Newsflash: High intensity interval training is hard. Okay, that might not really be “news,” but what has made headlines recently is that, despite health and fitness benefits like accelerated fat burning, and improved VO2 max and lactate threshold, high intensity intervals are so miserable that many people just won’t do them.
Panteleimon “Paddy” Ekkekakis, professor of kinesiology, addressed the issue in a statement on his recent findings that many people (unsurprisingly) prefer to take it easier when it comes to exercise. “If you can take an hour of exercise and squeeze it into one minute, there’s a price to pay,” Ekkekakis said. “The price is 100% intensity. It’s undeniable that the experience will be unpleasant.”
Although cyclists are a slightly different breed who often seek to suffer, there are still plenty of riders who avoid intervals because they’re hard, they hurt, and they’re just not very fun. The trick, according to Ekkekakis’ work, lies in finding ways to make your brain associate HIIT training with good feelings, so you actually look forward to it rather than approaching it with dread. Here are some strategies to try.
1. End on an easy note
All’s well that ends well seems to hold true for HIIT workouts. Warm up and do your intervals right away. Then spend the rest of the ride spinning around at a pleasant pace. In a previous study, Ekkekakis found that exercisers who did their hardest efforts early in the session and ramped down the intensity from there reported enjoying the workout immediately after, and even seven days, later compared to their peers who saved the hard stuff for the end, who reported not enjoying the session at the time or a week later.
2. Make the perfect playlist
If you’re inside or outdoors somewhere you can listen to music safely, use your favourite music to amplify your efforts – and your enjoyment. It’s no secret that music is a proven performance enhancer. It pleasantly distracts your mind from pain when you’re pushing hard and lowers your perceived exertion (how hard you feel like you’re exercising) at every intensity– both of which will leave you with a positive impression of even the most leg-searing sessions. Fast music works best, as you naturally sync your efforts to the beat. Research shows that the sweet spot for performance and enjoyment is music that is about 120 to 140 beats per minute, which is the tempo of many rock, techno, alternative, and pop music songs.
Related: 5 Rules For Listening To Music On a Ride (Without Being a Jerk)
3. Buddy up
No surprise here. Training with a friend is generally way more fun than going it alone. Plus you’ll push each other harder. One study found that cyclists doing indoor training rode nearly 200% longer when they partnered up with someone than when they pedalled on their own. Modern technology makes partnering up easier than ever. Through training apps like Zwift you and your regular riding crew can meet up virtually regardless of the weather and bang out your workouts on the Island.
Related: Everything You Need to Get Started With Zwift
4. Designate an ass-kicking kit
You know that kit that fits so perfectly it just makes you feel fast? Make it your superhero interval workout ass-kicking costume. You’ll probably even perform better – for real. There’s even a term for it: “enclothed cognition”. Your brain registers what you’re wearing and responds accordingly. For instance, in a 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that study volunteers performed better on attention-related tasks when they were given a lab coat to wear than when they were given nothing special to wear. If you look fast and feel fast, you’ll ultimately be left with a more positive lasting impression – and be more likely to come back for more.
5. Give yourself a gold star
There’s a reason Strava gives you all those trophies, ribbons, and crowns for good performance – rewards trigger your brain’s pleasure palace and make you feel good about your efforts. Set up a calendar and literally give yourself a gold star when you crush a HIIT workout. The pages will be shimmering in no time.
Originally published in Bicycling
Image credit: iStock