Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is more time to train!

Why high-intensity interval training will become your best friend over the holiday period!

As 2016 is coming to a close, I am sure this is one of your busiest times of the year. Both at work and at home; deadlines to meet, end of year functions, school prize-giving, travel, the list goes on. Your weekends are jam-packed with family, sport, and social commitments but you also plan to fit in a 2h road ride. Do you find yourself thinking, how am I going to get my longer rides in? If you are short on training time, don’t fret. There is a simple, shorter way to get the fitness gains you want. Why not get the same benefits with a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session?

HIIT will become your best friend over the holiday period. HIIT involves a series of short ‘all-out’ efforts and can be an effective way to improve your fitness level. The effectiveness of HIIT, compared to endurance training, has been documented with positive outcomes1. A review on all the published research, comparing HIIT endurance training, has shown both types of training improve fitness levels in healthy adults. But, HIIT came out on top by improving fitness levels more than endurance training.

In trained endurance cyclists, a recent study proved six weeks of HIIT improved their fitness2. Moreover, there was similar improvements in fitness whether cyclists completed short maximal ‘all-out’ efforts or longer ‘submaximal’ (~85% max) efforts. In short, similar improvements in fitness was observed when cyclists trained for half the session time (~19min vs ~37min). You want the biggest bang for your buck right? Then go ‘all-out’!

HIIT sessions must be performed at maximum to get maximal benefit. Efforts typically have a 1:2 work:rest ratio, and range between 30s – 1min in duration. For example 30s of ‘all-out’ effort with 60s of recovery. The number of reps you complete will depend on the duration of the efforts; with shorter efforts you can generally do more reps. The number of reps reported range from 4 – 8, or if you are game, till you can’t pedal anymore. As HIIT workouts are exhaustive, it is recommended that no more than three sessions a week are completed. These sessions can be easily completed on an erg or the road. For the hurt-lovers, try uphill efforts and use the downhill for recovery.

To note, HIIT should not replace all endurance training as there are benefits and adaptations that occur with long-and-steady training sessions. For example an increase in blood volume, which means a greater amount of oxygen during exercise. But keep it ‘au naturel’ via the adaptations from riding a bike, not like Lance Armstrong.

If you are starting to feel like you are carrying that extra helping of Christmas ham, HIIT can help! Not only are you burning more calories when you work out, but the effect of the intense exercise kicks the body into repair mode, burning additional calories after a HIIT session. But don’t use HIIT as an excuse to indulge. We’ve all been there wanting that third slice of pav…

The benefits of HIIT will show an improvement in:

  • Heart health
  • Your fitness level1,2,3,4
  • The ability of your body to utilize fat for fuel, and sparing carbohydrate, during exercise3
  • Your lactate threshold4 – the maximum exercise intensity that you can sustain
  • Your tolerance to ‘pain’

So why not give HIIT a try?

  • HIIT is your answer if you have a short window to train
  • HIIT must be performed maximally to gain the same benefit as your longer ride
  • HIIT should not replace all of your endurance training
  • It is short, challenging, beneficial, and fun!

Safety message – if you are unaccustomed to this type of training, consult your doctor prior, and modify the intensity of the work interval to a preferred challenging level.

Article by Katie Schofield  School Sport Liaison Coordinator | University of Waikato


The University of Waikato is the tertiary education partner of the Avantidrome with a dedicated sport science laboratory, He Puna Oranga Tinana, located in Cambridge.



1 Milanovic et al. (2015). Effectiveness of high-intensity interval training and continuous endurance training for VO2max Improvements: A systematic review and meta-analysis for controlled trials. 45: 1469-1481.

2Paquette et al. (2016). Effects of submaximal and supramaximal interval training on determinants of endurance performance in endurance athletes. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. doi: 10.1111/sms.12660

3Burgomaster et al. (2008). Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. Journal of Physiology 586: 151-160

4Burke et al (1994). Comparison of effects of two interval-training programmes on lactate and ventilator thresholds. British Journal of Sports Medicine 28(1):18-21.