One of the most popular talking points in fitness at the moment seems to be that of interval training. You'll see Bob and Jillian push their Biggest Loser contestants through interval exercises and circuits a lot now, slowing and starting hearts for a very effective workout. You might even be rethinking your own workout routine, wondering if you should shake it up with a little interval training. Rumor has it that interval training can do absolute wonders for you in a much shorter time than traditional training. But what does it really add to your workout routine, and can you use it effectively? Let's pit hype against reality this round.
What is interval training?
Interval training is simply pushing yourself through bursts of high level activity for a specified number of minutes, interrupted by a minute or two of a low impact activity between each burst. A good example of this would be running for one minute and walking for two, which is actually a great way to start running if you're a novice. While the description of interval training itself does not sound very demanding, do not be fooled. It can really enhance your workout routine, and can be made to suit any fitness level from beginner to pro athlete.
Give me some more examples !
You can change your adapt routine routine to incorporate interval training very easily. If you enjoy jogging, speed walking, swimming, or working on cardiovascular fitness equipment like elipticals, rowers, or treadmills, try throwing all you've got into for 60 seconds, and then slow down for 3 minutes. Then repeat this 5 to 10 times depending on your fitness level – lower fitness levels should stick to 5 when starting so as not to strain anything. All cardiovascular exercises like cycling, swimming, skipping, and a workout routine that includes something like jumping, squats, and burpees lends itself to this type of approach.
Fartlek training is another method of interval training which very similar but does not impound any time constraints. This means you go as hard as you can for as long as you can then stop and rest or reduce the speed.
What does it do for me?
Regular interval training improves your performance so you can exercise at higher intensity for longer before you become fatigued. It also helps you to recover quickly from short bursts of intense activity, making it a great workout routine for start-stop sports such as soccer, hockey and basketball. It can also make your workout more engaging and effective, so do not write it off just because you do not play sports. Because your heart is working harder during this kind of workout and is providing an activity your body is not accustomed to, your calorie burn will also be higher during interval sessions.
How does it manage to do all that?
Well here's the science lesson. When you exercise gently, the body's energy is provided using oxygen (aerobically). You breathe faster, so more oxygen is delivered to your muscles. When you ramp up your workout routine, your muscles need energy more quickly than your body can supply the oxygen. At this point, the muscles generate energy without oxygen (anaerobically) by tapping into their glucose stores. The by-product of this process, lactic acid, builds up in the muscles and this is what causes the fierce burn felt in your muscles aka your wake-up call to slow down. Your body then switches back to aerobic exercise and the lactic acid dissipates. Interval training, when incorporated into your workout routine, makes the body more efficient at breaking down lactic acid and switching from anaerobic to aerobic exercise quickly.
What other benefits are there?
Interval training helps avoid injuries that may occur with long repetitive workouts, greatly improves cardiopulmonary fitness, provides your body with a new challenge, and banes workout boredom by keeping it fresh.
Can interval training help with weight loss?
High intensity exercise will burn more calories in a shorter time than low intensity exercise and can help speed up the metabolism, so interval training as part of your workout routine can definitely help with weight loss. However, be aware that this kind of training may increase your appetite so do not spoil things with a sneaky chocolate bar or other sugar-laden rewards afterwards. Grab some protein like eggs, nuts, meat, or a protein shake and a ton of water instead and you'll see great results.
How can I incorporate interval training into my workout routine?
Slowly. Do not jump into this kind of workout routine after months of inactivity. It's far too physically demanding, especially if you're a beginner looking for a less intimidating workout to get you started. Build up your fitness levels first by keeping the low intensity intervals longer than the high intensity ones, and then move on to interval training with longer energy bursts and allow your body less recovery time when you feel comfortable with it.
The Fartlek training method is also great place for beginners to start, as you can push yourself until you feel like you need the rest, and do not have the pressure to meet a specific time.
Listen to what your body is telling you is comfortable, and with time you can push yourself a little harder. Interval training will take a fairly short time for your body to get used to, so there's no excuse for impatience! Do not hurt yourself, folks. It's not worth the setback it will cost you.
So is the hype about interval training justified? If you're looking to lose weight, shake that plateau you've been stuck at, workout workout routine boredom, build up great cardiopulmonary fitness, or to train for start-stop sports, it most certainly is. Just remember to limit your interval training workout routine to 1 to 3 times per week depending on your fitness levels, and you'll be on your way to reaching your goal.