Endurance Guy Trying HIIT? Do Strength-focused Versions. (HIIT Challenge, Week 5)

As discussed in the introduction to this challenge (click the link in the Challenge box to the left if you want to see that), underlying the many variations of “HIIT” out there are two basic concepts.

There are Cardio Intervals. I.e, going fast enough for a short period to be uncomfortable/unsustainable, then a period of slower pace to recover, then repeat. And there’s Metabolic Conditioning.  That is, doing strength move intervals at a pace and difficulty-level that brings high-intensity benefits of elevated heart rate and amped-up metabolism.

Which to choose? Here’s a point-of-view if you’re mainly a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer or a “cardio machine guy.” That is, if strength work is the “junior partner” in your exercise mix.

In this case, I urge you to bring HIIT into your life by having it be strength-focused, man. Here are three reasons why, with some curated best-of reading to expand on each point.

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I know the title says “Week 5.” But Challenge articles at OlderBeast are more like a Netflix season than a traditional TV one. All the HIIT ones written so far are available right now, here.

So if you’re new to this, you haven’t “missed” anything and you’re not particularly behind. This Challenge is simply for you to experiment with HIIT workouts six times before New Year’s so you can decide if-and-what-kind-of HIIT is right for you. So jump into the Week 1 intro now and get going, dude. You don’t have an excuse not to.

As Week 1’s intro laid out in more detail, underlying the many variations of “HIIT” out there are two basic concepts:

  • Cardio intervals. I.e, going fast enough for a short period to be uncomfortable/unsustainable, then having a period of slower pace to recover, then repeating.
  • Metabolic conditioning.  That is, doing strength move intervals at a pace and difficulty-level that bring the high-intensity benefits of elevated heart rate and amped-up metabolism.

Which to choose? Here’s a point-of-view if you’re mainly a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer or a “cardio machine guy.” That is, if strength work is the “junior partner” in your exercise mix.

In this case, I urge you to bring HIIT into your life by having it be strength-focused, man. Here are three reasons why, with some curated best-of reading to expand on each point.

1. Cardio workouts are the natural way to get benefits of longer/slower exertion — why mess with that?

Despite all the hype around HIIT, longer/slower is still a great thing to have in your mix. This article argues why, but to summarize here:

  • If you want to get in shape for things that require persistent effort for a period of time – a major hike, a long bike ride, a running race – guess what? The best way to train for that is to put in persistent effort over a long period of time!
  • Outdoor running and biking, and any kind of swimming, bring solitude and meditative benefits along with their physical ones. Whether you want to clear your mind and de-stress, or allow creative thinking and problem-solving to bubble up…that steady aerobic zone and distance from noise and media do the trick.
  • No one – especially not at 40-something or beyond — should be all-intense, all-the-time. That leads to burnout and injury, usually.

So if you’re getting these benefits from workouts you’re already motivated to do and have a good track record with…don’t disrupt this. Keep a good thing going, man.

2. You DO need more strength work. And strength-focused HIIT is a stimulating, time-efficient way to get it.

As we age, keeping at it with the strength work is critical because:

  • It helps with performance in cardio pursuits. For example, see this NY Times article about how marathon runners benefit from leg strength work.
  • It protects us from repetitive-motion or muscle-imbalance injuries that endurance sports can cause. Leg and butt muscles protect our knees, core muscles protect our back, intelligently exercising shoulders prevents issues there, etc.
  • Muscle mass burns more calories than fat, so our base metabolic rate is higher when we stay stronger. And yeah, this rate declines as we age, but getting to higher for-our-age levels of fitness can fight this. More on that here.
  • Muscle tone keeps us looking and feeling more vital and less “old.” Remember: we may be old-ER, but we’re not “old.” Call this vanity if you want, but if it keeps your self-confidence intact or growing, and further motivates you to exercise…then I call that cool.

3. Strength is also a key to basic health and longevity (cardio doesn’t own that whole benefit).

Cardio exercise has long basked in the glow of scientific proof that it helps stave off life-diminishing conditions and actually extend our lives. And deservedly so.

But recent research is revealing that strength maintenance may be just as vital to longevity and health. See this major Australian research study on the topic, which found that:

  • People who did strength-based exercise had a 23 percent reduction in risk of premature death by any means, and a 31 percent reduction in cancer-related death.
  • Body weight exercises without specific equipment were just as effective as gym-based training.
  • Adherence to the World Health Organizations’s strength-promoting exercise and aerobic guidelines combined was associated with a greater risk reduction in mortality than aerobic activity alone

Conclusion: Cardio-centric guys benefit the most from HIIT when it’s strength-focused.

If you’ve been reading this and wondering whether the converse of all this is true – that guys who mainly focus on strength work should use HIIT that centers around cardio intervals — this is not as true.

Why? Because when you “HIIT-ify” muscular strength work, you’re turning it into a form of cardio exercise, too. If your pulse is above a certain level, that’s cardio, man. But HIIT-ifying cardio (e.g. running or biking hard intervals) doesn’t make that activity magically work all your major muscle groups.

So in particular for the endurance-focused guys I’m talking to here (and that’s where I tend to come from as a place of comfort)…HIIT is a good way to get your weekly dose of strength work. Try it.

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With all the great fitness, nutrition and wellness stuff out there on the Internet…there’s often too much to make sense of. Without an integrating philosophy and approach, it’s hard to interpret, prioritize and orchestrate everything into your own game plan. And your own plan is what you need, to sustain and thrive on for decades.

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