Is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for you?

Bicycle Queensland would like to re-introduce Donna Dall – Mountain Bike Coach and multiple State Champion in both Cross Country Olympic and Cross Country Marathon Races. Donna is bringing us a 4-part series devoted to women in cycling and in this week’s topic, she dives deep into high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and long slow distance training (LSD) and how each of these training methods affects your cycling adaptability. 

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has really increased in popularity over the last 5 to 10 years. But is the saying “No gain without pain” really true?
What is HIIT?

HIIT is defined as performing different cardio workouts as fast and as hard as possible. This intensity completed for short periods of time is usually associated with circuit training. The sessions only last for a short period of time per individual workout. The goal is to complete the intervals as fast as possible with perfect technique and with minimal rest between.

What is LSD?

On the other hand, long slow distance (LSD) is a less intense form of training that involves completing endurance activities at a lower intensity for a long period of time. LSD can improve your ability to transport oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and teaches your body how to use fat as energy, making it more economical in burning this fuel so that you can train for much longer periods of time. LSD develops aerobic fitness and muscular endurance.

But not everyone has 5+ hours a day to train.

And that’s where HIIT training became so popular. Bigger gains in less time sounds great, but is this really the case? Not exactly. Research suggests that a mixture of HIIT and LSD is the key to gaining fitness and heightening performance.

But LSD is just as important as overreliance on HIIT can cause an athlete to not be able to hit their max threshold. If all you do is high-intensity workouts and don’t rest, you’ll become worn out. As a result, you’ll end up doing medium level workouts and not pushing yourself to the limit.

LSD improves your peripheral adaptations, increasing your capillary density & myoglobin. It also increases your mitochondria which helps your body use free fatty acids as fuel ultimately increasing your glycogen stores. All of these adaptations increase the riders ability to grind away for long periods of time. LSD also gives the body a chance to heal and build muscle fibres. It is an important part of endurance training but should only be used as one part of your arsenal. A mixed training program is ultimately the goal.

I recommend a training program based on your individual’s goals, lifestyle, work-life balance and fitness level. Make sure to incorporate a range of training methods depending on how much time you have available to train.

With the nature of HIIT sessions, they are usually based around rest days or easy days and weekends are used for endurance type activities.  It is important to make sure that your training is balanced and incorporating other weight-based training including upper body and core strength workouts. Women lose muscle and bone density as we age, so incorporating strength training becomes very important.

Related: Importance of Strength and Conditioning for Women and Mountain Bikers

Benefits of HIIT
  • Helps the body burn calories. HIIT increases post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). So for about 2 hours post exercise, your body continues to burn around 15% more calories. This is ideal for those women who are cycling for weight loss.

As mentioned above, HIIT is less time consuming so sessions can be as short as 20 minutes long and still give you great benefit. You can do workouts that are designed only using your body weight which may be beneficial for women who work, travel or have to look after children.

  • Maintenance. Doing HIIT workouts can really help you maintain your fitness in periods where you can’t ride as much. It keeps the muscles working hard, maintaining muscle mass, bone density and strength.
  • Improves your ability to handle discomfort for longer periods of time.
Benefits of LSD
  • Gives your ligaments, bones, joints and tendons time to adapt to the sport.
  • Increases mental toughness and focus. Completing the same activity for long periods helps drive mental toughness and allows the rider to focus and spend time thinking about single aspects of the ride. How is my pedal stroke? Is my seat height correct for longer periods of time? How is my hydration and nutrition doing?

By incorporating both training strategies, women can start to see a benefit in their cycling ability and their bodies adaptability to meet the demands of the workout. It is important to find a balance and seek help if you notice certain aspects that need more attention.

It has been a pleasure writing for Bicycle Queensland. Being able to share my knowledge with other women and hopefully give you strategies and information to help you with your cycling has been my main goal. I am always available if anyone wanted more advice and as mentioned before my main profession is training cyclists who want to see more out of themselves and need help in achieving their goals. You can head to my website anytime and book a breakthrough call where we can discuss this and work out the best plan of action for your certain situation.

Thanks for reading! Visit for more information.

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