Interval training is one of the most effective and time-efficient methods of exercise and, contrary to popular belief, it can be suitable for everyone.
Professional athletes include regular, high intensity interval sessions in their training regime to improve their speed and endurance but new research shows that even the most deconditioned individuals can benefit from this form of exercise.
Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario in Canada carried out the study with both sedentary, middle-aged volunteers as well as older people with cardiovascular disease. The programme involved cycling at about 90 per cent of the person's maximum heart rate for one minute, followed by one minute of easy recovery. The cycle was repeated 10 times. After several weeks, both the unfit volunteeers and cardiac patients showed "significant improvements" in their health and fitness.
If you're pressed for time, want to break through a plateau or just want to add variety to your exercise routine, intervals could be the answer.
What is interval training?
Interval training alternates periods of high and low intensity work. This form of training provides an intense workout in a shorter period of time.
Intervals can be organised according to time eg running for one minute, followed by one minute’s walking but may also take the form of fartlek. This type of training takes its name from the Swedish word for speedplay. The length of the intervals is not fixed but depends on how the participant is feeling at the time. For example, you may vary the intensity of your running session by running up a hill or by sprinting to a landmark.
Circuit training, where the participant performs different cardio exercises at a number of stations, also provides an interval workout.
What are the benefits of interval training?
Interval training can dramatically increase aerobic strength and stamina. The high demands placed on the heart on lungs force them to become fitter.
Interval training also boosts anaerobic fitness. In other words, the body becomes more tolerant to lactic acid which builds up in the muscles during exercise and causes a burning sensation.
Numerous studies have shown that interval training not only burns more calories than lower intensity exercise but also improves the body’s ability to burn fat.
Interval training can also boost the metabolic rate for up to 18 hours. This afterburn effect, known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), occurs as the body repairs itself and is fuelled predominantly by fat.
Is interval training suitable for everyone?
If you're new to exercise or have a medical condition you should obtain clearance from your doctor before exercisig. However, interval training can be a useful tool for beginners. If, for example, you are starting a running programme, you may not be able to sustain a constant jogging pace. By interspersing intervals of running with walking, your body will adapt and you will soon find you can run for longer periods.
Intense, fat-burning interval training, however, should only be attempted when you have built a base level of fitness. This reduces the risk of injury.
Interval training can be adapted to any activity. Cycling and running for example, lend themselves to sprints and hill climbs. A cardio circuit will also achieve an interval training effect.
Interval training guidelines
- Because interval training is high intensity, it places large demands on the body. Always ensure you warm up thoroughly in order to avoid injuries.
Although you should be working at a high intensity, remember that you will be performing several intervals. Ensure your pace is challenging but not so tough you collapse after the first couple of intervals.
Increase the difficulty of your training as you progress. You can do this in several ways: increase the number of intervals, increase the length of intervals, decrease the rest period.
- Ideally, your exercise routine should both steady state and interval training.