Increasing the effectiveness of training

Posted by Marrin Haggie on 31 Oct 2016

Person climbing stairs

Summer is coming. As we start to warm up from the cold weeks that winter brought, many of us are thinking about strategies to increase the efficacy of training to both ship up and shape up for summer. In this article, I talk about how non-athletes and athletes alike can increase the effectiveness of their training.

Over the past few years the concept of high-intensity interval training (HIIT, or HIT) has gained momentum and is popular among those seeking to improve fitness, performance and to lose body fat. HIIT involves performing multiple high-intensity exercise intervals for a short period of time, with either a low-intensity active recovery phase, or a passive recovery phase to allow one to recover in preparation for the next interval.

In many cases the high-intensity intervals are performed at 100% of one’s VO2max (the maximal oxygen consumption achieved during exercise). The final intervals in a set are generally performed at a level below 100% due to insufficient recovery time between intervals, and the build-up of fatiguing metabolites (such as lactic acid). As intensity increases so too do the physical demands and the oxygen requirements of the body to maintain the intensity of exercise.

There is evidence that VO2max and middle distance time-trial performance is improved by HIIT running programmes. That being said, there are also claims that despite the improvements in VO2max and time-trial performance, sprinting ability may suffer as a result of HIIT. This leaves people guessing and wondering what strategies they can employ to concurrently improve both aerobic endurance and sprint performance.

An alternative to HIIT; supra-maximal interval training (SMIT) has been proven to be more efficient and more effective at increasing both aerobic fitness and performance. SMIT, like HIIT, involves performing multiple exercise intervals, but the difference between the two is that SMIT utilises intervals performed at an intensity more than 100% of VO2max with a passive recovery phase.

It is at this point where most people ask “How do I work at an intensity above 100%?”. As previously alluded to, the VO2max value is the point of maximal oxygen consumption and exercise in an aerobic state. However, we can, albeit for a short time, exercise at levels above our aerobic capacity, which is referred to as working anaerobically. What separates the two is the intensity we are exercising at. When we are exercising aerobically we can maintain that intensity for an extended period of time. When we are exercising anaerobically, we can only maintain that intensity for a short period of time. So, what this means is although our oxygen consumption levels may stop increasing while we are exercising, our intensities can continue to rise for a short amount of time, allowing us to perform at supramaximal (above maximal) intensities for a short time.

So how do you train using SMIT? Most HIIT sessions adopt a work-recovery ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Which means for every minute of exercise performed there is either a one minute or a two minute period of active recovery. Some strategies involve 30-60 seconds of exercise while others use 4 minutes.

SMIT training utilises a work-recovery ratio of anywhere from 1:5 up to 1:9. This recovery period, however, does depend on the intensity of exercise and also the duration of each exercise interval. Utilising the 1:5 strategy improvements in 3000m run time, 40m sprint time and repeated sprint ability have been seen when individuals performed two sessions per week beginning with 7 X 30 second efforts at 130% of VO2 max gradually increasing to 12 X 30 second sprints in the final week of a six week programme.

How do I know what my VO2 max is? 
It is important to ascertain the intensity that corresponds to 100% of your VO2max - maintaining that intensity when exercising is crucial. Wintec’s Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance has a team of staff who offer their expertise to competitive athletes and the general public alike. If you’d like to have your VO2max measured and tested, and be coached through some SMIT sessions Wintec’s Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance can help get you started and on your way to looking, feeling and performing great this summer. Give them a call on 07 834 8800 extn 8658. Summer is coming.

About the Author

Marrin Haggie

Marrin Haggie is a sport science lecturer at Wintec’s Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance. He holds a Master of Science (Sport and Exercise Science) with distinction, and comes from a rugby league background both as a coach, strength and conditioner and player. Marrin has extensive experience working closely with athletes and the general public from a range of disciplines to help them achieve their fitness and performance goals.