 5 chinups, we would use easier versions of those
      exercises in circuits.

      Here's a sample 6 exercise bodyweight circuit that we'd do at least
      3 times, doing 10 reps per exercise.

      Wall Squat
      Kneeling Pushup
      Beginner Inverted Bodyweight Row
      Stability Ball Leg Curl
      Mountain Climber

      After that, we might cross train with a variety of cardio exercises
      to avoid overuse injuries that occur when you repeatedly do the
      same activity and nothing else.

      So that's pretty much it. If he (or she) sticks to their nutrition,
      we're as good as gold and the actor will be ready just in time.

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      "Craig's workouts were fun and challenging - I didn't dread going to the
      gym and I wasn't overly sore after our sessions. Much like my trainer in
      LA, Craig's workouts were always different: the exercises, the supersets,
      the weights...the combination of elements always varied and, therefore,
      I never got bored or felt like I was in a workout rut. And my co-stars
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  2. Thanks for this. I've been wondering how to incorporate HITTS and how fast to do them. Usually my intervals are more at like 85% and half mile to a mile long. Do you jump to the sides of the treadmill when you are done with your faster interval and then turn the speed down, or continue running as is slows? That part is always when I feel like I'm going to injure myself, especially if I'm going REALLY hard.

    1. No, I keep running as it slows, which is pretty gradual. I would probably kill myself if I tried to jump to the side. Just not that coordinated. I wish you could set the treadmill to alternate speeds for you. I'm sure some do this, but not the ones at my gym.

  3. I do way more HIIT training in the winter when I 'have' to run on a treamill. I notice a big improvement in my speed and endurance from one year to the next, but as expected, the improvement tapers off when I'm running outside again doing less HIIT.

    I'm a big fan of CrossFit Endurance. I'll spend my whole winter doing it. October to early May. We have long-ass winters here in the North!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing! I've been wondering what this whole HIIT craze is about. I am definitely going to try it out. Glad you had a nice ass kicking (I say that in a good way, lol)...they always feel good after the fact! ;)

  5. I am inspired to try that workout! I give my treadmill the finger every single day, but I still run on it at least once a week. Love. Hate.

  6. I do a weekly speed work training on the track. It includes intervals of varying distance from 200 to 2400 meters at 1 mile to 5K pace, but the goals is always to run "fast" and then recover and repeat.

    I have gotten to puke speed often during these workouts :) By the time I am at cool down, I am looking forward to the next one...

  7. Thanks for all of this info! I found it really helpful. I can't wait to get back into intervals after I get rid of my stupid IT band issues. I'm definitely bookmarking this.

  8. I try to get one interval run in a week and every so often I throw in metabolic training on the TRX. I was just looking for this chart online today to help me work on my speed.

  9. I am in awe. Your warmup pace is probably about as fast as I can run now, unless there is a bear involved. So you will not be surprised I have not incorporated HITT into my workouts, though when I started, trying to go faster than a walk was a HITT in itself. About the only speed work I do is in the pool, pushing faster intervals every now and then. But they do sound like an awesome workout.

    I am surprised that a 5 minute warmup could be considered adequate, but then what do I know?

    Do you hang a bucket on the front or side, just in case?

    1. I'm not sure it's adequate. I could make the w/u and c/d longer. No bucket today, but could see the need in the future. Then I would really feel like a rock star.

  10. I need to try some HIIT. For marathon training, I usually stick with the Yassos, although I have a love/hate relationship with them. I'll do Yassos every 3 or so weeks and do mile repeats or a pyramid type speed work out the other weeks.

  11. I've been trying to figure out what "speed work" is since I started running. Turns out, I've been doing this (and recently started calling it HIIT after I read a magazine article about it). Who knew? Of course, your fast pace would, you know, KILL ME so since there's no 17 on the exertion chart I'll stick with my 7.5mph (although I may push a bit since I don't typically feel like puking when I'm done...). Thanks for sharing this!!

  12. Wouldn't you say outdoor hill repeats do the same without the dank gym air? I love hill repeats and gets the job extra done!

  13. Greatest HIITs for great HIITs: AC/DC and ZZ Top.

  14. My warm up pace is 5.5 on the damn thing. :p

  15. I think HIIT would kill me dead, since I die when I'm uncomfortable in the slightest.

  16. I normally do one tempo run a week + one interval session (anything from Yasso 800's to mile repeats) a week with a run group. If I can't make the group, I'll get on the dreadmill and do an HIIT session. I can't even begin to tell you the difference it's made in 1) my speed and 2) my weight. Speed work is good shit. :)

  17. I definitely agree with the philosophy, but hate running on the treadmill. I let my hills give me the interval training I need. In any case, you can't get better if you don't push yourself.

  18. Can you do Yasso 800s on a treadmill?

    1. I guess you could, but I always did mine at a track.

  19. Great post, thanks. I have been doing interval training for fat loss for years, but only recently discovered it as a way to speed up my distance running times. I agree that the treadmill is great for controlling speed during workouts, especially since I don't have a GPS watch (yet).

  20. I do some similar speedwork but not sure I am hitting my absolute max. And I agree, the treadmill is the best place to do it.

