Sunday, January 31, 2010

High Intensity Training Part 3.

Greetings and welcome to the final installment of High Intensity Training (HIT).  To summarize the previous two editions of this article, in “Part Uno”, I talked about what HIT is and how this training technique is best suited for the “elite” and/ or “chronically trained” athlete when compared to submaximal efforts. During “Part Dos,” I compared and contrasted what distinguishes an “elite athlete” from a “recreational athlete,” and the effects of submaximal training on performance.  In “Part Tres” I will discuss what HIT does, how HIT can be used for all types of athletes across many sports, and how HIT can be best used for you- the reader.

Searching for the Causality of Improvement: Central or Peripheral

Central adaptations can be thought of as changes the body makes to deliver more blood to the working muscle.  Think of it as analogous to a bigger air intake on a car, the super-charger, the more oxygen you can get to a motor (machine or human) the more fuel it can burn.  Blood carries oxygen, so more is more!  This is where things get interesting... when measuring abilities of elite athletes, there has been no significant difference in the amount of blood the heart can pump following completion of a HIT training cycle.  Also, no other significant difference has been measured from any other blood value.  What’s going on here?  It gets better…

Upon the failure to find any sort of central focus of influence from training, studies began to look at Peripheral adaptations, or the changes that occur within the muscle cell as a result of HIT.  Could there be an improvement in enzyme, or substrate values, which are stimulated during HIT, or are there are other factors at work?  The first answer is no. There was no change in any of the enzymes that would signal an improvement in the aerobic energy system.  However, multiple researchers have said that more studies are needed to confirm this.  On the other hand, sprint training has been shown to have a significant improvement in buffering lactic acid, thus resulting in repeatability of near maximal efforts. However, that should be accompanied by an improvement in the peripheral adaptations, which was not found.  Okay so you and I are in the same boat in that we’re both thinking, “Huh? How does this work?”  Funny thing about science is that numbers always lead you to the source of all things.

The “numbers” collected for the peripheral studies from the elite athlete are not significant in the world of statistics.  However, an elite athlete typically improves a scant 2-4% throughout any one calendar year so the “insignificant changes” may be important after all. 


The world of athletics dictates that performance is king, so let’s take a look at performance since, ultimately, it matters most.  Every single study that incorporated HIT showed a significant improvement in any performance variable measured, including improvement in the 40k Time Trial and time to fatigue at 80%, 100% and 150% of max. That is important.  Also, these results are consistent across recreational athletes as well as any endurance-based sport tested thus far.  Studies incorporating HIT were performed with running, swimming and cycling showing virtually identical results for all athlete types.  “HIT in recreational athletes improves performance to a greater extent that does continuous sub-maximal training alone,” (Laursen, Jenkins. 2002).

For all its promise HIT begs new questions and presents some new problems. The first issue is that as you approach the upper echelons of your ability level, each individual has a specific tolerance for the amount of work he/she can accomplish before becoming physically and/or mentally fatigued.  The high intensity of the training requires abundant feedback by the athlete and monitoring by the consultant/coach in order to develop a training regimen that is specific to the individual.  The second issue is the principle of rest and recovery.  The majority of elite athletes lack the understanding of the importance of rest and recovery when incorporated into training.   HIT involves a delicate balance between systematic overload and acute over-reaching that can only be maintained by the feedback from the athlete when coupled with an accomplished consultant/ coach who is trusted. 

So the next time you hear, “You do what in the off-season!?” refer the non-believer to this article (Parts Uno- Dos- Tres) and be sure to let them know who your Source is for your Endurance consulting needs.