If you’re looking to get faster, improve performance and drop some body fat then a running HIIT workout is going to do the job. And this isn’t just for the young athletes, it’s extra important for us masters runners (i.e. anyone over 40).
You may have heard about this style of workout from places like OrangeTheory or even CrossFit. They’re extremely popular because you can get a great workout in a short amount of time…and who isn’t short on time!
So what are HIIT workouts? How can they help your running? Let’s talk about this along with some example running HIIT workouts to get you started.
What is a HIIT Workout?
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. It means short hard bursts of work, followed by planned periods of recovery. You’ll usually be working at 80% or higher capacity for 1 to 5 minutes and then have a rest or lower intensity period of recovery.
This is not a new style of workout, it has been around for ages and packaged in various forms. Because of the intensity level, these workouts are usually 30 minutes or less, which make them easy to fit in to most schedules.
One of the main reasons people like them is the EPOC effect or the Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption, which is to say that you keep burning calories even after the workout is done.
You can do HIIT workouts with nearly any form of cardio, including burpees, biking and running.
What is a HIIT Running Workout?
It’s a form of interval training. Runners have used interval style workouts as part of training plans forever.
HIIT workouts are just another variation that requires more explosive power. One that I think is great for those short on time or those focused on overall fitness rather than race specific workouts.
The great thing about HIIT is you can make it work for any fitness level because it’s about your intensity, not a specific speed. That being said, I think you know my position of making sure you have a good base before adding intensity to reduce risk of injury.
Should Everyone Do HIIT Workouts?
No. Those who are returning from an injury, suffer with frequent injuries, have high cortisol or tend to over train should not add these in without the guidance of a personal trainer or running coach.
While high-intensity exercise is an amazing way to get fit, it’s important to remember these should not be your only style of workouts if you’re working out 5 days per week or distance running. In those cases, going hard all the time is going to increase cortisol and lead to overtraining symptoms.
You need a good mix of easy and hard days.
How to Incorporate HIIT Workouts?
Remember that any hard workout from a tempo run to intervals to HIIT running workout is going to require more recovery than a long easy run. So ideally, you would do a HIIT in place of one of your standard speed workout days.
Ensuring that you keep a couple of easy, recovery or rest days between a hard sessions. Long runs are also considered hard sessions when you are in the thick of marathon training.
Example workout plan for a marathon runner:
T: Running HIIT + heavy strength later in the day
W: Easy run
R: Moderately long run – last 10 minutes goal race pace + strength
F: Rest or mobility or easy bike
S: Long run
S: Recovery run
Example workout routine for someone just focused on fitness:
T: Running HIIT
W: Full body heavy strength
R: Running HIIT
F: Recovery day, cross training with another form of cardio
S: Full body heavy strength
S: Easy run or other cardio cross training
For those focusing largely on fitness, you may also cycle through periods of HIIT workouts and then a period where you do more of the steady state cardio.
To get the most out of your workouts, you need to ensure you are including strength, easy cardio and hard cardio. This is the best way to improve fitness and fat loss.
6 Benefits of Running HIIT Workouts
Let’s talk about why people are interested in including some intensity in their routine. The benefits of HIIT are vast when the workouts are implemented correctly along side recovery.
#1 Improved Glycogen Usage
As our hormones decline with age we stop using carbohydrates as well. Which means instead of them pushing in to our muscles for energy, we start to store them as fat. No thanks!
During anearobic exercise the body increases the breakdown of glucose to create energy. This process is called glycolosis.
So yes, these workouts can help to get the glycogen in to your muscles for both energy and improved recovery.
#2 Increase Energy Production
In addition to glycolisis, it can increase ATP levels. Adenosine triphosphate is the primary energy source for your muscles, so the more available the better your energy. Of course, the better your energy, the better your workout! You can run longer or faster.
It’s not just about that single workout, but improving this for all your workouts.
Additionally, creatine levels increase. Creatine is the body’s natural resource for muscle contractions. That means being able apply more force to a bounding movement or hift a heavier weight.
#3 Boost Hormones
HIIT training can also boost testosterone and growth hormone. These two muscles are largely responsible for muscle growth.
In runners over 50, adding in a day of plyometrics or a HIIT workout can help with muscle when the body is slowly lowering these hormones.
#4 Muscle Maintenance
For my peri and post menopause athletes, it’s important to continue utilizing some intense workouts from beginner plyometrics to beginner HIIT workouts.
Dr. Stacy Simms has explained that these types of workouts (along with heavy lifting) are some of the best ways to build or maintain muscle. This is going to be key to weight loss and performance.
Unfortunately starting at age 30 women begin losing muscle mass unless we actively work against that! Less muscle means less tone, slower metabolism, slower running, more injuries, etc.
#5 Time Efficient
As noted these workouts are fast and efficient. For those who struggle to find a hour to run or do other cardio, this is a great way to get maximum calorie burn for your time.
National Center for Biotechnology Information found HIIT workouts burned 25–30 per cent more calories than the other forms of exercise. Remember you still need heavy lifting and long endurance style workouts too for total health and fitness.
