Whether you’re looking to build endurance, improve your running economy, or build strength and power, including high-intensity sprint-based workouts is one of the best tools to integrate into your training arsenal.
While there are many different types of workouts for endurance athletes, today we’re going to focus on the benefits of high-intensity training, particularly sprint-style.
Sprint-interval workouts (SITs) offer three main benefits:
Improved time to exhaustion (aka, improved endurance)
Improved maximal running speed
Improved time trial speed (aka, improved running economy/speed)
“Low and slow” training has garnered a significant amount of attention in recent years as many endurance athletes have touted its benefits. Low-intensity, high-volume training can indeed be an effective way to train, but for athletes who are looking to improve on specific aspects of their performance or who feel they have “plateaued”, introducing SIT training can help to break through these performance ceilings.
Sprint Training: What and How?
There are many different approaches to introducing sprints into your routine. In fact, research has shown that completing 3 workouts per week for even just two weeks will result in improved performance. In this case, the workouts consisted of 4-7 rounds of 30 second “all out” sprints with 4 minutes of rest in-between. However, it has also been found throughout the duration of a full training program, no more than 20% of total training volume should be made up of high-intensity work as this may increase propensity of injury as well as create levels of bodily stress that are too difficult to recover from when total mileage is very high. As with all good endurance training plans, finding the right balance between volume and intensity is highly individualized.
In general, we recommend that beginner athletes (those who have been running or cycling for less than 1 year) start with a higher-intensity workout once per week. More seasoned athletes can do two, while being careful to plan other hard workouts far enough away from hard efforts to allow the body to recover. For example:
Sunday: Long Run
Monday: Off/Easy Cross Train
Tuesday: High Intensity (Tempo or Interval)
Wednesday: Recovery Run
Thursday: Off/Easy Cross Train
Friday: High Intensity (Tempo or Interval)
Saturday: Recovery Run
Remember that within any given run, there are loads of options and variability. A tempo run may consist of all-out 30-second efforts like in the research, or it may consist of something like 4 minute intervals at 70% of maximal effort. Changing things up is key!
Cons of SIT Training
From an injury standpoint, full-blown, 100% effort workouts should be used sparingly as they are quite challenging on the body. The amount of load associated with using muscles to their maximum capacity is quite a bit higher than just going for an average run. If the body isn’t used to this, tendons and muscles may rebel – resulting in muscle strains.
The other consideration for many people is that true sprint work is…hard work. To truly expend 90%+ of our maximal effort requires a high level of self-discipline and tolerance to discomfort. Of course, for those aiming to push the limits, this is part of the process; however that doesn’t necessarily make it more fun. Here’s where you have to use some psychological tricks – music and group classes are two great ways to turn a hard workout into a social competition.
Pros of SIT Training
As we mentioned, the performance gains from SIT training can be substantial. Another part of this equation is the improvement in mental toughness. In any race, long or short, comes a moment of self-doubt or inner critic that tells you that this does not feel good and to stop, now! The gifted athlete will recognize this feeling and learn to recognize it as a normal part of competition, even a good part of competition, and learn how to override it. But this can take practice. You are less likely to experience true, full fatigue with a slower workout, but when muscles are burning and the lungs and heart are pumping hard, it can require all you’ve got to not pull over to the side and stop. Experiencing this again and again, and also in the company of others can train you for what’s inevitably going to happen during race day so that you’re prepared to face discomfort head on.
Other Ways to Boost Speed and Power
One of the basic principles of training is the “Specificity” principle. Essentially, training specificity states that in order to achieve the greatest gains in our ability to perform a chosen task, the majority of our training must be spent performing that task or tasks that are extremely similar to it. Basically, what you practice is what you do. Going for a long walk won’t really help you with marathon training. Hours on an elliptical won’t improve your 100m sprint time. So, if you really do want to work on speed and power as a cyclist, you’ve really got to spend some time in the saddle.
However, there are other ways to help improve the body’s strength and conditioning, primarily through specific strengthening exercises to targeted specific muscle groups. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, and lunges completed at high weight/low reps can improve the number and size of muscle fibres which can assist you in being able to move faster and stronger. Note that specificity still applies here – someone engaged in cycling is best to focus on quadriceps and glute musculature while runners are wise to focus on the “springy” muscles like calves.
Finally, for runners in particular, another way to improve form, strength, and endurance is to add hill reps into your training program. Going up hills, focus on explosive power from your glutes, and high knees lifting through the hips. On the down, focus on trying to keep your feet underneath you and letting gravity do the work. Begin with 5 reps of 30 second uphill sprints, walking down. You can increase this number week to week and go as high as 10.