    The Kidless Kronicles

  21. Hi, I am a new reader. I have been reading for a couple weeks and decided to comment today :) I lived in Johnstown, CO for a year about 6 years ago. . . .worst year of my life! ha ha I prefer northern Utah. . .same scenery but with less drive time to the mtns and less traffic.
    Anyway, I have been using HIIT training exclusively for the last 18 months. I do five 20 minute HIIT runs each week. I initially started training this way because I had IT band problems and the long distance runs were aggravating it. I have not had an IT band issue since I started training like this. I have seen major improvements in my speed. I started out with a 10k time of 7:40/mile and my most recent 10k time was 6:59/mile. I have only done one half marathon using this training with a time of 1:49. I did that half with only 3 months of HIIT training. I have another half in August which I hope to get a much better time on. HIIT training helps with endurance by making your body more efficient at lactate removal so you can go longer. I have run 3 Ragnar (2 were Wasatch Back with mega hills) races using only the 20 minute run per day and have had no issues with endurance. I know many people enjoy doing the longer runs during training but I just don't have the time with working full-time and taking care of 2 children. I am sold on HIIT! It also is nice that I can eat whatever I want and not gain any weight.
    The other comment I wanted to make is about your GPS post. I would not recommend the Garmin Bezel type watch. It is not very user friendly and the battery life is terrible. I have the Garmin 405CX and the Garmin 305. I use the 305 most of the time because the battery goes and goes and goes. I can't even get through one week of 20 minute runs on my 405.

  22. I tried your workout today. I thought I was going to die but actually I felt pretty good. Thanks for the workout!! :-)

  23. i've been doing hiit workouts, but yours are a lot longer and I think I want to try that! I was just doing 6 rounds of 1 min sprints. It is amazing workout, but I always felt like I needed it to go longer

  24. I love your blog. It sure has a lot of personality. HIIT is one of my favs in my weekly routine. I get done and feel great, like I just conquered the world. Thanks for the article.

  25. I probably will have to log some treadmill miles in the next few weeks, and you've just turned those dreaded runs into a challenge I can't wait to tackle. Thanks!

  26. Thank you for sharing :] I recently found your blog & found this post to be very helpful! I'm hoping to try the HIIT workout tomorrow. Hope I make it through!

  27. roping is what cowboys do. i think you meant JUMPING ROPE!

    thanks for chart. will use it soon. maybe.

  28. As sound as I saw this title, I was in love. I use HIIT in my crosstraining and to get through the winter months on the treadmill.

    Sometimes I like to do SHIIT runs. Super High Intensity Interval Training.

    1. That's a great name. haha, I guess I kind of do the same thing.

  29. I've been searching for what HIIT means and came across this article! Thank you! You've explained alot! I now realise this is what I did the other day at the gym!

    I have been converting the mph into kmph as this is what my machines show pace at. I did about 30 mins with 1min on 1 min off at about 7.5 mph so probably about 10 sprints in all? Does this sound about right? I'm going to be doing it 2 times a week at most. Thanks again

  30. One of the best articles I have ever read. What a great article!

  31. I decided to give this a go last night, thinking it sounded doable. Then I remembered that the machines where I am are in kilometers, not miles, so I ha to play around to make my own version. It as the toughest training I've done ever, but I'm game for more!

  32. I decided to give this a go last night, thinking it sounded doable. Then I remembered that the machines where I am are in kilometers, not miles, so I ha to play around to make my own version. It as the toughest training I've done ever, but I'm game for more!

  33. Whenever I am doing intervals I have that same thought -- there are people that run marathons at this pace! And it blows my mind. Can you even imagine? HIIT seems to be the buzzword of the month. I am seeing it everywhere! I have to say it is some good stuff. The Nike Training Club App has some HIIT-like workouts and they KILL me. I seriously want to die and I am so sore the next day. But they also scare me. I would so much rather go with the old favorite -- the tempo run, the long slow run, and the regular mid-week run. HIIT definitely takes you out of your comfort zone, that's for sure. I will have to grown some balls (I mean, ovaries) and try your ball bustin' workout.

    1. New name for same-old, same-old. Nothing new under the sun in running/getting faster.

  34. you mean if I train faster I will RUN faster? Who KNEW???

  35. I just started trying out HIIT running. My goal is to run 6 repeats with 2 min @8mph and 3 minutes recovery...thank you for sharing. I might try your interval too!

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  37. I love doing HIIT but I hate running for a long period of time, usually, my HIIT workouts only last 20 minutes. I'm definitely not an endurance person, but anyways, I do about 40 seconds-1 minute of high intensity and recover for 1 minute. I add .2-.5 speed each time I do another interval and as of right now, I'm glad to say that I'm ending at nearly 12 mph. I usually do anywhere from 6-8 rounds but my goal is to make it to 10 rounds of maybe less intensity

  38. This is really impressive,I must say and you have done an awesome thing for athletes.I also recommend you

  39. I just love what you shared here about Go Faster, Leaner and Longer with HIIT and it is very beneficial if you take or eat these foods with it

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