High-Intensity Interval training for endurance, done right

When we hear the word endurance, the first thing that pops into mind is long-distance training; and then Marathon, triathlon races, etc. However, most people never ask: “What kind of endurance? Aerobic or anaerobic?” So, we thought it’s about time someone set the record straight on designing a high-intensity interval training for endurance. And, in this post, that’s what we’ll do. 

Truth be told, there are thousands of blog posts explaining how this training method promotes aerobic endurance; and that’s fine. Instead, here we will analyze how high-intensity interval training for endurance (HIIT) can improve the forgotten, but oh-so valuable, anaerobic endurance. Read on to find out!

What is anaerobic endurance? 

Simply put, anaerobic endurance is the ability of the human body to produce work without the presence of oxygen. Its main advantage is super-fast energy production by the ATP-Pcr system, or even by anaerobic glycolysis. So far so good, but there’s a drawback: we can only produce energy by anaerobic metabolism for 2-3 minutes…

An anaerobic intensity misconception (velocity/power)

There is a misconception that when an athlete exercises above the anaerobic threshold, by deduction, they work “anaerobically”. Automatically, this would suggest that a 5k runner, covering a distance at <15 minutes, they can generate the energy needed from anaerobic metabolism! Of course, this is unlikely to happen; why? Because the energy produced by anaerobic metabolism has a strict limit of 3 minutes. 

In fact, the athlete draws the required energy by both the aerobic and anaerobic systems, once the anaerobic threshold has been reached; with the former, remaining the major energy caterer. More specifically, until the velocity/power corresponds to maximal aerobic speed or maximal aerobic power.

High-Intensity Interval training for endurance: Stressing your anaerobic metabolism

Now that we’ve cleared things up with the anaerobic training; time to cover the specifics of high-intensity interval training for endurance. To be effective, a HIIT protocol for anaerobic improvement must have an intensity higher than the maximum aerobic velocity/power. What does this imply? In plain words, a stimulus of short duration and super-high intensity. A typical dose-response is a 10set x 30sec work, with 30sec rest; particularly, at an intensity >140% of FTP or Lactate Threshold.

The main goal of high-intensity interval training for endurance is to stress the anaerobic metabolism; surely, with the required rest between bouts. This way, you help the system restore the muscles with ATP and Pcr. Ideally, the bout duration should be between 10sec to 2 minutes, with an intensity greater than maximum aerobic speed/power. The work-to-rest ratio should therefore be from 1:1/2 to 1:2. 

Anaerobic Endurance and VO2max

At first glance, anaerobic endurance has little to do with VO2max. Be that as it may, there is evidence that training for anaerobic endurance may improve the VO2max. And, when we’re talking about highly-trained athletes, this form of training should definitely be in their training library. To illustrate, for highly-trained athletes, the VO2max is greater than 70mi/kg/min, so you get the idea.

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A key takeaway on anaerobic endurance and aerobic races 

At the end of the day, the question is:

“Why should a long-distance athlete do high-intensity interval training for endurance?”

Indeed, a hobbyist, or a recreational athlete, cannot achieve a super personal-best at a Marathon with this type of training. To put it another way, there are more important parameters to improve first. 

Nevertheless, a balance between training stimuli is essential. Therefore, anaerobic training should certainly be part of the training agenda — even if it’s only once a month. 

On the other hand, as we’ve already mentioned, this may prove to be a critical parameter for an elite athlete; since winning, for such an athlete, hangs by a thread. In this case, the need for a well-trained anaerobic system/metabolism is imperative. All in all, if there is any advice we can give you: train both systems by all means; either for performance or for a more holistic approach!

High-Intensity Interval training for endurance, done right was last modified: August 1st, 2022 by Aris Myrkos