#6 Mental Confidence Boost
Going at such an intense effort can help you to go hard in races and slow down on easy days because now you enjoy the recovery! It’s really a short period of time that allows you to push yourself hard before hitting that “oh no can I do this moment?”.
Over time this is going to build your confidence to keep pushing on longer intervals or at that finish line.
7 HIIT Workouts From a Running Coach
Ready to start mixing some HIIT in to your running plan? Let’s look at some great protocols you can try.
If I was picking a place for any runner to start, it would be will hill sprints!! I have talked about them plenty, so you can read more there, let’s move on to some other workout ideas.
This one was developed by Norwegian University of Science and Technology. It’s super straightforward and designed for running. The team says you should finish the 4th interval with enough energy to have done 1 more.
- Dynamic Warm Up – Followed by 10 minutes easy running
- Interval – Sprinting for 1 minute at a 85-90% Max HR (heavy breathing, but not so hard you can’t finish the minute)
- Active Recovery – 3 minutes of light jogging or walking
- Repeat Intervals 4 times
- Finish with easy running for 5-10 minutes
Running Tabata Workout
Tabata is a protocol developed it the 90s by Japanese doctor Izumi Tabata. Workouts are designed to be a total of 8 minutes. So when you hear someone describing a 30 minute Tabata…it’s not. That’s a long HIIT workout.
Tabata involves 20 seconds of hard effort, 10 second rest period x 8.
This is one that I think is harder to do on a treadmill because of the time for the machine to pick up and slow down. Try it on the track or a flat path.
- Dynamic warm up followed by 10 minutes of easy running and even a few strides
- Complete 8 rounds of tabata intervals (roughly 4 minutes of work)
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes easy running
More advanced runners could do a round of tabata, then jog easy for 5-10 minutes and completed a second round.
Scientific 7 Minute Workout
While there is no running in this one, it’s still great for runners. Initially published in 2013 by American College of Sport’s Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal this workout gained some traction thanks to a NY times article.
No equipment needed, this workout will alternate upper and lower body exercises. Consider it a great option when traveling and you don’t have access to much room or any tools.
12 exercises for 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds rest between. Remember to push your intensity for max benefits.
- Jumping jacks
- Wall Sit
- Push Ups
- Step Ups
- Tricep Dip
- High Knees
- Alternating front lunge
- Push-up with rotation
- Side Plank
Running + Strength HIIT Workout
Big fan of bringing in the strength when you’re short on time. We know that muscle is key to improving fitness and metabolism.
Intervals are 30 seconds on, 15 seconds rest.
- Dynamic warm up followed by 10 minutes easy running
- Alternating reverse lunge holding weights to front kick
- Sprint (or squat jacks)
- Jump squat holding weights
- Sprint (or jumping jacks)
- Rest 1 minute
- Repeat 4 times
Full Met-Con Workout
Those of you looking to really take things up a notch, will like this workout from Men’s Journal by trainer Prince Braithwaite. Who notes “You’ll tax all three energy systems with this HIIT workout. You gain cardio advantages and a strong body when you put them together in one gym session.”
- Shin taps x 30 sec: Start in a plank. Lift hips to down-dog and tap shin with opposite hand.
- Jumping jacks x 30 sec
- Walkout to plank x 30 sec: From standing, hinge at your hips and place hands on floor. Walk hands out to plank, then alternate shoulder taps. Walk back up to stand.
- No recovery periods in the warm up.
- Dumbbell goblet squat x 45 sec (one weight held at chest)
- Dumbbell seated shoulder press x 45 sec (two dumbbells pressed overhead from racked position)
- Kettlebell swings or Romanian kettlebell deadlift x 45 sec
Repeat for 3 rounds
- Run x 3/4 of a mile (he had rowing listed)
- Mountain climbers x 20 sec
- 10-second rest
- Burpees x 20 sec
- 10-second rest
Repeat for 4 rounds
I’m tired just considering that last workout and yet it’s still shorter than going for a long run!
HIIT Treadmill Workout
Ready to make time fly as you burn lots of calories, then let’s mix things up on your next treadmill run.
- Dynamic Warm Up followed by 10 minutes easy pace at 0% incline
- Run intervals: 30 seconds at 3-5% incline
- Recovery intervals: 30 seconds slow speed to a very slow walk
- Repeat 4-8 times
- Cool down with 5-10 minutes easy running
With this you’ll count the time it takes the treadmill to speed up in your interval. So you will probably only be hitting top speed for 20-25 seconds. If the slow down doesn’t feel like enough, then jump your feet on to the rails to pause
Dynamic HIIT Run Workout
If you’re a distance runner this might feel more up your alley, because we tend to like to go long! Remember though only 20% of your week should be hard efforts if you’re a distance runner.
Each effort is followed by 30 seconds of light jogging or walking. Each round is followed by 3 minutes easy
- Dynamic Warm Up followed by 5-10 minutes easy running
- Effort 1: 90 seconds at 10k pace
- Effort 2: 60 seconds at 5K pace
- Effort 3: 20 second mile effort
- Repeat 2-3 times
All right there you have 7 HIIT running workout ideas to spice up your training!
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