Remember – it never gets easier, you just get faster! And that’s the goal with sprint training!
About the Author
Lauren Roberts is a Registered Physiotherapist and Founder of The Running Physio in Toronto. For more information on her team, the clinic, and for more running and endurance sport blogs, visit www.therunningphysio.ca.
Jerome Koral, D. J. (2018). Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 617-623.
Seiler, S. (2019). What is Best Practice for Training Intensity and Duration Distribution in Endurance Athletes? Human Kinetics Journals, 276-291.
For many of us, the traditional job of 40 hours per week, from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm is a thing of the past. If you’re fortunate enough to work at a startup or more flexible spot that has work from home options, it can sometimes be a little easier to fit physical (and mental) breaks into your day. However, there are still plenty of positions and roles that can be much more demanding and require you to be present or at least on-call for well over 40 or 50 hours per week. Hopefully you love your job if this is you – but it can make time for exercise a definite challenge.
We’ve compiled our top hacks to staying healthy when you feel like you’ve got zero time to spare. We all know the benefits of exercise: Improved anxiety and/or depression, improved self-confidence and mood, and a decreased stress response, not to mention improved blood sugar regulation and weight control, but let’s be honest – life can be really, really busy. Here’s how you can make – and keep! – an exercise routine no matter what the weeks throw at you.
Hack #1: Choose your activity based on how you want to feel.
A common mistake that we often make is trying to convince yourself to get into an activity that you…don’t even like. Maybe you read an article about how something like swimming is fantastic for your health. So you head to the pool on a Sunday afternoon and buy a pass. Once you hit the changeroom, you realize that it’s kind of chilly and cold, you forgot your flipflops and the floor is a bit gross, the pool temperature is less than ideal, and the lanes are so crowded you spend your whole time stressing about how fast or how slow you should be going and in what lane you should be in. For a few weeks you force yourself out the door, but the pool still feels cold, and your still getting kicked in the face with people on a busy weekend. Soon enough, your fresh new habit has fallen by the wayside, along with your wet bathing suit and goggles. Because wait, did you ever consider if you even really liked swimming? Especially for those taxed for time, ask yourself, what do I like doing? More importantly – How do I want to feel?
If you’re mega stressed and craving something intense, an instructor-lead cardio workout not only takes your mind off your stresses, but gets you out of your brain and kickstarts your endorphins. Or if you feel exhausted and fatigued, maybe you want to feel more rested. Perhaps try an easy yoga class to ease stress and just get your body moving in positions that are away from the desk. If you’re somewhere in the middle and feeling ambivalent about really anything at all, nothing does the trick better than a brisk walk around the block, even for 15-20 minutes. We all know activity and exercise makes you feel better, but you’re much more likely to stick with it when you can look forward to the thing that you know will do just the trick for you on any given day.
Hack #2: Change it up.
While many of us are self-professed creatures of habit, studies in habit-building psychology and in “sticktoitiveness” have shown time and time again that we’re much more likely to stick with a goal for the long term when we can make small microchanges to it day-to-day and week-to-week. For example, have you ever bought a new pair of running shoes and been really excited to try them out? Your run that day probably felt much more exciting and fun because of your new kicks!
By ever so slightly changing up your routine, you can keep things fresh and exciting, and trick your mind into looking forward to things that are sometimes less desirable. If you’re starting to feel stuck in a fitness rut, think about trying something new, or maybe asking a friend what they’ve been doing lately and joining them someplace you haven’t been before. There are always new and exciting places to check out in the city – and here at Altitude, we can’t wait to open our doors as the first and only place to offer altitude training in a 1,100 sq ft. chamber. Now that’s something fresh and different to get excited for!
Hack #3: Small things equal big things.
Sometimes there are just those days where you are not going to get a workout in. A deadline, having to pick up your child from daycare because your partner is sick, or just a day where you can’t get on the ball – these things happen. One of the easiest and simplest ways to get even a little bit of health and fitness (and sanity) in on these days is to inject “movement snacks” into your day. For example, if you struggle with back pain, make an effort to do a few little back bends and 10 mini squats every time you refill your water or go to the bathroom. If you go to the bathroom 6 times, you’ve now done 60 squats in the day. If you have a wonky shoulder or neck, invest $8 into a stretchy band and keep it in a desk drawer. Every hour, make a deal with yourself to take a five-minute break, grab your band, and do a quick shoulder stretch. Not only will this help combat postural-related problems like headaches and neck pain, but also gets your blood flowing and gives your brain a second to reset. No one can work straight through for 10 hours a day without some breaks. You owe it to yourself to take these little breaks, and when you finally head home at the end of the day, your body will thank you.
