Readers of Helen’s blog will be well aware that Helen and I attended the ISSSMC in Newcastle last week. Beginning today, I’ll be writing a daily update to the Cutting Edge blog to try and share some of what we learnt. Lots of information to get through so first up is a summary from a symposium on day one, offering insight into the use of high intensity interval training...
New Approaches to Endurance Training – ‘A little pain for a lot of gain’
The debate over volume vs. intensity has been a contentious issue for athletes and coaches for decades, perhaps started by the revolutionary interval training adopted by Emil Zatopek and epitomised by the battle between Seb Coe and Steve Ovett in the glory days of British middle distance running. Ovett was a product of the ‘traditional’ high mileage running school, while Coe embraced the ‘modern’ method of reduced volume but training at a variety of paces. Both athletes traded world records and Olympic titles and the debate over the ‘optimal’ training model is still going strong to this day. In this fashion Professor Ron Maughan (Loughborough University) introduced Dr. Martin Gibala (McMaster University), Dr Nikolai Nordsborg (University of Copenhagen) and Dr Matt Parker (Director of Marginal Gains, British Cycling) for presentations on the use of high intensity and more specifically supra-maximal intervals as a training strategy. Many of you may be familiar with Burogomaster, Tabata, one minute intervals at MMP etc – these are the researchers behind the development of such sessions, so you know who to thank next time you’re slumped over the handlebars recovering from your latest brutal effort!
Adaptations to low-volume high-intensity interval training: A little pain for a lot of gain. Dr Martin Gibala
The first presentation saw Dr Gibala lead us through the development of the research undertaken at McMaster University (Toronto, Canada) into the, at first slightly curious, similar adaptations from high intensity interval training to more traditional endurance training. Gibala and his group have shown very similar adaptations, in terms of exercise performance, mitochondrial enzyme activity and the molecular processes that regulate the genes that control various adaptive processes, between a number of HIT protocols and steady state endurance sessions. The group was motivated by finding sessions to appeal to sedentary individuals with an ‘aversion’ to exercise, leading to the exploration of
- 30s all out with 4 minutes total rest, 4-6 intervals
- 1 minute at 90-100% VO2max with 1 minute recovery repeated 10 times
- All-out for a period designed to match total work from protocol 2
Each protocol showed similar adaptations with each having differing benefits in terms of time commitment and brutality of the effort! Current and future work is focussed on the application of such training to Type 2 diabetics with early results suggesting that such sessions when performed in the morning can have a positive effect in reducing insulin levels throughout the day and also in the long term. Interesting physiology but all of their studies are on sedentary or clinical populations. It is natural to ask then, does this apply to athletic populations...
Influence of intensified training on muscular adaptations and endurance performance. Dr Nikolai Nordsborg
Dr Nordsborg provided more evidence on the successful use of a similar supra-maximal training protocol, this time with a greater focus on trained athletes. A study on well-trained 10km runners saw those exposed to the protocol make significant improvements in a short 4 week period compared with ‘traditional’ endurance training (several in the HIT group achieving PBs that 5 years of traditional training could not match...). Another study showed a reduction in oxygen cost when running at a range of speeds – in other words significant improvements in economy*. Critics argued that a 4 week training period with reduced volume was nothing more than a taper and the improvements were similar to that in the tapering literature. Queue a longer intervention (12 weeks) and similar benefits were shown in short distance performance with a maintenance of 10km performance. Work on elite swimmers is an ongoing project but early suggestions are that reduced volume, increased intensity is less beneficial – clearly more work is needed but Dr Nordsborg suggested the nature of swimming being a predominantly upper body activity may have an effect. No definitive answers but some promising evidence that such sessions may be of use in trained athletes.
*Findings on running economy are very difficult to apply to other sports or modes of exercise. Running is much more complicated biomechanically then cycling for instance.
Volume vs. Intensity: Experiences in coaching elite athletes. Dr Matt Parker
Lastly, to tie it all together Dr Matt Parker presented an outline of the training for the GB team pursuit guys in the build up to Beijing. Alternating blocks of high volume road based endurance training (25-35 hours a week) and lower volume, very high intensity track blocks (2/3 week blocks incorporating <2 minute intervals of varying types, but still around 12 hours a week of easy road riding) were used to bring the GB team pursuit squad a 9 second improvement in 18 months. Some of Matt’s observations:
- Volume builds the capacity to be able to complete the high intensity work in the final preparation for an event.
- High volume endurance training takes the athletes to a very high level, but the intervals are required to squeeze out an extra couple of percent and get race ready.
- Both volume and intensity are needed to bring the athletes to their absolute peak.
- For interval training, when they go hard they go very hard! Well trained athletes (especially at this level) are capable of doing a huge amount of damage in interval sessions, hence the requirement for prolonged endurance/base training to build the capacity to handle the load and relatively short blocks of this type of work.
The use of supra-maximal interval sessions is a vibrant area of research and evidence is accumulating that such protocols are likely to be a useful addition to the training plans of athlete’s of all levels. One strategy worth considering is the introduction of a 2 week block of such workouts midway through your winter base training before returning to more traditional endurance sessions at an elevated level of fitness.