In a 2014 Bob Babbitt interview with Ironman legends Mark Allen and Dave Scott, Bob asks why there hasn’t been a recent course record set by the men, and none in the marathon since Mark Allen’s and Dave Scott’s sub 2:40 marathon in the 1989 Ironman World Championships?
- 6x World Champion Mark Allen replied that it is due to poorer range of physiology (i.e. poor training) amongst the pro men.
- 6x World Champion Dave Scott replied that it is due to too many oscillations in effort, poor recoverability. Scott went on to say that the marathon times are in fact shockingly slow.
To paraphrase: pros train insufficient base, and excessive HIIT.
Instead of developing the physiology and psychology to pursue athletic excellence, pros are training to compete with their ego.
HIIT depletes flexibility, reduces range of motion, focuses athletic ability to a specific event, and reduces the body’s ability to burn anything other than sugar as fuel. Considering that the majority of athletes have little to no flexibility to lose (i.e. are stiff, rigid, and fragile), are limited to a small range of athletic abilities (i.e. have inadequate ABCs), and are almost incapable of burning fat as the primary fuel, HIIT is the last form of training needed. If that wasn’t enough, athletes with an underlying medical condition (e.g. CAD, hypertension, overweight) already have a strained system, so to perform HIIT on top is simply asking for a medical emergency.
An athlete who is already at their limit, who then performs HIIT adds significant strain on their cardiovascular, neurological, musculoskeletal and endocrine systems. As the red-line is approached, the body and mind start to lock up. When the athlete pushes past, straining themselves to hold in the red zone, the body has no choice but to defend itself against strain now perceived as threat to its survival. In this state – an athlete engaged in self-combat – injury, illness resulting from a weakened immune system, mental exhaustion, emotional breakdown, and at worst a full out medical crisis (e.g. cardiac arrest, stroke, death) are all possible.
Nonetheless, athletes push harder and harder with HIIT, only to be shocked when muscle spasms, chest pain, numbness, tingling or a momentary black out brings them to a full stop. The mindset is reminiscent of the Dark Knight from Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail…
HIIT does not make you invincible, and ‘Beast Mode’ is a cortisol/adrenaline fueled illusion created by triggering the flight-fight-freeze stress reaction.
The strength, endurance, and speed which occur in this state are illusions, fiction, and in no way reflect training. They are displays of the body defending itself, occurring because the athlete has triggered a heightened state using emotions of anger, fear, or hate to sustain themselves beyond the red-line to the point that the body believes that survival is being threatened.
HIIT does not develop aerobic capacity, fat burning ability, nor the capability of the athlete to recover, to heal, to rejuvenate between reps, sets, and workouts. Prolonged HIIT without sufficient base leads athletes to rely on crutches of sports nutrition (i.e. sugar, sugar, sugar), sports rehab (i.e. taping, orthotics, braces, splints), medications and drugs (don’t forget alcohol and PEDs) in an attempt to hold themselves together as they try to demonstrate their ferocity.
HIIT does not develop mental focus, drive, nor does it permit skill acquisition, the development of technique, nor form. Without proper base mental training, HIIT will drain an athlete, leave them depleted, exhausted, unmotivated, a hollow empty shell echoing doubt, regret, and hate.
HIIT does not develop emotional stability, nor the skills to engage stress. Without proper base emotional training, HIIT will push athletes into using a state of panic to induce in themselves the stress chain-reaction to be able to train and compete. Prolonged HIIT can lead athlete into developing various anxiety disorders (e.g. pre-competition anxiety), breathing difficulties which mimic asthma, illnesses resulting from a weakened immune system, and depression.
For the untrained, undertrained, and unhealthy, HIIT is a death sentence.
For the untrained, undertrained, and unhealthy, HIIT is not training. Its gaming of physiology and psychology by inducing larger and larger states of panic to cause a physical, mental. and emotional high state of reactivity used to overcome the strain of training.
This is not training. This is not conditioning. This is self-abuse. It is unhealthy in every sense of the word, yet research fails to note this, and sports related websites with editors who lack context for research relating to human biology, physiology, and performance cherry-pick journal conclusions just to post a new article. Athletes fall for advertised short cuts, failing to understand that neither excellence nor peak performance are available for sale.
In hi-performance athletics, HIIT is used to refine an athlete for competition. But if you are not competing at the national or international level then what need do you have for HIIT?
HIIT is not synonymous with the health, and health is not synonymous with fitness.
HIIT is marketed as the short cut to wellness and health, but this is misleading, and wrong.
The majority of athletes need simple low & slow training to build or rebuild a foundation. The majority of athletes need basic physical literacy, basic FUNdamentals (ABCs of movement), basic flexibility and control of their range prior to engaging in training with any degree of intensity, let alone training (i.e. peaking) designed to prep an athlete for competition. Athletes with prior experience rarely execute their sport with the same level of fluidity, flow, and ease as champions, so they too can build their base wider, refining technique, improving their aerobic capacity and recoverability. Base training can go on indefinitely, and thats the beauty of it… there is no end point to it.
If you want to test yourself, then enter a competition, but compete against yourself, your time, assessing your ability to execute new skills, tactics and strategies in competition. Evaluate races results not simply by final times, but on the quality of your performance.
What is the Return on Training (RoT) that you seek? If you seek health, wellness, improving quality of sleep, fat burning and weight loss, then HIIT is not the tool. Base training is the starting point for all healthy, active lifestyles, for achieving peak power to weight, for improving overall quality of life. If you seek final preparation, fine tuning, all out sessions to refine your training to competition readiness, then HIIT may be appropriate, but it should be administered under the supervision of an experience coach, a coach who refuses to sacrifice athletes simply for short term gain, a coach who values the health and well-being of their athletes.
Apply the correct tool to the desired problem, and you will achieve your desired goals.
Apply the incorrect tool to a problem, and you will set yourself back further.