It is often recommended that for RUNNERS WHO WISH TO BE FASTER, training plans should include shorter-duration workouts of increased intensity in addition to regular longer-duration endurance running at a continuous speed. Mario Fraioli‘s article in Competitor.com "Running-101-basic-speed-workouts-for-runners" was sub-headed: “You don’t have to run fast in training—unless you want to run faster in races.”
It’s true, and this may cause you to stop reading these kinds of articles if you don’t wish to compete in races or care about your race times. However there also may be some health benefits in these shorter speed workouts as well. HIIT (high intensity interval training) has been studied as a method to help runners increase speed and improve other physiological measures of performance. The MEDICAL WORLD has also been interested in HIIT as a way for individuals to decrease the HARMFUL TYPE OF FAT that forms in the abdomen, called visceral fat, as well as to lower weight, blood pressure, and blood lipid levels (see references below) that increase risk for cardiovascular disease and death (1-4). HIIT is also thought to induce beneficial effects on psychological health (4). Low-volume (involves less time in exercise performance) HIIT programs in particular are perceived by exercise participants to be less difficult and less time consuming, and this attitude is thought to increase the likelihood of their compliance with a “fat-busting” exercise regimen, compared with endurance running and high-volume HIIT, leading to improved health and fitness.
Mackenzie Lobby Havey published an article in Triathlete in April 2015 that discussed a Danish research paper published in 2012(5). She offers readers a routine that follows the “10-20-30” concept of training developed and supervised by researchers in that controlled setting.*(printed below) The good news is that a new study published in 2015 (6) reported, as described later in this blog, that HIIT training by the “10-20-30”method can be used successfully by everyday middle-aged runners, in a recreational setting, to improve some aspects of health as well as athletic performance.
High-intensity interval running is defined as running at or above an intensity that corresponds to a person’s maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). It has been shown to be effective in improving VO2max, blood pressure, and running economy in both untrained and endurance-trained (traditional, continuous, same-pace, moderate intensity running) subjects. In well-trained subjects especially, this type of exercise seems to be more effective in improving performance than moderate-intensity exercise training. Intervals of near-maximal sprinting by runners, as short as 10 seconds in duration, have been shown to increase short- and long-term performance, running economy, and VO2max (5).
Much of this research has been performed on test subjects who were closely supervised by scientists in a controlled setting. Hoping to incorporate HIIT in an easy-to-perform format for recreational runners, Danish researchers (5) developed a “10-20-30 training” plan (1-min intervals of 30, 20, and 10 seconds** at an intensity corresponding to ∼ 30%, ∼ 60%, and ∼90–100% of maximal running speed). In 2012 this group of researchers demonstrated that 10-20-30 training was superior to endurance training in terms of improving performance and health parameters in a group of recreationally active runners. However because the training sessions had been supervised by scientific staff, doubts still remained that HIIT could be easily implemented in the real world without researcher oversight. In 2015 the Danes (6) reported that they studied the feasibility and effect of 10-20-30 training conducted in 8 local running clubs, involving 160 recreationally-active runners (>2 years of consistent run training), some of which had high blood pressure, over 8 weeks. Both men and women, with an average age of about 47-49 years, were enrolled in one of 2 groups, a 10-20-30 experimental group and a control group.
In the 10-20-30 group, WAIST CIRCUMFERENCE (a proxy measurement for abdominal fat) and BMI were significantly lower after the training, 5K time improved by 38 seconds; systolic blood pressure was lowered 2mmHg; in HYPERTENSIVE runners both systolic and diastolic pressures were lowered (systolic to a greater extent than in runners with normal pressures, by 5mmHg and diastolic by 2mmHg), and VO2max was increased. Only body mass was reduced significantly in control runners. Other tests were performed to study the effect of the two training types on blood vessels in muscle, but did not show evidence of change. There were also some increases in blood lipids that could not be explained. The researchers concluded: “these results suggest that 10-20-30 training is an effective and easily implemented training intervention improving endurance performance, VO2max and lowering BP in recreational runners, but does not affect muscle morphology…”.
What this last study shows is that a relatively straightforward method of HIIT can easily be incorporated into your existing training plan without special oversight, and it has a good chance of improving your running performance AND overall health. Especially if you have high blood pressure as a runner or you have the dangerous abdominal type of fat, this workout may be of help. Other methods of exercise may be just as effective (4), but HIIT seems to be perceived as “do-able” by sedentary individuals (7), and the 10-20-30 method in particular by runners who have an endurance training base (4.)
SO TRY HIIT! The research programs were 7-8 WEEKS duration, with sessions performed 2-3 times a week. Don't expect immediate results. Try one session a week. If the workout protocol is followed as directed (see below), the time you spend is 3 x 7 minutes, or about a half hour with a short warm up. I have tried it on a treadmill but paying close attention to the time, and cranking up/down the speed after short intervals not my idea of happy running. I enjoyed an outdoor session better. Once i figured out how to count the intervals mentally, I did not even need the phone app timer. The time just flew by.
*The 30-20-10 Run Workout
Do a short warm-up then 30 seconds of jogging, 20 seconds of running at a regular training pace, and 10 seconds at an all-out sprint, four times in a row continuously (I think she means 5 times total to correspond to the research protocol). Follow that 5:00-minute routine with a 2:00-minute jog and then repeat the cycle two more times.
**The method is named “10-20-30” because the researchers thought it was easier to remember than “30-20-10”, the actual running sequence from low to moderate to high intensity!
1. Giannaki C. D., Aphamis G., Sakkis P., Hadjicharalambous M. Eight weeks of a combination of high intensity interval training and conventional training reduce visceral adiposity and improve physical fitness: a group-based intervention. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2015; Jan 8.
2. Irving BA, Davis, CK, Brock DW, Weltman JY, Swift D, Barratt EJ, Gaesser GA, Weltman A. Effect of exercise training intensity on abdominal visceral fat and body composition. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2008; 40(11): 1863-1872.
3. Sahakyan KR, Virend KS, Rodriguez-Escudero JP, Hodge DO, Carter RE, Sochor O, Coutinho T, Jensen MD, Roger VL, Singh P, Lopez-Jimenez F. Normal-Weight Central Obesity: Implications for Total and Cardiovascular Mortality. Ann Intern Med. Published online 10 November 2015 doi: 10.7326/M14-2525.
4. Shepherd SO, Wilson OJ, Taylor AS, Thøgersen-Ntoumani C, Adlan AM. Wagenmakers AJ, Shaw CS. Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training in a Gym Setting Improves Cardio-Metabolic and Psychological Health. PLoS One 2015 Sep 24;10(9):e0139056
5. Gunnarsson,TP, Bangsbo J. The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners. J Appl Physiol 2012; 113(1): 16-24.
6. Gliemann L, Gunnarsson TP, Hellsten Y, Bangsbo J. 10-20-30 training increases performance and lowers blood pressure and VEGF in runners. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2015: 25: e479–e48
7. Jung ME, Bourne JE, Little JP. Where Does HIT Fit? An Examination of the Affective Response to High-Intensity Intervals in Comparison to Continuous Moderate- and Continuous Vigorous-Intensity Exercise in the Exercise Intensity-Affect ContinuumPLoS One. 2014; 9(12): e114541. Published online 2014 Dec 8.
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EARNED RUNS is edited and authored by me, runner and founder. I began participating in road races before 5Ks were common. I've been a dietitian, practiced and taught clinical pathology, and been involved with research that utilized pathology. I am fascinated with understanding the origins of disease as well as health.
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