HIIT is an incredibly effective and time efficient form of cardio for building speed, power, and losing weight. But does HIIT help long distance running? It’s a question a lot of runners find themselves asking themselves. Wondering if it’s possible to get an effective workout for distance in a short time. Below we’ll break down how effective it is and when and when how to use HIIT workouts to your advantage.
Does HIIT help long distance running?
The short answer is that it can, when done right. In fact the world’s greatest marathoner, Eliud Kipchoge uses a modified HIIT as one of his favorite workouts. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to replace your long runs. We’ll break that down and how to use HIIT for long distance running below. HIIT can help with your long distance running and here are a few studies showing positive results.
- Study showing 10 second cycling HIIT improved running times.
- HIIT improves oxygen intake for long distance runners.
- Study Showing HIIT can increase lung capacity.
But intervals alone won’t work. Making improvement as a runner (especially long distance) requires running with a focus on your target goal while taking into account your base fitness level. Meaning that the closer you get to your target event, the more you start training specifically for the speed of the event. If it’s a 5k you’ll start building up your speed work and threshold runs. An ultra, long, easy paced volume runs building base with minimal speed work mixed in.
Taking your base fitness level is also something to take into account before you start throwing HIIT into your programming. Using your 5k time is a good way to do this. If you are running a 30+ minute 5k then focusing on HIIT to improve your VO2 level effort is going to be less important than targeting sustained threshold runs for 800 meters plus. And for long distance, mixing in HIIT becomes less important so as you get closer to an event you would mix it in less and less to reduce impact and reduce injury risk.
How HIIT Help Your Long Runs
HIIT workouts are basically sprints with a rest/light effort period repeated. The amount of rounds and time to work/rest can be modified as needed. These workouts will have a positive impact on your body by:
- Strengthening your overall cardiovascular system.
- Increase your ability to tolerate high levels of perceived effort for an extended period of time.
- Improve carbohydrate and fat oxidation of skeletal muscles.
- Increased calorie burn post workout (eat accordingly).
HIIT Workouts for Long Distance Running
Ways to progress HIIT workouts include adding rounds and work to rest time. To improve your distance running your goal should be to build your maximum work to rest time rather than the amount of rounds you are doing over time. For reference one minute of work to one minute of rest would be 1/1, two minutes on and one minute off would be 2/1 and so on. You want to build that ratio as high as possible even if it’s only for 4-5 rounds.
As I mentioned above, one of Eliud Kipchoge’s favorite workouts is a form of HIIT. He runs 4 rounds of 10 minute thresholds followed by 2 minutes of rest. This is a 5/1 ration HIIT run at 10/2 for increased difficulty. And the perfect time for an effective distance speed workout.
Here are a couple HIIT formats to follow for distance runners:
4 rounds of 10 minutes on and 2 minutes rest between rounds.
6 x 800 Speed Work
6 rounds of 800 meters, rest half the time it takes to complete your previous 800 meter run.
3/1 HIIT For 8
8 rounds of 3 minutes on 1 minute recovery.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, HIIT runs are not going to replace your base building and long runs. But there is no question that HIIT can be an effective way to improve your long distance running when combined with a majority (80/20 or 90/10) of traditional long slow volume runs. Mixing HIIT once a week, and rotating it with strides, hills, and threshold runs are great ways to improve top end speed while building long distance endurance.