Obstacle races demand a unique combination of endurance, strength, agility, and mental resilience. To help prepare athletes for these intense challenges, coaches can employ a powerful training method known as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). By implementing a periodized approach to HIIT, athletes can gradually progress their fitness and strength levels, ensuring optimal performance on race day. In this blog, we will explore the art of periodized HIIT training and discuss how to scale workouts to accommodate athletes of varying abilities, facilitating continuous improvement and race-readiness.


Understanding Periodization

Periodization is a structured approach to training that involves dividing the overall training program into distinct periods or cycles, each with specific objectives and training emphases. These cycles, known as macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles, work together to facilitate progressive improvements in an athlete's fitness, strength, and performance.

Copy of Periodization Cycles

  • Macrocycle - The macrocycle is the longest period within the periodization framework, typically spanning several months to a year. For obstacle race athletes, the macrocycle encompasses the entire training period leading up to the main race. During this time, the athlete's overall training goals and objectives are established, providing a roadmap for the subsequent mesocycles.

  • Mesocycle - Mesocycles are intermediate periods within the macrocycle, usually lasting a few weeks to a few months. Each mesocycle has a specific focus and training emphasis, aiming to target and develop particular aspects of an athlete's fitness or performance. For obstacle race athletes, mesocycles may include phases dedicated to building endurance, increasing strength, improving speed and agility, and honing race-specific skills.

  • Microcycle - Microcycles are the smallest units of training within the periodization structure, typically lasting one to four weeks. Microcycles contain the individual workouts and training sessions that make up the training week. They are designed to manipulate training variables such as intensity, volume, and exercise selection to elicit specific adaptations.


Scaling Workouts In the Macrocycle

To ensure athletes start with manageable workouts and gradually progress, scaling becomes crucial. Take a look at this guide to scaling workouts in a periodized HIIT training program:

  1. Assess Athlete Abilities - Begin by evaluating the athlete's current fitness levels, strength, and overall capabilities. This assessment provides a baseline to establish the appropriate starting point for the training program.
  2. Establish Training Phases: Divide the training program into phases, typically spanning weeks or months. Start with a foundational phase to build a base level of fitness, then progress through strength and endurance phases to peak performance.
  3. Customize Intervals and Rest Periods: Tailor the intervals and rest periods to suit the athlete's abilities. Initially, shorter intervals with longer rest periods help beginners build cardiovascular endurance without overwhelming their bodies.
  4. Incrementally Increase Intensity: Gradually increase the intensity of the workouts as the athlete progresses. This can involve lengthening the duration of intervals, reducing rest periods, or introducing more challenging exercises.
  5. Monitor and Adjust: Continuously monitor the athlete's progress and adapt the workouts accordingly. Pay attention to signs of fatigue, assess the athlete's recovery capacity, and make adjustments as needed to prevent overexertion and injuries.


The Benefits of Periodized HIIT Training

Periodized HIIT training offers a multitude of benefits for athletes preparing for obstacle races. Firstly, it allows for progressive adaptation by gradually increasing the intensity and complexity of workouts over time. This systematic approach ensures that athletes continually challenge their bodies, leading to improvements in cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, and mental resilience. Secondly, periodization helps prevent plateaus and injuries by strategically scaling workouts and incorporating recovery phases. By respecting the body's limits and providing appropriate rest and recovery, athletes can maintain a healthy training balance and reduce the risk of overtraining. Lastly, periodized HIIT training into a periodized model/schedule optimizes performance by timing peak intensity and volume leading up to the race. This ensures that athletes are at their peak condition on race day, ready to tackle obstacles with maximum speed, power, and agility. Overall, HIIT training empowers athletes to achieve their full potential, improve their overall fitness, and conquer the challenges of obstacle races. Below are a few additional benefits:

  • Improved Endurance and Stamina -  HIIT training challenges the cardiovascular system, enhancing endurance and stamina required for sustained effort throughout the race. Periodization allows for the strategic development of these attributes over time.

  • Increased Strength and Power - Incorporating strength-focused exercises in HIIT workouts help build the muscular strength and power needed to conquer obstacles. The progressive overload principle ensures that athletes steadily increase their strength capacity.

  • Mental Resilience and Focus - Periodized HIIT training cultivates mental fortitude by pushing athletes beyond their comfort zones. As they face and overcome progressively challenging workouts, athletes develop the mental resilience, focus, and determination necessary to tackle obstacles head-on.


Getting Started

It can be difficult to know where to start when building a fitness plan, so below we’ve built some examples of what a HIIT workout might look like at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. Keep in mind that any workout can be modified to meet your athlete's fitness level or to target specific areas.

Workout 1: Foundation Builder (Beginner)

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of light cardio (e.g., jogging, jumping jacks)
  • Circuit:
    • Exercise 1: Bodyweight Squats - 30 seconds
    • Exercise 2: Push-ups - 30 seconds
    • Exercise 3: Mountain Climbers - 30 seconds
    • Exercise 4: Plank - 30 seconds
  • Repeat the circuit 3 times with 1 minute of rest between rounds.
  • Cool-down: 5 minutes of stretching and light mobility exercises.

Workout 2: Endurance Booster (Intermediate)

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of dynamic stretches (e.g., walking lunges, arm circles)
  • Circuit:
    • Exercise 1: Burpees - 45 seconds
    • Exercise 2: Jumping Lunges - 45 seconds
    • Exercise 3: Renegade Rows - 45 seconds
    • Exercise 4: Bicycle Crunches - 45 seconds
  • Repeat the circuit 4 times with 45 seconds of rest between rounds.
  • Cool-down: 5 minutes of static stretches and foam rolling.

Workout 3: Obstacle Race Simulations (Advanced)

  • Warm-up: 5 minutes of jogging and dynamic movements (e.g., high knees, butt kicks)
  • Circuit:
    • Exercise 1: Box Jumps - 60 seconds
    • Exercise 2: Tire Flips - 60 seconds
    • Exercise 3: Battle Ropes - 60 seconds
    • Exercise 4: Sled Pushes - 60 seconds
  • Repeat the circuit 5 times with 30 seconds of rest between rounds.
  • Cool-down: 10 minutes of stretching, focusing on key muscle groups used in obstacle races.

These workouts can be modified to meet any athlete's fitness level or goals. Reps and rest periods can also be modified based on where your athlete is in their training cycle and the amount of time before their next race. 


Bringing it All Together

Periodized HIIT training serves as an invaluable tool for coaches preparing athletes for obstacle races. By scaling workouts to match individual abilities and gradually increasing the intensity over time, athletes can maximize their potential, develop the necessary physical and mental attributes, and achieve outstanding performance on race day. 

And when you get a degree in exercise science from Lionel University, you learn how to design any type of fitness program. Further, the doors to fitness job opportunities are wide open. Regardless of whether you’re pursuing an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree, specialists in exercise science are in demand.

As you go through your degree program at Lionel, you’ll also earn your personal training certification and Master Trainer certificate in the first few months. This means you can start working as a personal trainer while you finish your program! And, with the help of financial aid, earning your exercise science degree is even more of a possibility. 

So, lace up your shoes, embrace the periodized approach, and conquer the obstacles that lie ahead!