Traditional thinking would have us believe that for endurance sports we must build up an “aerobic base” by putting in many hours/week of what is commonly referred to as LSD (Long Slow Distance) training. I was taught the importance of the Dr. Kenneth Cooper school of thought in medical school and I followed this line of thinking in numerous books which to this day gather dust on the shelves of my home office. I ran a few ½ marathons, raced mountain bikes for a few years, and took up road cycling when I was hampered by injuries not allowing me to perform these “steady state activities” for hours at a time. What amazes me the most is, despite my background in physiology and biochemistry, I still believed this was the correct way to good health prior to my discovery of HIT.
I owe my introduction of HIT to my wife who first went to see John Little at Nautilus North here in beautiful Muskoka, Ontario, Canada. My wife, Arienne, has the innate ability to migrate towards those aspects in life which some might refer to as “common sense”. She had been lifting free weights at home for years and wanted to do more. HIT seemed so exciting to her that I had to see what it was all about. The concepts John Little discussed with us seemed reasonable but of course I needed to read more about this to convince myself. I read Ultimate Exercise-Bulletin Number 1 by Doug McGuff, MD and this allowed me to view exercise in a completely different light. The chapter on Global Metabolic Conditioning was nothing short of brilliant! Doug had not yet advanced his understanding of nutrition to the degree he has today but overall his concepts were new and refreshing. As my wife would say, “it makes sense.” She might also articulate that, “I have been trying to tell you that for years”!
Some people say that, “the proof is in the pudding.” Three years ago I was extremely busy with work. Arienne, who works with me in my office, and myself were getting home late at night and I was often called into the emergency department to see patients or was called in the middle of the night to operate on a trauma. Our normal winter training program was to get on rollers on our tandem bicycle and pound out a few hours/week of LSD training with a few intervals thrown in. We simply had ZERO training and never once turned a pedal stroke. I should clarify that we were getting HIT training at Nautilus North averaging 3x/month. In April our weather turned really nice giving an early start to the cycling season. The group of friends we cycle with had undergone intensive workouts for months including brutal spin classes. Doug McGuff and John Little describe the concept of “skill conditioning” well in chapter 10 of Body By Science. If you ride a bike your body simply learns to be more economical so you use as little energy as possible for a given task. This is true for all sports which require specific skills. Also when you ride a tandem bicycle it is MUCH HARDER than a single bike despite what you might think. We are like an 18 wheeler transport truck which goes really quickly downhill but is really tough to climb with. Knowing that our friends wanted to do “the first ride” at a distance of 65 kilometers (40 miles) on a hilly route we knew we would be left in their dust. This was compounded by our lack of skills training over the winter. Despite the odds stacked against us we went on the ride and were actually leading the group before we came to the hills. We knew the other riders, who were getting an easy ride by drafting us, would leave us miles behind on the hills. For the first time in our cycling career we hit the hills and to our shock, and our fellow cyclists, we were dropping the single bikes on almost all the grades. Our effort was so much less than we could recall from any other start of cycling and when we finished the ride the others asked us at breakfast what sort of magical training program we were on. They were shocked to learn that we had only done HIT 12-15 minutes/week 3x/month. I proudly described some of Doug McGuffs’ thoughts and also suggested to the group that they go and talk to John Little. You might just say that I was a believer in global metabolic conditioning first hand. Alas, old habits die hard and only 2 members of the group went to the HIT facility since “all the cycling magazines disagree with the concepts Dr. McGuff is putting forward.” Both cyclists went for only a short time as they thought they would “get too thick.”
If you can keep an open mind you might be able to embrace new thoughts and change your entire approach to health and fitness!
– John Cripps MD, FRCSC