Hack #4: Check your health insurance policy or corporate discounts.
You’re paying into it, don’t let it go to waste! People often wait until December and realize that they have unspent dollars of massage, physiotherapy, or acupuncture. Not only are these things great for stress management, but a good physio clinic will include a home exercise programs for you, or they can work with your particular lifestyle to help put together something specific for your needs and in line with what’s available to you. If you aren’t a gym person, you can absolutely still do equipment-free, home exercises that pack a ton of benefit. You don’t have to be hurt to utilize these services! Also be sure to check out if your company has any discounts to local gyms or other hot fitness spots – use those perks! You’ve earned it.
Always remember that your work reflects your own well-being. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is a sound body and a sound mind.Fitness can come in all types of forms, whether it’s a few pushups at your desk while on a call, or kicking it on a treadmill in a high-energy class at 6 am. Remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and you have to make it work for you. Above all, enjoy it, and feel good about how amazing your body and mind truly is.
About the Author:
Lauren Roberts is a Registered Physiotherapist and Founder of The Running Physio in Toronto. For more information on her team, the clinic, and for more great blog articles, visit www.therunningphysio.ca
As the leaves begin to turn and temperatures begin to drop, for many people this time of year becomes staying indoors with Netflix. For the endurance athlete however, the time between November and April can represent a big wide window of opportunity to reflect on what went well in your season, identify areas of focus for coming one, and develop a finely-tuned base-building plan to prep you to conquer the spring.
If your racing season took you into the fall, it’s always a good idea to take a few weeks, or even a couple of months, off of a structured training plan. Physically, this gives your body a true chance to recover, as prolonged racing and training causes a substantial degree of muscle breakdown and a systemic inflammatory response. It can take up to 19 days after an Ironman-distance triathlon for inflammation and cortisol to return to baseline levels, even in a well-trained athlete. Mentally, endurance events require long term commitment, self-discipline, and a high degree of day-to-day planning and time management. It’s healthy to give yourself a break from the rigidity of this type of schedule.
So once you’ve refreshed your mind and body and as the mornings continue to get darker, here are 5 reasons why you should get yourself back in gear over the colder indoor months.
Controlled environments let you hone in on specific weaknesses.
Did hills eat you up this year? Does your form start to fall apart at a certain speed? Now is the time to work on whatever’s holding you back from the next level. Not having a race schedule allows you to build training blocks and choose training workouts with these goals in mind. Running or cycling workouts using treadmills and indoor trainers are great ways to target exactly what you need to improve on.
Workouts give you more bang for your buck.
Take cycling for example. It is generally accepted that 60 minutes on an indoor trainer is equivalent to 90-100 minutes of outdoor cycling. This is because you are pedaling against a controlled, consistent resistance, and there aren’t any opportunities for coasting downhill or stopping at a red light. This is a good thing, since even the strongest mental game can go a little bananas when on a trainer for long periods of time. Which brings us to our next point…
Classes do the job, and they’re social.
Endurance sports can be a little lonely. Maybe you’ve got some friends in the summer that you can join for long runs or rides, but the winter can be much more isolating. Rather than hole up, try a class specifically designed to challenge runners or cyclists. Whether you’ve got a friend to go with you or not, the time always passes much more quickly in a group setting, not to mention it’s way more fun. Check out Altitude’s roster of upcoming classes this winter here!
Hit March with a spring in your step.
Most athletes look to start racing again for March-April. Nothing feels worse than sitting on your couch for several months, only to blow the dust off of your shoes in spring and have to dedicate the first 6-12 weeks of training to just base build. Even doing a few key workouts per week can keep you from detraining, or, even better, can help you beef up your base before the warm weather comes around again.
Keeps the winter blues at bay.
SADS, or seasonal affective disorder syndrome, is a proven disorder that manifests as an increase in sleep, sedentary behavior, depression and sometimes weight gain that occurs during the fall/winter months and remits in the spring. Research has shown that light therapy and getting outside is helpful to combat symptoms, as well as aerobic exercise. Bonus points if you can grab a buddy to join you.
So after your last race, take a breather, do some reflection, and plan for crush your goals for the following year.
