Should Marathoners Do HIIT?

Shane Barnard
by Shane Barnard
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Should Marathoners Do HIIT?

High-intensity interval training is all the buzz nowadays — and for good reason! There are considerable physical benefits and adaptations gained by doing HIIT workouts. Specifically, HIIT improves our ability to metabolize fat and increases both excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (aka the after burn) and our overall caloric expenditure. It might seem counterintuitive, but incorporating HIIT workouts into your marathon training can also improve endurance.

High Intensity and Endurance Training

Historically, when we wanted to increase our endurance, we would start by working at a low to moderate intensity and gradually increasing our duration and/or mileage. This type of training is sometimes called steady-state training — using our aerobic system to fuel our body. HIIT won’t replace long runs altogether, but there are new methods for improving your endurance during your cross-training workouts.

Incorporating HIIT into our workouts taps into our two anaerobic fuel systems, which can help improve our speed and strength if practiced properly. When our bodies work at a high-intensity effort over a short period of time followed by a recovery, we are training our bodies to work harder and longer with less recovery. That moment when you can no longer push harder without decreasing intensity or needing a recovery is your anaerobic threshold (or your lactate threshold, as it refers to the accumulation of lactate levels in your blood). When you do HIIT, you are training your body to push that threshold and your limits.

For example, doing 20 seconds of jump squats is really hard. It’s nearly impossible to last longer than 20 seconds at an intensity that is roughly 75-85% of your max effort even if you have 40 seconds of recovery afterward. But after performing those jump squats for a few weeks, you will start to improve your endurance. You will either be able to perform those same jumps for a longer period of time — say 30 seconds — or perform them for 20 seconds but no longer need 40 seconds to recover. This adaptation is increasing your anaerobic threshold and your ability to efficiently produce the desired work with less recovery.

HIIT for Marathon Training

If you want to incorporate HIIT workouts into your endurance running program, choose exercises that support and improve the efficiency of the prime mover muscles. For runners, that means emphasizing hip extensor muscles such as your glutes.

The Workout

For this workout, I chose four body-weight exercises that focus on cardio-respiratory training, speed and power, and four strength exercises that will strengthen the prime mover and extensor muscles to facilitate and strengthen your endurance running. You will be building a more efficient way to run and, in short, improving your endurance.

I chose a 20-second work-to-rest ratio for each exercise. Start by doing 2–3 sets of each exercise, then try completing each at a 30-second work-to-rest ratio and increase the number of sets to 4.

Please consult with your doctor before you begin any new training program.

4 Body-Weight Exercises

  1. Squats and/or squat jumps
  2. Scissor and/or power lunges
  3. Speed skaters
  4. Mountain climbers

4 Strength Exercises

  1. Squats
  2. Reverse lunges
  3. Deadlifts
  4. Supine bridges/hip thrusts

About the Author

Shane Barnard
Shane Barnard

Shane Barnard, JD, is NASM, ACE, AFAA and USATF certified and the creator and founder of the Urbankick format and instructor certifications, co-founder of Urbanplay, a non-profit health and fitness education program for youth, and a business partner at Studio360. With over 20 years of fitness experience she is a nationally recognized presenter and currently teaches at Crunch, Fitness SF, and the University of California at Berkeley where she is a health coach. Shane is a CEC provider for ACE and AFFA and an honored ambassador for lululemon and Larabar.urbankick_logo


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