HIIT for Runners and Cyclists

If you’re a runner or cyclist, you may have heard of HIIT training. HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, is a type of exercise that is growing in popularity. It’s a great way to quickly improve your fitness level and burn calories. In this article, we will discuss what HIIT is and the benefits it offers runners and cyclists. We will also review some popular streaming HIIT programs that you can do at home!

Why should runners and cyclists do HIIT?

For those who know what HIIT is, you’ll know that it differs greatly from your standard running or cycling sessions. These standard sessions are often very repetitive, whereas HIIT benefits your entire body. Let’s discuss some benefits of incorporating HIIT into your workouts.

HIIT Could Improve Your Fitness Level

HIIT helps you burn more calories than traditional cardio exercises, and it also helps to build muscle mass. This means that you will become stronger and faster over time. HIIT is far more challenging than traditional workouts alone. You will need to be relatively fit to begin with as HIIT can be pretty intense.  Consider it cross-training, working muscles other than what you normally would.

You’ll Burn Calories Quicker

With HIIT, you’ll burn a much higher number of calories in a shorter period – you might find it to burn 5-10 times more calories than traditional cardio workouts. This is because HIIT uses more muscle fibers and causes the body to produce more heat, which leads to increased calorie burn. You give yourself fewer breaks to rest, so you’re burning more calories per minute. After your workout, you’ll continue to burn calories at a higher rate than you would with traditional cardio, too.

You Can Increase Your Endurance

You’ll be able to run, cycle, or swim for a longer duration after incorporating HIIT into your routine. These workouts help to improve the body’s ability to use oxygen and increase your muscles’ endurance, which means you’ll be able to run or cycle for longer without getting tired quickly.  There is a point where more running or cycling can barely move the needle on your VO2 max, but adding some level of resistance training can do it – as long as it is like HIIT where it keeps your heart rate elevated.

You Might Improve Your Speed

In addition to increasing your endurance, you are also training your body to go faster in shorter periods. This helps to improve your explosive speed and will have a positive impact on your running or cycling.  We all would like more of those coveted fast-twitch muscle fibers, and the explosive moves of some HIIT workouts can help do that.

You Will Probably Reduce Injuries

Adding cross-training to your running or cycling schedule will probably have an effect you did not predict:  It may very well reduce the number of injuries you experience.  By workout-out different muscle groups, straining joints in a way that gradually adds strength and flexibility, and developing a strong core, you will be taking steps to reduce so manyh of the overuse injuries that afflict endurance cyclists and especially runners.

What HIIT Workouts Are Out There?

A few HIIT workouts that we have personally used, and the runners and cyclists in our circles swear by, include:

Best For

Downside

Pricing

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TMAC Fitness

People looking to tuck-in short, effective workouts (emphasizing core) into their broader training plan. Also includes yoga and flexibility.

20 minute workouts. If you want longer, go with another.

About $20 a month.

P90X

Those who want a longer, more committed HIIT workout on a regular basis, to the tune of 60-90 minutes a day.

Much larger time commitment; hard to balance with other training.

$120

Insanity

People looking for 60-90 minute workouts, quite intense

Can be a bit much for those who don't have a base level of fitness.

$99 / year

TMAC 20

HIIT for Runners

TMAC 20

In terms of finding a workout that will easily blend in with the rest of your training schedule, TMAC 20 might be the one.

People of all backgrounds are getting value from the TMAC 20 minute workout. While it was created for people who want to inject some high-intensity body weight training into their workouts, we have found it is great for runners, cyclists, and even skiers. If you are looking to improve your speed, increase your flexibility, and gain more endurance, then this will be a great program for you. It consists of full-body workouts that help strengthen your core muscles so that you have better stability and balance while running. A portion of each TMAC 20 workout focuses on the lower body, so we prefer to do it when we are not coming off a heavy mileage day on the bike.

We like that TMAC doesn’t overlook your cardiovascular health as you will get your heart pumping during this workout. The routines don’t require any special equipment, so if you’re looking to get a great workout in without needing dumbbells or bands, get yourself the TMAC 20 program. You will need to be somewhat in shape if you want to successfully complete one of these workouts though. If you’re new to working out or intensive workouts, you’ll want to take it a little easy so that you don’t overexert yourself (but that is the case with all of these workouts).

Several of the workouts begin or end with some combination of abs and stretching, which we find it really underdone with most endurance athletes.  That alone will give you fast benefits from doing the TMAC HIIT training.

Each 20 minute workout is an option to choose when you log in to the TMAC Mykajabi live-streaming portal.  In addition to the traditional HIIT-style workouts, there are some cardio workouts as well as yoga and guided stretching (which we highly recommend after a along run or a race).

Why We Like It:  Easily built-in to your other (running, cycling) training plan.  Focuses on flexibility in addition to strength.

Typical Workout Duration:  20 minutes

Cost:  $24 a month (Try it free for 10 days, through this link)

P90X

P90X For Runners

P90X

If you’ve ever looked into fitness, you’ve most likely heard about P90X. P90X has been around for decades and is one of the most well-known fitness programs.  This is an intense home HIIT regimen if you are looking for something a bit more dedicated and focused.

P90X offers a variety of different workout routines that you can do at home without any equipment necessary. There are some routines that require dumbbells or resistance bands, but you don’t have to do these. The program is great for cyclists because it helps to improve cycling performance, strength, and flexibility – all important in cycling and running. P90X constantly challenges you by changing up the workouts often.