Altitude training has been around for a while – ever since the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Despite its long history, it remains relatively unknown, especially here in North America. This is because altitude training has been used only exclusively by the pros, and only recently has the technology become more accessible to everyday athletes. Because of how elusive it is, we have come across some misconceptions about altitude training. Here are 4 of the most common ones we’ve heard:
1. It’s only for people who are planning to race at altitude
Look at it like resistance training, but for your endurance. Reducing the oxygen percentage in the room is like adding resistance to your workout. And incorporating that kind of training into your program will improve (or at the very least, maintain) performance at any elevation.
2. Altitude training is dangerous
There are risks associated with any form of physical activity – whether it be hot yoga, a high intensity spin class, or a run around the neighborhood. The same goes for training in a simulated altitude environment. To reduce risk as much as possible – members are assessed and screened before entering the altitude room. During training, members are given carefully regulated programs based on their conditioning, and are always under supervision from trained coaches. Heart rate monitors and pulse oximeters are used regularly to monitor exertion.
Of course, not all forms of exercise are safe for everybody. And altitude training isn’t recommended for people who are pregnant, have breathing problems like asthma, have high blood pressure or other serious medical issues.
3. But I’ll lose strength and power exercising at altitude
Training in reduced oxygen typically means you are unable to reach the same levels of ‘intensity’ as you can at sea level. It is this stress of hypoxia on the body that stimulates it to be more efficient in using oxygen and providing energy to active muscles, improving aerobic conditioning and endurance. Continuous exposure to high altitude will cause you to lose power. But, when you combine simulated altitude training sessions (2-3 per week) with your regular strength and power sessions at sea level – you can maintain, and actually boost, your strength and power levels no problem.
4. I’ve heard that you are supposed to sleep in an altitude tent. Why exercise?
Altitude tents are designed for the “live high, train low” model. This method of training (sleeping at altitude) is commonly used by athletes to increase their red blood cell count and improve overall performance.
For those of us living at sea level, and who aren’t professional athletes – altitude tents can become impractical. We don’t have the benefit of naturally ‘living high’ and it can be hard to get the most out of an altitude tent – which you should be using for 4 weeks, 16 hours/day while maintaining training. See here.
A great alternative is simulated altitude training, which follows the “live low, train high” model. You already live low, and perhaps mostly compete low. Training high gets the job done quicker (2-3 sessions per week is usually recommended) and it’s much easier to convince your partner about heading to the gym than sleeping in a tent.
Altitude training is nothing new to athletes. Especially Olympians, whose draw to altitude started with the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 (7,000 feet). After that, they discovered its benefits not just for competing at altitude, but also for improving performance at sea level. And there’s proof.
Check out these stats from the games in Sydney and Athens showing what percentage of medalists + finalists used altitude training camps for their preparation:
For swimmers in the Olympic Games
Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000
Over 40% of the top athletes (including one-third of the medalists and finalists) used altitude training camps to prepare.
Athens Summer Olympics in 2004
5/7 of the medalists and 9/14 of the finalists used altitude training camps to prepare.
In total, that’s 70% of the top athletes (14/20), and an increase since the previous games
Not all of us are Olympians and can dedicate time to travelling the world and training at various high altitude destinations. So, how can we get that same effect of increased performance and efficient training here at sea level? Well, fortunately, technology has allowed use to introduce simulated altitude environments that mimic what you would experience on top of the mountain.
Simulated altitude training is done through things like oxygen masks and high altitude tents sleeping in (live high, train low). Now these are great pieces of equipment that definitely have their benefits – but the problem is, they can be very uncomfortable and restrictive. Most athletes really just want to rip that mask off as soon as they put it on. Plus, when you are on the mountain or at your race, there is no mask restricting your motion, so the environment you are training in doesn’t exactly model the environment you are training for.
So how can we make altitude training more comfortable? How can we make it feel even more like the real thing? Thankfully, technology has evolved and improved even more to give us a solution to the discomfort and difficulties that comes with masks and other personal-use altitude equipment. The solution is Altitude Chambers. Altitude Chambers are actually rooms (tightly sealed to certain specifications) that use a compressor and gas-filtration system to reduce the concentration in the air, creating a hypoxic environment. These rooms let you exercise and move around freely, just like any regular gym or studio. The only difference is that the oxygen concentration is lowered from its usual 20.8% to typically between 14-16% in order to simulate being at elevations over 4000 feet.
What does a Simulated Altitude Chamber look like? Here are some pictures to help you visualize it:
Mile High Training
This is a small 1-2 person chamber that you might find inside a larger gym (usually operated by a professional sports team and rarely found in commercial gyms). For this type of a room, you would usually have cardio pieces inside. In this case there is a bike and a treadmill. Here the altitude is at 9000 feet, which is a good elevation to get a reasonably tough workout in.
