No doubt you will have heard about interval training. There’s also quite a strong possibility that you haven’t yet tried it out. Horrible nightmare images of you sprinting every 30 second, gasping for breath? Visions of yourself pedalling on level 20 of your bike, legs burning and feeling like they’re probably going to drop off? Most people I speak to about interval training are put off because they think it involves sprinting like a madman, and they just don’t think they’re capable of holding out at that level of intensity, even for 30 seconds. This is a common misconception, so I’m going to give you the lowdown on what exactly interval training is, why you should do it, and how you can incorporate it into your routine. A bit like MythBusters on Discovery (best programme ever).
What is interval training?
Interval training is the concept of increasing the intensity of your exercise for a short period of time (an interval) and then decreasing it for another period of time (a recovery interval) and repeating this. Commonly, an interval would be about 30 seconds, and then a recovery interval between 60 and 90, depending on your fitness levels. The brilliant thing about this is that the increased intensity is not specified, but dependent wholly on your own fitness levels – whatever is hard work for you is enough. Just starting out running? A cheeky jog for 30 seconds followed by a 60 second brisk walk is interval training. Aiming for a sub-3 hour marathon finish? Bursts of sprinting will increase cardiovascular fitness and increase your speed, making it much more likely you’ll achieve a new PB.
Why use interval training?
A study by Jason Talanian at the University of Guelph concluded that interval training burned 36% more fat than training at a steady rate, which means that if you’re looking for fat loss then it’s the best choice you can make.
The study also concluded that interval training can increase cardiovascular fitness by up to 13%, so if you’re looking to increase speed or endurance it will really boost your efforts for that new PB.
The increased rate at which interval training works means that your efforts will reap rewards in a shorter amount of time, so it’s perfect for busy women who don’t want to spend hours slaving in the gym.
It’s structured, and so can give purpose to your training. Many women lose focus because they don’t have a goal or an aim; they just go out and run around or sit on a bike. Telling yourself that you have 30 seconds fast followed by 60 seconds gentle x 20 will motivate you and encourage you to train more often.
How do I use interval training?
Beginners: Intervals can be used in any exercise. Although they are most frequently used in running, they’re also great on a bike, a cross trainer or a rowing machine. I will, however, use running as an example as it’s the easiest to visualise, but the basics are the same. How you plan your intervals are wholly dependent on you; think of a pace you feel comfortable at – if you’re very new to running, this may be simply a brisk walk. Then think of a pace which pushes you – if you’re a walking kind of girl, this is likely to be a light jog. Your routine may look something like this;
Walk – 2 minutes (Warm Up)
Jog – 30 seconds
Walk – 60 seconds
Repeat x 10
Walk – 2 minutes (Cool Down)
Eventually, the jogging will become easier, and you can start decreasing the time spent walking until you’re jogging continuously! Then, repeat the programme with a speedier jog as an interval. Easy!
Intermediate: You can run, and you may even have entered a few 5k or 10k races, but you’re looking to improve your speed or maybe tackle a longer race such as a 10K (if you’re a 5k-er!) or maybe even a half marathon. Here the principle is the same, but you’re looking for a much more dramatic interval – this is what I did a few months back and I’ve taken a minute off my average mile time! Warm up for 2 minutes, and then really push yourself for 30 – you’re looking for the point where you can keep up, but it’s really hard work (for me this was a 6 minute mile pace). Your rest interval should then be 60 seconds just under your normal steady pace (for me this was a 9 minute mile pace). Decrease the rest intervals down to 30 seconds to make this harder.
Advanced: Obviously the principle remains the same, but there’s a type of interval training that’s reserved for the super fit, and it’s called Tabata. Tabata training is a brutal 4 minutes (yes, just 4!) of intense intervals that will push you to your limits. The study, conducted in Japan, showed that this intense workout can increase V02 max capacity by 14% (how quickly you take in oxygen) and anaerobic capacity (the functioning of your heart and lungs) by a huge 28% in just six weeks. That’s huge! Again, it’s applicable to any exercise, including both cardio and weight lighting.
A Tabata session is just 4 minutes long, and consists of 8 rounds of hugely contrasting intervals. The idea is to push yourself to maximum physical capacity for 20 seconds, and then all but stop for 10, and then repeat it 7 more times. In running terms, this is a 20 second sprint, followed by a 10 second walk, x7. Sound easy? It’s really not! But, the rewards are huge. If you’re serious about attaining a new PB, or alternatively are just up for the challenge, give Tabata a go.
I’ve got a 9 mile run scheduled for today as part of my half marathon training, but might give Tabata a go on a easier day next week – if I do, I will report back!