A defense of ultra-low volume/high intensity training as a viable alternative to endurance training for individuals with requisite mental characteristics
- Premise 1: High intensity interval training produces the greatest physiological adaptive response of any type of exercise. Research over the past 15 years seems to support this claim (here's a recent NY times piece reporting on some of the research). One study found that tabata style intervals produced the same or similar results as more traditional interval work focused on maximizing time spent at or just above lactate threshold (ie 4 x 6 minutes of cycling at race pace separated by 3 minutes rest). Most folks would consider event the latter to be 'interval training', and use it only occasioally in a training program aimed at an endurance event.
- Premise 2: High intensity interval training can produce increases in endurance capabilities equivalent to more traditional longer duration/moderate intensity training.
- Premise 3: There is a physiological limit as to the amount of high intensity interval training that a person can perform - this limit is a function of the individuals capacity to recover.
- Premise 4: High intensity interval training requires bouts of MAX EFFORT, which are mentally very demanding.
- Premise 5: Pragmatically speaking, the limit of one's capacity to perform HIIT is also a function of the ability to meet these mental demands during workout sessions.
- Premise 6: High intensity Interval training is the most time effective means of producing physiological adaptations in our aerobic system.
One possible logical 'challenge' i can see is that perhaps it is possible for one to be training at the high intensity volume limit and add more training at a lower intensity without affecting recovery or impacting the ability to continue to make that high intensity time genuinely so. For me, i find this is not really that possible - unless the added activity is of sufficiently low intensity that (for me) it not only doesn't really qualify as training, but probably offers negligible fitness gains above and beyond what the high intensity stuff alone provides. Honestly assessing my own capabilities along these lines is why i cut my training from 3 hours a week to 2 nearly a year ago. I was having great workouts, but at least one of my efforts every week was less than i knew it could be - in my case mostly for mental reasons.
I also sense that one objection to this reasoning might come in the form a claim that limited volume training can't prepare one for ultra-endurance events. Fair enough - at least for someone with no background in protracted physical efforts. But this challenge is based more on ones mental preparation for such an event, not how well the body itself (in terms of the actual physical machine) is capable of handling the challenge. And this is where it gets tricky - it is much harder (at this point) for me to feel i've got a platform that challenges a conventional wisdom that says 'to prepare for iron-man you better learn (mentally) how to suffer so that you know how to respond race day and the best way to do that is to do long runs/bikes/bricks and experience it first hand' as opposed to one that says 'to only/best* way to physically prepare for IM is to put in your time and dedicate 10-20 hours a week to training'. The latter statement is what i disagree with, and in my opinion, it represents the framework that is assumed indisputable by the vast majority of triathletes (and endurance athletes in general) out there.
*based on my own experience and the limited experience i've had with others trying to take my approach, conventional wisdom/high volume approaches to endurance training probably do represent the easiest way to be successful at endurance events, simply because sticking to a training program focused (almost) exclusively on high intensity work requires a mental commitment and ability that, if not possessed at the outset, appears to require more effort to develop than what is required to carve another 10 hours of training time into the week.