Does HIIT Help Long-distance Running? 13 Pros and Cons


HIIT, High-intensity interval training, is one of our favorite topics to cover because, in my experience, it is one of the best forms of workouts for people trying to get fit for the first time or even stay in shape. HIIT delivers fast results in the shortest amount of time. However, for long-distance running, we get the question, does HIIT help long-distance running?

High-intensity interval training improves your cardiovascular system and increases your lung capacity, both of which are beneficial for long-distance runners. If used in a long-distance training schedule, HIIT can be done 1-2 times a week along with 3-4 long-distance training sessions a week.

High-intensity interval training is used for more than just running. You will find that many weight lifters will use HIIT at least once a week to boost the stamina they need. You also have boxers who are the long-distance runners of combat sports because they need to last a certain amount of rounds. That said, in today’s article, we want to focus on long-distance runners and how HIIT can be beneficial to you.

9 Pros of HIIT: Long-distance runners

As the title suggests, we will discuss the nine pros that high-intensity interval training can have for long-distance runners.

With that brief disclaimer out of the way, I think it is time to discuss what you can expect to get out of high-intensity interval training if you are a long-distance runner. So, let’s jump into it, starting with stamina.

Increased Stamina

The best advantage that HIIT gives you as a long-distance runner is increased stamina. Now, I understand that long-distance running is a lot more involved than just having great cardiovascular endurance, but it’s a major part of running in any case.

A lot of what we are going to discuss in this article contributes to the increased stamina that you will notice after high-intensity interval training. However, it is essential to note that if you do have a long-distance event coming up, perhaps you shouldn’t do high-intensity training for at least two or three days before the event or even a week.

Develop Core Muscles

As we mentioned, being a long-distance runner means you rely on a lot more than just having strong legs and good stamina. That is where having core muscles can significantly impact your performance when running long distances, and I want to explain why your core muscles are so crucial as a long-distance runner.

Your core muscles are located centrally, between your torso and abdomen. They play a significant role in keeping your body stable, and they can deliver strength to your lower and upper body, which is why they are so important. Also, your core muscles help stabilize both halves of your body which makes running a lot less stressful on your body.

In fact, without core support, your body will use other muscles for support which can lead to injury.

Chapter 6 of Runner’s Anatomy is a great source of info if you want to learn more about the importance of core support while running.

HIIT works all of your muscles. Planking, push-ups, sit-ups, and deadlifting (common HIIT) are excellent exercises if you want to work on your core.

Better Results in Less Time

Long-distance runners need to keep training. Taking even a week off can negatively impact their fitness. However, time these days is a luxury, and you might not have the luxury of having enough time in a day to train, perhaps because of busy work and personal life schedules.

So, instead of missing out on two or three training days a week instead, you could schedule a high-intensity interval training routine because half an hour of HIIT can amount to approximately 2 hours of regular training. Therefore in a shorter amount of time, you can achieve the same, if not better, results with interval training.

Are you planning on mixing core workouts and running exercises? Check out our article here if you want to learn whether to do your core workout before or after your run.

Reduced Resting Heart Rate

Because HIIT alternates your heart rate between a high and low rate significantly while training, it reduces your overall resting heart rate, which is the sign of someone who is more fit.

Over an extended period, a better resting heart rate could mean a healthier heart (WebMD).

While doing high-intensity interval training, your heart rate will fluctuate between 75% and 90% of its maximum rate during intense moments of the training session. However, your heart rate goes back down to around 60% of its maximum rate during the short rest periods.

Any form of exercise raises your heart, but HIIT specializes in exercise that alternates your heart rate between high and low. That is where the difference comes in.

The lower your heart rate is while running means your cardiovascular system has more endurance and that you can, theoretically, run farther.

Burn Fat

This pro has two purposes in this article. Firstly, if you are trying to lose weight, then HIIT is perfect. Not only does it increase your heart rate and temperature, but it also boosts metabolism, which we will discuss further down.

The heavier you are, the more strain you put on your lower body while running long distances. So, shedding as much weight as possible before an event is one of the best advantages of incorporating high-intensity interval training into your long-distance running training plan.

Increased Lung Capacity

High-intensity interval training has been shown to increase your lung capacity (source). In fact, it improves your overall cardiovascular system by strengthening your muscles and improving your heart. An improved cardiovascular system means you can carry more oxygen in the blood, and therefore, it improves your stamina while running long distances.

Apart from running, there were significant health benefits to having an improved cardiovascular system. It can improve your sleep routine (source) as well as helping you stay focused through busy days. How does it help you focus? Well, the more oxygen your brain receives, the more awake you will feel.

More Extensive Recovery

One thing that many people do not talk about when speaking about high-intensity interval training is that your muscles need a more extensive recovery than if you were to have a regular training session. This recovery means a lot, trust me.

Long-distance running requires extensive use of your lower body muscles, and because HIIT works those muscles harder than regular training, the recovery period is longer. This all translates into stronger muscles that can help you not get as tired on your run.

During this recovery period, your body is also burning fat, and you should notice an increase in your metabolism. Anyone who has gone to the gym for even a few months will know all about the importance of muscle recovery.

Faster Metabolism

While this doesn’t contribute much to running long-distance running, it is a significant benefit that you will receive if you do high-intensity interval training. Increased metabolism means you are less likely to put on extra weight while at the same time, it means you will constantly be burning calories for at least 24 hours after your workout.

