How High Intensity Interval Training Started

Who invented it?

Woldemar Gerschler - he was a German Coach and university professor.

Perhaps you are just hearing about High Intensity Interval Training and thinking it might be another one of those fitness fads. Even some Personal Trainers and coaches might think that High Intensity Interval Training started in the 90’s after the renown Tabata skater experiment.

Well, in truth this approach was pioneered by a little-known coach and University Lecturer called Dr Woldemar Gerschler back in the 1930’s. Yes - HIIT really is that old!😲 Forever a curious man, at that time a coach, he wanted to find an approach to maximise the size, fitness and efficiency of the heart and enlisted the help of cardiologist Dr. Herbert Reindell to do so.

Together Gerschler and Reindell initially carried out experiments with 3000 subjects, each of whom completed a 21-day period of precise heart-rate controlled training. They found an increase in the heart volume by one-fifth after this short time period and significant improvements in performance. From this experience they devised a form of repetition training where an athlete would run over a relatively short distance, such as 200m, at a relatively fast pace and get them to rest between and repeat. The name of the system, 'Interval Training', was because the rest or recovery period between the faster runs was considered the most important and vital part of the training. It is during the interval that the heart adapts, growing larger and stronger.

Rudolf Harbig

After the experimental success of his theory he used this approach to aid the performance of a man who became a world record breaker.

The man’s name was Rudolf Harbig and he destroyed the 800m world record in 1939 with a time of 1:46.6 and within a month he beat the 400m world record too in 46 seconds flat! He did this following the protocol of interval training that Gerschler set out for him. But, one success story is hardly evidence that this type of training would deliver better results for medium and short distance runners. Perhaps he was just a natural or it was just a fluke?

Unfortunately, in all likelihood we would know lots more about Gerschler and his approach if it wasn’t for the 2nd World War. As the record goes quiet until his name reappears in 1952 when Gerschler coached Josy Barthel and he went on to become 1500m Champion. This is a relatively long distance in terms of interval training and at the time no one had thought to use this type of approach. The thinking was to run fast at 1500m you must practice running fast for 1500m. Which seems like common sense, but here was a man breaking the mould and again breaking the record using an approach that focuses on short distance at maximum intensity.

It was at this point Athletics started to become aware of ‘interval training’ as a possible solution for cardiovascular rapid fitness and performance results. But, again with the traditional approach of “to be good a running long distances you must run long distances”, interval training soon fell back to the shadows of the fitness and performance industry. Well, that is until Athletics coach Peter Coe started training his son Sebastian Coe (now Sir Coe for his athletic achievements for the UK).

Using Gerschler’s approach that he had created some 40 years prior, Peter Coe would get his son to run 200 metres with 30 seconds recovery. Using this approach Sebastian Coe was able to achieve some extraordinary feats:

1980 Olympic Gold 1500m, 1984 Olympic Gold 1500m, European Athletics Championships 800m Gold, IAAF Rome World Cup Gold and 6 other noteworthy medals.

Today, there are many approaches and ways you can apply High Intensity Interval Training and there are many studies that have shown just how right Gerschler was some 80 years ago.

Today there are many studies and formidable people to mention but Izumi Tabata and Martin Gibala are leading the way in showing the world that HIIT can be as effective or even more effective than the slow and steady approach, with Martin Gibala even claiming that 1 minute of all out intensity may deliver the same fitness results as 50 minute of exercise at a moderate intensity.


If you are looking to improve your fitness and want to try some free HIIT programmes then look no further. Join our free 8 week programme for all fitness levels here.

Our goal is to get 1 million people exercising for 7 minutes every morning as part of their daily routines. Join us and start creating a healthier lifestyle with us.


To your health and happiness,

Anthony Delamare - Co-Founder at 7 Minute Mornings

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