Sporting Edge (Professional Soccer Team Gym)
Here is a great example of a room for group training sessions. It’s just like a spin class – but on a mountain! This room is currently in the training facility of a professional soccer team in England (Swansea FC).
Quay Club Dubai
This club in Dubai goes all-out (in typical Dubai-fashion), with the largest altitude room in the world at over 1000 square feet. This would definitely be an example of a super luxurious, high-tech gym showcasing just how far altitude training has advanced. This room in particular goes up to altitudes of 13000 feet.
So there you have it, all of these rooms are airtight, and account for things like CO2 build-up and efficiency (maintaining altitude). You can see that all of them allow the freedom to move around with no need for an uncomfortable mask to breathe into. Their evolution stemmed from bringing the training methods of elite Olympians to the public, without compromising comfort and freedom of motion.
How do you get the most out of your workout in the shortest amount of time and see faster results? This is a question that plagues many time-crunched folks, especially professionals working long hours in downtown offices. If you can squeeze a lunchtime workout in, often it’s less than an hour — which isn’t much if you factor in transit time to the gym and showering after the workout.
Training at altitude presents an ideal solution to this dilemma. While commonly praised for its physiological benefits among professional athletes, an adaptive approach to exercising at altitude can enhance anyone’s overall fitness. Efficient in burning more calories during a given amount of time than at sea level, the time-crunched gym-goer can get a great workout completed in as little as 30 minutes — a reasonable amount of time to squeeze in to busy days. This is where you’ll see faster results.
The good news — Toronto is the latest metropolitan city to offer a “live low, train high” lifestyle. Altitude Athletic Training, a boutique gym with a simulated altitude chamber housing high-end exercise equipment, will ooffer the city a chance to experience the benefits of altitude training in a safe and structured way. Over the next few weeks, watch this site for more on the facilities and its offerings, but for now get excited to learn about how altitude training can complement any fitness program and help you get more out of your workouts in less time!
Anyone can benefit
Training at altitude isn’t just for professional athletes.
Altitude gyms have been popping up in many health and wellness-conscious parts of the world recently — notably, Australia, Singapore, and London, England.
“Toronto is an ideal city to offer an altitude training facility because it’s one of the more active cities in North America, with a high per capita of endurance athletes and fitness-minded individuals” explains Matt Formato, director of Mile High Training. “There’s really nothing like it in the city that can compare and we think it’s going to be well-received here because people of all fitness levels are always looking for an edge in their training.”
It’s not just the top-end athletes of the city that will enjoy the results from altitude training. “It challenges your body to shift into high gear and adjust to something new. If you’re just looking to shed a few pounds, this is a fun, different and effective workout and a great place to start,” Matt explains.
While Altitude Athletic Training will offer programs specifically aimed at helping beginners safely adapt to training at altitude in a progressive manner, Altitude recommends that anyone looking to really reap the benefits of the training method spend time at altitude two to three times per week, for about 30 to 45 minutes.
More for less
Efficiency is one of the greatest assets of altitude training in a gym setting.
“Altitude training has been around for a while, but not available to everyone at sea level,” explains Matt “It’s great for anyone who wants to work out, because the physiological effect on the body makes a 30 minute workout, for example, more efficient than 45 minutes of that same workout at sea-level.”
When the body trains at altitude — anywhere greater than 5,000 feet above sea level — the decreased level of oxygen forces it to produce more red blood cells. These cells in turn deliver more oxygen to your muscles.
“When you’re at altitude, your body is challenged and your heart rate is elevated, so your cardio system is working harder and your body is going to work harder as well,” explains Matt. “Not only does your body use the available oxygen more efficiently but, studies show you burn up to 25% more calories at altitude than at sea level.”
Feel great long after
The body absorbs the benefits of altitude training and holds onto them for weeks after spending time above sea level. This is something that goes away as you stop altitude training however. Which is why consistency and incorporating altitude sessions into your long-term program is important.
Lesley Smith, a professional Ironman triathlete and coach from Boulder, Colorado, does almost all her training at altitude by virtue of where she lives.
“When I come down to sea level, I feel an enormous difference cardiovascularly,” she says. “I definitely think there’s a benefit going back and forth between sea level and altitude training.”
After a session at Altitude, you’ll feel noticeably energized and ready to take on the rest of your day. After a few weeks of consistent training at altitude, “you’ll feel like superman or superwoman!” says Matt.