You only need to search for a couple minutes online to become very confused about endurance training. Many credible fitness professionals have varied views on the benefits of endurance training relating to athletes and how to improve endurance in their athletes.
A simplistic view is that endurance training relates to training the body’s aerobic/anaerobic system to cope with stress for extended periods of time. In theory, training the body to cope with stress whilst still being able to execute sport specific skills is a sound philosophy however it’s in the execution of this within a sports performance program where the challenges exist.
Going back a few years, there was a common view in many sports that the only way to improve endurance was to incorporate long slow paced runs into a training program. In some sports this is obviously a requirement (long distance triathlon, marathon etc.) however many sports require a different endurance profile. Sadly we still see the specific training stimuli of long distance running commonly used by many amateur sporting clubs and organisations despite the relevant sport requiring quicker, interval style anaerobic output.
For a performance coach, one of the most important questions they need to continually ask themselves is ‘…will my athlete be required to perform this type of effort in a match?’ If the answer is ‘no’, the real question arises: should this training stimulus even be in their program?
At ESS Performance, before incorporating an endurance component into an athlete’s program, we undertake the following needs analysis.
1) What training loads are they doing within their sport specific training?
2) What are the aerobic/anaerobic demands of the sport?
3) What style training best meets the aerobic/anaerobic demands of the sport?
4) What load will provide the best outcome within the timeframes provided?
5) What is the injury risk vs. reward of undertaking this training program and what injury prevention strategy can we integrate to reduce any risks?
From here, our preference is to incorporate High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into an athlete’s training program to provide an aerobic and anaerobic response. We have carefully reviewed this approach based on real results over a long period, across many athletes. The benefits we see from choosing HIIT over alternative endurance training methods are:
1) Time Efficiency – As developing athletes only have a limited time to work on a number of performance initiatives, HIIT gives us a great bang for our buck in terms of aerobic/anaerobic improvements we can make in a relatively short training blocks
2) De-Training effect – HIIT minimises the negative effect that can occur on other training methods we are developing in the gym during an endurance phase. This helps us maintain a high percentage of fast twitch (Type ii) muscle fibres gained in the gym, whereas incorporating low intensity, long distance endurance training would encourage slow twitch muscle fibre (type i) adaptation.
3) Sport Suitability – HIIT better simulates many sports requirements
4) Increase VO2 & Anaerobic Threshold – HIIT helps increase an athlete’s Anaerobic threshold as well as VO2 max which you don’t get during traditional low intensity endurance training.
So, as an athlete, with a packed training plan and wanting great the best results from a focused and efficient training mix, the benefits of a smart choice in your endurance focused component are clear. HIIT has enough advantages that we strongly recommend you at least consider it and as always, encourage you to do so in consultation with your coach based on needs specific to you and your sport.
Jereme Russell was an Intern and Coach with ESS from 2016-2017