P90X incorporates a variety of workouts including yoga, pilates, dance, and weight training. The focus is on building muscle mass, but it also helps to improve your endurance and increase the strength in your lower body. The workouts are mostly HIIT, and intensity level is high.  Our experience is that the best way to use P90X might be as a dedicated phase of training when you are trying to decompress from the heavy running or cycling you have just done, or are about to start.

The biggest downside of P90X is that it is more of a time commitment – 60 to 90 minutes per workout.  However, for some who might be in the offseason and looking for a strong jolt of cross-training, that could actually be an advantage.

Why We Like It:  Intense workouts.  Blend of tough strength work with yoga and tempo.

Typical Workout Duration:  60 to 90 minutes

Cost:  $120 (find it here)

Insanity Workout

The Insanity Workout program is another popular fitness routine that has been around for a while. You won’t need any exercise equipment including weights, so just turn on the program and go.

Insanity and P90X are actually both produced by Beachbody, so you will notice some similarities.

Insanity Workout

Insanity

Insanity aims to improve your stamina and endurance, and it also helps to increase your speed in a short timeframe. It’s a high-intensity workout that is only 60 days long, but it’s definitely challenging. The program incorporates a variety of HIIT workouts.

The Insanity Workout program is great for runners and cyclists who might be in their base training period because, unlike P90X, it builds-in cardio days (which can probably be substituted by doing a run or bike). You’ll get in shape quickly, but it does require you to be somewhat fit beforehand, just like the other programs. And since you only have 60 days to complete Insanity, you’ll need to be dedicated and be willing to put in the work.

Like the others, most athletes will see a marked change in their body after sticking with Insanity, especially in the core strength and upper-body muscle tone areas. It’s perfect if you’re truly looking to push yourself and take your fitness to the next level, but maybe not so great for beginners.  You will want to have some base level of fitness to do it.

Why We Like It:  Very Intense spurts of training.  Daily workout schedule if you choose to follow it.

Typical Workout Duration:  30 to 60 minutes

Cost:  $99 for 12 months  (Find it here)

HIIT FAQs

Isn’t HIIT the same as circuit training?

They are similar, but not exactly the same.  Simply put, HIIT focuses much more on cardio training through explosive movements, and usually relies on no outside equipment — just your body and its weight.  Circuit training usually centers on weights instead of cardio, and more often than not requires outside weights or machines in order to complete.  What they have in common is a focus on intensity, minimizing rest time, and keeping the heart rate elevated while challenging your muscle groups and core. The result is that you can get a quality workout in just a short amount of time.

Can you do HIIT running or cycling workouts?

Yes. While the classic HIIT category typically involves some form of resistance training — bodyweight exercises or sometimes weights — in addition to cardio, it is possible to do a HIIT-style workout while running or biking.  A bike trainer provides a great way to do controlled, intense intervals on the bike. Likewise, you can always do intervals (or “fartleks”) on the trail or treadmill while running. If outdoors, it is best to have a good sport watch to be sure you are keeping yourself honest.

What are the disadvantages of doing HIIT?

I would not consider it a true disadvantage, but you will need to devote part of your training calendar to HIIT, so it will take away from some run or bike workouts.  However, that is probably OK, as most athletes we see are overtraining anyway.  Another disadvantage of doing HIIT is that you can’t do it for a long period of time, and if done incorrectly, it can be very taxing on your body. HIIT should not be done for longer than 30-60 minutes, especially if you’re not conditioned enough. You need to make sure you’re properly warmed up before starting a HIIT workout, and you should also cool down when you’re finished.HIIT core runners

Should you do HIIT every day?

No, you should not do HIIT every day. Like any other type of workout, your body needs time to recover and rebuild muscle. You should only do HIIT a few times per week, depending on how your body recovers. Just make sure you’re alternating it with other types of workouts to ensure your body gets the proper rest it needs.

Can you do HIIT if you’re a beginner?

HIIT is possible for beginners, but it’s important to have realistic expectations. You may not be able to do the full workout when you first start, and that’s normal and absolutely okay. You can take breaks as needed and then continue on when you’re ready. Stretching and warming up is key, and pay attention to your body to make sure you’re not overdoing it.

Many coached HIIT workouts will have modifications for the more difficult exercises, and you might want to consider them if you are just starting out.

Is HIIT better in the morning?

If your focus is to lose weight, HIIT will be better in the morning since your stomach is empty. The workout will target fat stores in your body. Since you haven’t eaten yet, your body will be more likely to use those fat stores for energy, which helps burn even more calories. You’re likely to feel very tired after an early morning HIIT workout, so make you eat a hearty meal afterward.

Mainly, though, it is important to workout at a time that you can sustain over long periods, one that works well with your lifestyle.  Make sure you are able to get enough sleep, and then tuck the workouts in whenever it works with your life.

Do I Need a Gym Membership for HIIT?

No.  Some HIIT workouts require you to use weights or machines (circuit-training style) and can be highly-effective, but the ones we like (and all 3 that we recommend) do not need any machines or weights, so you can save yourself that drive to and from the gym.  Being able to do the workout at home, with no equipment, was a key criteria in how we arrived at our recommendations.

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