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Is HIRT the New HIIT?

HIRT vs HIIT training

Many athletes and fitness enthusiasts have heard of HIIT, High Intensity Interval Training.  HIIT typically is a protocol of short maximum bursts of sprints, followed by short periods of rest.  The rest is short, therefore never allowing the athlete to fully recover.  HIIT became popular when studies showed that the aerobic benefits during a four-minute maximal intensity training session were similar to a sixty-minute moderate intensity workout.  The HIIT results showed improvements in both short and long duration training.

HIIT workouts do have issues however, most of them resulting from athletes having difficulties maintaining maximum effort over the course of the workouts.  Since the amazing results of the initial HIIT studies counted on this, the benefits might not be as profound if the athletes were unable to keep up the maximum effort for the duration of the workout.  In addition, the high stress from these workouts over a long-term showed a degradation of functioning mitochondria.  So, more HIIT wasn’t necessarily better, and just like everything else, too much of a good thing, becomes not so good (we’ve all been there).

Because exercise is an ever evolving ecosystem, variations of HIIT have been introduced, and many are liking the results.  One such program is called HIRT, High-Intensity Repeat Training.  HIRT takes a similar approach to HIIT, but increases the rest period, allowing athletes to recover, and also maintain high performance levels over time.  In addition, HIRT reduces long-term stress that we see in HIIT training.  However, the key to HIRT success is making certain we maintain our effort and power each and every repeat.  The idea is each and every sprint is as good as the last, because our recovery time allows for it.

We are starting to see these workout structures carry over into weight training (including kettle bells) where we try to zero in on a maximum work rate (time) that we can maintain, with a recovery time that allows for it.

If you are interested in trying a HIRT program, here are some key components to include:

  • Athletes must be able to repeat the high intensity performance. Practice the exercise with maximum intensity without worry about the short durations.
  • Work duration should be between 5-15 seconds.
  • Rest should be around 45 seconds (for 10 seconds of work)
  • Select exercises with less risk. When performing high intense training, poor form and technique can result from fatigue.
  • HIRT should be performed 1 or 2 times per week if your goal is maximum strength.