Although interval training has been popularly used for the past 10 years or so now I still come across people who haven’t heard of it, aren’t sure how it’s done, and aren’t sure of the benefits. Recently in my Can Fit Pro fitness instructor magazine there was a very clear article written by Mike Bracko (Website Link Here) about interval training and I would like to share it’s findings with you today.
What is it?
Interval training basically means alternating between working very hard for a set period of time, followed by a short period of recovery, and then repeating this pattern. The most common type of interval training is the Tabata protocol- 20 seconds of hard intense exercise, followed by 10 seconds rest. The key with Tabata training is you have to go HARD on your hard intervals, or else you are basically just doing steady state cardio. You need to push hard in order to tax into a separate energy system, called the anaerobic energy system. You can do your interval training workout while running, cycling, swimming, lifting weights, or any type of exercise that makes sense to move fast and quickly and alternate with a rest or light activity.
* Let me drill this point in- if you can complete your 20 seconds with relative ease you aren’t pushing hard enough, and aren’t getting the interval training benefits! You might as well go for a jog and do some steady state cardio!
Why is it so good?
There is an interesting study, highlighted in the CAN FIT PRO article about the benefits of the interval training protocol, specifically the Tabata protocol:
Two groups were compared. The first group did 60 minutes of exercise at 70 % of their VO2 max (moderate intensity), 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Common language: this person went jogging 5 days a week for 60 minutes for 6 weeks. TOTAL AMOUNT OF EXERCISE: 1800 MINUTES.
The second group followed the Tabata protocol (4 minutes, 20 seconds hard @ 170% Vo2 max), 10 seconds easy) 5 days a week for 6 weeks. TOTAL AMOUNT OF EXERCISE 120 MINUTES
Surprisingly both groups increased their Vo2 max (you could think of this as they improved their ‘cardio’ conditioning), AND only the 2nd group improved their anaerobic capacity. I think of increasing anaerobic capacity as delaying the time before your muscles start to burn and you can’t continue the exercise.
So if you want to get faster and fitter it appears as though a short bout of Tabata training will be much more effective than 60 minutes of continuous training!
How can it help you improve your fitness performance?
The study I mentioned above makes it clear that Tabata training is more efficient than long slow distance cardio in improving our physiology for performance. I still believe we need a few days of long steady cardio in the week if we are planning on training for a longer distance event. The reason being we need to strengthen our joints, ligaments and minds to prepare to race longer than 4 minutes on race day!
Another great study demonstrated that if you are trying to get faster at running you’ve got to do intervals! When people are compared in two groups, one group that does continuous running for 45 minutes 4 days a week compared to someone who does 45 minutes with blocks of intervals included only the interval training group improved their 15000 m run time, 5 km run time, Vo2 max, cholesterol measures, and blood pressure. The endurance group had no improvements!!
How can it help you lose weight?
Let’s look at another study Mike mentions in the article. Two groups were compared:
Group 1 did 5 times a week cycling for 30-45 minutes at a moderate intensity for 20 weeks.
Group 2 did roughly about 5-8 minutes of interval training cycling for 15 weeks.
They calculated the total caloric expenditure and found that overall:
—–>>>> The interval training group expended 15 000 calories more than group 1, in 5 less weeks, and the interval training group decreased their body fat measurements 9 times greater than group 1!!!!
More Reason to Do it:
The article also highlights that attendance and commitment to interval programs is MUCH greater than attendance to bigger commitments (like 60 minutes of activity every day). Interval training has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, feelings of energy, and systolic blood pressure.
Also- what a time saver! If you can’t commit to getting to the gym or doing a ton of exercise, why not commit to one Tabata Protocol a day- the research shows you will improve your fitness, improve health measures, and lose weight 🙂
How to Do it:
First choose your modality (running, biking, lifting weights, etc.)
Next, find yourself a timer, stop watch, or digital clock.
Set yourself up to perform 20 seconds of all out max activity. (This might take you a bit to figure out, most likely you are going to go too easy, and over time you will get a hang of how hard to go).
After 20 seconds take 10 seconds of complete rest.
Repeat 8 times to make up 4 minutes! You could take a rest and then do 1 or 2 more rounds of this protocol. By then you will probably be spent 🙂
Now for the honesty-
It’s hard to believe that such short exercise protocols would help you to decrease your weight so drastically compared to longer bouts of exercise. We are so conditioned to think that weight loss is equivalent to a ton of exercise each day, and this is a message I have repeated recently in my blog. It is still important to MOVE and live active as much as you can each day (hike, walk, play, dance, bike ride etc.), but we also could benefit from adding in some interval training a few days a week. The research shows that fat burning enzymes increase dramatically when doing interval training which helps your body to burn fat not only during the interval session but for the whole rest of the day (unlike continuous exercise). Physiologically it works- and I’d love to hear if it works for you when you put it into practice. I tend to shy away from intervals because they are SUPER FREAKING HARD. When I exercise I like to do things I enjoy most of the time, and working to the max is not that enjoyable. It doesn’t mean I don’t work hard- just means I sometimes shy away from the HARDEST type of workout! I am going to commit to you guys to do some more regular interval training 1-2 days a week over the next couple months and let you know how it goes. I’ve been talking about wanting to run faster and start to improve my time in triathlons, and this is the only way to do it 🙂 You give it a try to, and let me know your performance or weight loss goals.