Most people can confirm that “cardio” sucks. Breathing heavy is never fun, but developing aerobic capacity is very essential for athletes, people that just want to stay in shape, and even strength athletes as well. I think a lot of people would agree that running isn’t the best form of conditioning, especially for athletes. Why would a baseball or football player need to run for miles when a single play could only last for a couple of seconds? It is said that an average play in football is about 7 seconds. In the sport of baseball there is a lot of standing and then a short sudden burst of energy, which usually doesn’t last very long either. For strength athletes a max back squat would maybe take 10 seconds at the very longest, including taking the bar out of the rack. So why is conditioning important for athletes like this, and how can you maximize it?
High-Intensity Continuous Training
What is high-intensity continuous training (HICT)? HICT is a simple way to increase the aerobic or oxidative capacity of your fast-twitch muscle fibers. Fast-twitch muscle is important in all sports and is where most general athleticism comes from. So, to condition your fast-twitch muscle, you have to actually be using it. Most conditioning is typically thought of as slow-twitch muscle training. HICT is training your fast-twitch muscle to utilize oxygen more efficiently.
How this is done is typically in bouts of about 8-20 minutes. You pick a general movement pattern that you want to develop such as a squat, upper body push or pull, and/or a lower body hinge. Then you pick an exercise that is pretty simple and not complex that exploits one of these movements. At Force, a lot of the times we typically pick step-ups. It is a relatively easy movement to perform and is a good movement to develop the capacity of the legs. You will then perform step-ups anywhere from 8-20 minutes. At Force, we usually just spend 10 minutes at the end of the training session, sometimes 15 for more developed athletes that have been doing it for a while. The key that a lot of people miss is that the step-ups have to be done at a high-intensity. What that looks like is an athlete who is pushing through the box as hard as they can to step up and not slowly and sluggishly stepping up. What this does is ensure that we are using our fast-twitch muscle fibers and those are the ones being developed. After you perform a forceful step-up you will simply rest for about 3-5 seconds and then step up again. The 3-5 second rest also ensures that our fast-twitch muscle fibers have a short time to rest and they don’t get so fatigued out right away that we start using slow-twitch muscle.
Why Is HICT Important?
Now that you know what HICT entails let me tell you why it is important for athletes. It is important for athletes in mostly all sports because it helps promote recovery. Almost all field sports are done using primarily fast-twitch muscle. It should be common sense that we want the ability for this fast-twitch muscle to recover at its optimum capacity. What HICT helps us do is develop the recovering capacity of this fast-twitch muscle. A pitcher needs to not only be able to recovery as fast as possible in between games but in between pitches as well so they can still be throwing heat towards the end of the game. A running back in football needs to be able to accelerate through the line of scrimmage the same in the fourth quarter as he did in the first. HICT gives your body the ability to do this by increasing the density of the mitochondria in your muscle and increasing the oxidative capacity of your fast-twitch fibers.
This type of training is very important for athletes if they want to be the best at their sport. Conditioning is something that is not always fun, but is critical. HICT is something that probably all of our athletes at Force hate the most, but it is something that will never go away because we care about the development and careers of the athletes we train. If you are feeling like you are fatiguing as the game gets longer or feel like you are dead by the end of your training sessions give HICT a try.
I will leave you with some other options or exercises you can utilize during HICT other than step-ups:
-Ring Rows (we like to use push-ups and ring rows during the same bout)
-Sled Drags (make sure you’re able to keep the same pace the entire time)
-BW Squats (goblet squats, a squat that has low skill requirements)
If in need of further explanation or further physiological explanation of HICT please shoot me an email at Justin@ForceBarbell.com. I would love to have a conversation.