HIIT Training: High-Intensity Interval Training

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Nowadays, high-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT Training) is viewed as one of the most effective ways of improving the endurance capacity of the players. Instead of continuously exercising at a moderate- intensity, HIIT is characterized by short-to-long exercise bouts of relatively high intensity interspersed with periods of (active) recovery. When designing a HIIT exercise, a lot of factors can be manipulated: interval duration, interval intensity, recovery duration, recovery intensity, number of repetitions, and work modality (e.g. running or cycling). Hence, it is important to know what type of HIIT exercise you need to choose in each stage of the season. In this blog, we will give an example of which type of HIIT exercise you can include in each phase of the season for improving/maintaining the endurance capacity of the players. As mentioned, the main focus of HIIT Training is on improving the physiological fitness of the players. But by choosing the right formats you can set the secondary focus more to other aspects as well (e.g. strength/power related).

Early pre-season HIIT Training

The main physical focus during the early stages of pre-season is building the general fitness levels of the players. HIIT exercises which suit this purpose, are exercises with relatively long intervals, at relatively high intensity, and a rest period that has the same duration as (or shorter duration than) the work interval (see table 1 for examples of exercises).

As can be seen from table 1, both running exercises and game formats can be chosen. In the first week of the pre-season, running exercises might be the preferred option. The first reason for this is the controllability of the exercise. Even though it is possible to influence the intensity of the game formats by changing the number of players and/or changing the field dimensions, in-game formats you have less control over the load the players actually perform. If you want to make sure the players get the right physical stimulus, the running exercises are therefore the preferred choice. The second aspect that plays a role, is the load on the muscles and tendons during the game formats. When players return from the off-season, they might not be used to high loads on their muscles and tendons related to accelerating/decelerating and changes of direction (this is especially true if these aspects were not incorporated in the individual training programs during the summer break). These actions occur often during game-formats, and might, therefore, overload the players. Therefore, when choosing game formats as HIIT exercise, it is advised to keep the total volume (i.e. repetitions x duration) of the exercise low.

Table 1: Examples of HIIT exercise for building general fitness

JOHAN Sports Early Pre-Season HIIT Training

JOHAN Sports Early Pre-Season HIIT Training

Late pre-season HIIT Training

In the latter stages of the pre-season, the focus will shift from building general fitness to preparation for sport-specific demands. In team sports, this means a higher neuromuscular load (i.e. higher loads on muscles and tendons when accelerating/decelerating and changing direction). Hence, when wanting to plan a HIIT exercise, this exercise should also incorporate a higher neuromuscular load (see table 2 for examples of exercises). For HIIT exercises, this means that the intensity of the work intervals is increased, and that the work intervals are of shorter duration. Furthermore, more sport-specific elements can be integrated as well (e.g. passing and shooting).

JOHAN Sports Late Pre-Season HIIT Training

JOHAN Sports Late Pre-Season HIIT Training

Competitive phase

In the competitive season, a HIIT exercise is preferably game-based. Since a peak physical performance is expected at the end of the week, it is of utmost importance that players have sufficient time to recover before the match. Hence, it is recommended to plan the HIIT exercise 3-4 days before the game.

In addition, even though game formats with smaller numbers of players are more suitable for maintaining/improving aerobic fitness, they do not incorporate the high-intensity sprinting aspect of the game. Hence, in these cases it is important to plan other exercises that incorporate this aspect (i.e. sprint exercises with longer distance >20m).

JOHAN Sports HIIT Training-High-Intensity-Interval-Training-Schedule

JOHAN Sports HIIT Training-High-Intensity-Interval-Training-Schedule

Important considerations

HIIT has been shown to be an effective strategy to improve the endurance performance of athletes. However, team sports players require more than just endurance capacity. Strength, speed, and power-oriented training are important for optimal performance as well. The fatigue coming from HIIT exercises can interfere with these types of training. Especially when HIIT is performed with longer intervals (i.e. for several minutes), this might lead to reductions in the training effects of strength, power, or speed-based training exercises in the next 48h. Therefore, it is not only important to choose the right format, but the timing of the HIIT exercises is also essential.

Furthermore, if no strength or power training is planned during a week in the competitive season, the players might not get enough neuromuscular training load during the week. Therefore, it is important to incorporate an interval exercise with a higher neuromuscular load. In these cases, HIIT exercises consisting of multiple repetitions of all-out sprint exercises (20-30 meters; possibly with turns of 45-90°) are advised with short recovery periods (<20 s). This way the neuromuscular system of the players will still be challenged during the week.

Photo: copyright (c) spusu SKN Sankt Pölten/Tobias Weber

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