Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Neverending Debate- Distance Running Versus HIIT.

I think I need to state at the outset, when I discuss distance running/steady state/aerobic work I'm talking in terms of what is most effective for fat loss. I'm also not making an absolute statement about the nature of reality, I'm taking a polar position expressed essentially by hyperbole to attempt to change the paradigm. As Michael Boyle states:
"Luckily, Canadian researcher and sport scientist Martin Gibala has come to the rescue. Gibala, an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Canada published a study in the September issue of the Journal of Physiology comparing interval training and steady state training or long slow distance. The study, although conducted over only a two week period (emphasis added), looked at a twenty minute interval program versus steady state work ranging from ninety to one hundred and twenty minutes. The interval work consisted of thirty second sprints followed by four minutes of slow pedaling. This would amount to two to two and half minutes of high intensity work during a twenty minute session as compared to 90-120 minutes in the “heartrate zone” for the distance group. Gee, which would I want if both were equal?
The conclusion was that both methods showed roughly the same improvement in the chosen marker of oxygen utilization. Yes, the same. Do the math. Each group worked out three times a week.  The interval group exercised for a total elapsed time of one hour per week with six to seven and a half minutes of intense exercise contained in that hour. The steady state group exercised for between four and a half and six hours a week yet the aerobic benefits were the same (emphasis added)?" (Boyles 2008)

Distance running has it's merits, and it's places, but should not be used as the primary tool in a fat loss program (I say that with the caveat: for uninjured individuals with a base level of fitness). If you train for a marathon, or some other sport that requires aerobic endurance then obviously you need to do distance running (as well as HIIT as it increases VO2max better). I'm not saying you can't do distance running I'm just saying that you shouldn't (for fat loss), and that stance is based on evidence: from strength and conditioning coaches, studies and anecdote. When I talk of running I'm talking in terms of distance, when I talk of say, sprinting? I'm talking about speed. By its definition you can't sprint long enough to get into distance training so I support sprints. I might, however,  get my clients to do sprints on soft surfaces or cardio equipment but I don't mind them doing them on the ground, it's the distance and the low intensity, steady state nature of distance running that I don't like.

I've been a fairly big proponent of HIIT for a while now, through demonstration and evidence I put credence in Alwyn Cosgrove's "Hierarchy of fat loss" as being pretty accurate in it's listing of methods that result in some of the best fat loss protocols we have discovered thus far. There is enough evidence to support this as valid for the time being, but even if you don't agree, look at it logically:  Running is ineffective for fat loss, causes injuries and has long training sessions.  HIIT causes relatively no injuries, has short/convinient training sessions and superior fat loss results, you really do have to ask what argument are proponents of running for fat loss really trying to make? We should pick a method backed by evidence as inferior? We should promote a method of fat loss that causes injury? Or that we should back a fat loss strategy that requires large quantities of training time per session that cuts into other dail activies? Any one of these arguments on their own would be reason enough to avoid distance running. As Michael Boyle again states:
"Here is the problem as Diane Lee so eloquently put it. Running is a poor choice for most people. I often talk about the group of people I like to call the “speed limpers”. They are the men and women you often drive by on the road that are running with a visible limp. Usually they have a knee sleeve of some kind on. When you ask them about their problem they will almost always reply “ it loosens up after a while and then I ice and take some Advil after”. What a lousy idea. Guess what, good exercise should make you tired but, shouldn’t hurt your joints (emphasis added). The discomfort should be limited to the muscles and should go away almost immediately after you are done. In my opinion running is only good for doctors and physical therapists. We have an entire cottage industry built up to take care of the injuries caused by running.

The reality is that most people are not made to run. More importantly, they are particularly not made to run long distances (emphasis added). Until the Cooper led aerobics craze of the seventies many of us didn’t know what a plantar fascia, iliotibial band or patella-femoral joint was. Most of us in the industry do now. We know because these are just a few of the litany of sites of injury afflicting runners.

More bad news. Running is even worse for women. Women runners seem to to sustain more running related injuries than men." (Boyle 2010)
For some reason people get married to the idea of running, they think if they don't do it, they'll get fat, when just the opposite is true. I'm not sure why I have to keep hammering home this point and why all for it, why wouldn't I be? I think it's the fitness industries classic reluctance to change. The sad thing is I've been arguing with people for years about it now, with clients, trainers, fitness enthusiasts alike. Hell,  even at university it was endurance training as the only option, VO2max test this, astrand rhyming test that.

Here are some general principles to consider with running and fat lass.

Alwyn Cosgroves hierarchy of fat loss:
1. Metabolic resistance training.
2. High intensity anaerobic interval training.
3. High intensity aerobic interval training.
4. High intensity steady state.
5. Low intensity steady state.

Charles Poliquins 6 reasons NOT to do aerobic training:
1.  Continuous aerobic work plateaus after 8 weeks of training so anything more is counterproductive.

2.  Aerobic training worsens power locally and systemically – in other words, it can make you slower.

3.  Aerobic training increases oxidative stress which can accelerate aging.
4.  Aerobic training increases adrenal stress which can make you fatter and produce other undesirable health consequences.
5.  Aerobic training increases body fat in stressed individuals by contributing additional stress.

6.  Aerobic training worsens testosterone/cortisol ratio which impedes your ability to add fat burning lean muscle.

As Keith Alpert finishes up:
"The Power of Interval Training
The way for individuals to raise the intensity of their training is to do "Interval Training." Interval Training alternates bouts of high-intensity exercise with that of low to moderate-intensity exercise. Recent studies have shown that Interval Training is more effective for fat loss while improving both Aerobic and Anaerobic fitness
(emphasis added).
Tabata et al. (1) compared a 70% of VO2 max moderate intensity group (MIG) vs. a high intensity interval group (HIIT). The MIG group did increase their VO2 max by about 10% without a concurrent improvement in anaerobic capacity. The HIIT group improved their VO2 max by 14% and their anaerobic capacity by 28%. The HIIT group actually improved both anaerobic and aerobic capacity at the same time!
Tremblay et al. (2) compared a sprint ergometer group versus an aerobic group. Despite burning 50% less calories, the sprint group lost three times more fat than the aerobic group (emphasis added)." (Alpert)
I hope I've met your burden of proof regarding this situation, this blog is making a cumulative case against running, when you put all the information in this post, with the rest of the blog, I hope my point is clear. If it's not, let me restate: distance running for fat loss is inferior to other methods! But I'm appreciative of correction.

I refer you to this post for a list of references that support my positions in this blog.

Alpert K., Getting Maximum Results Part II - Alternatives to Aerobics. Alternative Exercise Strategies to Help You Break Through a Plateau.

Boyle M., (2008). Death to Long Slow Distance.

Boyle M., (2010). You Can’t Run to Get Fit, You Need to Be Fit to Run.

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