No Equipment or Facilities Needed

One of the best things about high-intensity interval training is that you don’t need any equipment or facilities to get going. There are so many different workouts that you can do with HIIT.

  • Body-weight training: If you don’t want to leave your house, you can incorporate high-intensity interval training to jumping jacks, burpees, aerobics, and more.
  • Lamp post-to-lamp post. If you want to do Sprint Interval Training (SIT), which has similar benefits to HIIT, some runners will use lamp posts on the street as markers. You don’t even need to run around the block. Instead, you can use one street with two lamp posts, sprint from one to the other, and then jog back. Keep repeating this, and you will have a great workout. (if not a very fun one)

Cons of HIIT

As with anything that has benefits, it often comes with a few cons, and that is what we want to take a look at in this section. So, here are four cons that come with high-intensity interval training.

Stiffness

It does not matter how fit you are. After a high-intensity interval training session of 30 minutes or more, if your body is not used to it, your muscles are going to be sore and you won’t want to move at all for the next day. (your recovery time may vary, but I’ve had some HIIT sessions leave me sore for days)

Despite what you heard growing up, stretching before or after your exercise isn’t proven to reduce muscle soreness. (source)

However, some studies suggest that taking a cold bath may actually improve your muscle recovery. What would you rather have? Soreness for a couple of days or taking a cold bath? Not exactly the best choice we have to make. 🙂

While other studies show that taking post-workout protein can aid in recovery (and muscle soreness) in many ways.

Dealing with the stiffness is one thing, but in any case, muscle stiffness means your body is in the recovery stage, and as we have discussed, recovery is one of the most essential parts of becoming fit and growing muscles. So, if you are a long-distance runner, that muscle stiffness is a small price to pay.

More Risk

High-intensity interval training comes with a higher risk of injury, and while that may sound scary, I feel that the benefits far outweigh the negatives. You can also minimize the injury risks by adequately preparing, staying hydrated, warming up, and cooling down.

Don’t jump into an hour-long HIIT right off. Start small, and allow your body to get used to the workout.

Almost every sport or training has a small risk of injury, so it is best not to let this section intimidate you into not doing something.

Not Good in the Heat

When you do HIIT, you increase your heart rate and temperature significantly. This is great for fitness, but it can be challenging in the heat. So, if you live in a tropical area, you might want to do your training in the early morning or the evening just so that you don’t have the sun pounding down on you.

Also, you should be ready to sweat while doing training.

Harder to Get Going

With most training, you can start small and work your way up if you are not fit. However, when it comes to HIIT, it is a little bit harder to get going even if you start small because 5 or 10 minutes of high-intensity interval training can almost be like doing half an hour of regular training.

Also, no matter how long you have been training, mentally preparing yourself for a HIIT session can be more grueling than a regular session where you know that you won’t be hurting yourself as much.

Recap: HIIT Pros and Cons for Long Distance Runners

ProsCons
Improved staminaMuscle stiffness
Build core strengthHarder to get started
Time-efficientNot good in extreme heat
Extensive recoveryHigher risk of injury
Burn fat 
Improved cardiovascular system 
Increased lung capacity 
Faster metabolism 
No equipment or facilities needed 

Do Sports Athletes Do HIIT?

Every individual athlete and those that train with the team have different training schedules, so it is hard to say precisely what they do. After all, teams like to keep their training sessions as secretive as possible as not to give anything to their rival teams.

However, in my experience, most athletes and teams incorporate some form of high-intensity interval training into the workout.

If you think about it, the demands and variability of HIIT are perfect for sports such as football, soccer, rugby, and combat sports. All of these sports require a huge variability of intensity, which interval training matches up with, perfectly.

In any sport where you do anaerobic exercise, such as soccer, you can be sure that high-intensity interval training is an essential aspect of weekly training sessions.

How Often Should You Do HIIT?

If you’re running 4 times a week, you should only do one HIIT session a week. If you are running 3 times a week, you should do a maximum of 2 HIIT sessions.

However, this is a subjective answer because everyone is different; however, if you are a long-distance runner who trains primarily for events, you shouldn’t do too much HIIT, but you want to incorporate some into your training schedules.

Long-distance runners should do at least one HIIT session per week. Doing this should give you all the benefits that we mentioned in this article, but it should also mean that your muscles are not too stiff when you have to run.

If you are not a long-distance runner and want to train, HIIT is great, but you should keep it in moderation and not do more than two sessions per week whether you are running or lifting weights because, again, we don’t want to overstretch your muscles.

How Long Should Your HIIT Session Last?

One of the biggest problems when it comes to training is that many of us like to overdo it initially, and even seasoned professionals can find themselves in situations where they can’t train for a few days because they went too hard in a training session. Trust me, you want to avoid this when it comes to high-intensity interval training.

Your session should last anywhere from 10 minutes if you are a beginner to around 30 minutes if you are a fit individual. Yes, you can go for a bit longer, but you do run a higher risk of becoming injured, and you also run a high risk of not being able to train for 2 or 3 days afterward. So, remember, do it in moderation.

Final Thoughts

As you have noticed, high-intensity interval training is one of my favorite topics to cover because there are so many benefits to the training. Also, there are so many ways that you can incorporate HIIT into your daily life because it requires less time than regular exercise and because it is anaerobic, you get excellent results.

If you’re wanting to get into HIIT but you don’t know how, I highly recommend the Nike Fitness App (Android, or iOS). It’s a fantastic app that is easy to follow for beginner all the way to advanced exercises.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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