Interval Training 101

December 21, 2015

Do you want a time efficient way to exercise? Do you want to lose weight or just improve your stamina and endurance? Are you bored with long, steady-paced cardio workouts? Look no further because interval training is where it’s at!

What is interval training? 

Interval training describes a system of exercise where periods of high intensity work are interspersed with periods of low intensity active recovery, for example sprinting for 30 seconds and then walking for 90 seconds. These intermittent rests allow you exercise at a much high level of intensity than you would otherwise be able to if you worked out continuously.

Commonly thought of as a tool only to be used by athletes to improve their running performance, interval training can actually be used by pretty much anyone. The work to rest periods will vary depending on your fitness levels but even the most unfit beginner can use a form of interval training, even if it is only alternating between walking and jogging.

The fat burning myth

There is a common myth that exists in many gyms up and down the country that to burn fat you must work out for 30 minutes at around 60-70% of your maximum heart rate. While you do burn fat like this, it is not the most effective or efficient way to exercise for fat loss.

The thing is, while you will burn mostly fat working at low levels of intensity for extended periods of time, you won’t actually burn very much. Once you stop exercising, you will stop burning fat. Interval training however raises your metabolism for hours after your workout has finished which means that you will burn fat at an accelerated rate for 24 hours or more after your workout!

Interval training benefits

Interval training offers a wide number of benefits to regular users including the following:

  • Interval training is time efficient. You can work much harder for a shorter period of time because of the periods of rest and recovery.
  • It allows for faster ‘adaptation’ to stressors. For example lactic acid tolerance will improve, allowing for improved and prolonged performance.
  • Interval training significantly improves cardiovascular fitness.
  • It will increase speed and fatigue resistance for endurance athletes.
  • Interval training is appropriate for all levels if adapted correctly.
  • This form of training burns more calories – not necessarily while you work out but in the hours afterwards.

The science bit…

Interval training works both the aerobic and the anaerobic energy systems. During the periods of high intensity exercise you will be using your anaerobic system (without oxygen). This system will use the energy stored in your muscles (glycogen – from carbohydrates) to fuel your workout.  Lactic acid will build up in your muscles and you create up what is known as an ‘oxygen debt’.

During the recovery period your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs) will now be working aerobically (with oxygen) to repay this debt (EPOC or Excessive Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) and clear the lactic acid from your system.

As a consequence, your metabolic rate will be raised as your body works to return to its normal balance, called homeostasis. During this time you will continue to burn calories at an accelerated rate for up to 24 hours or more after your training is completed.

Because your metabolic rate is elevated, specifically aerobic respiration, your body will burn extra fat while you rest and recover from your interval workout. It’s like getting two workouts for the price of one!

Who can do interval training? 

Pretty much anyone can train this way in some shape or form. Remember interval training involves alternating periods of higher intensity work with periods of lower intensity recovery. For example new exercisers may walk briskly and then slow it down. For those new to running, try jogging alternated with walking. Highly conditioned individuals will sprint then run to recover. Interval training is not just for treadmills and can be performed using a wide variety of CV equipment as well as out of doors.

How long should each session last?

This very much depends on the individual, how conditioned you are and your ultimate goal but 20 -30 minutes excluding warm up and cool down is a good time for most exercisers. Work hard enough and you will not be able to work out for much longer.

As with any type of exercise please make sure that you warm up thoroughly first. Ensure your warm up is appropriate to the exercise you are about to perform and includes a pulse raiser, mobility and dynamic stretches. Once your period of training is over, cool down and stretch once again.

Try interval training as an alternative to your normal slower paced cardio – it’s one of the most effective and efficient ways to get in and stay in shape!

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