Saturday, February 11, 2012

Interval training

Are you bored with your exercise routine?
Do you feel like you are plateauing with your exercise goals?
Do you want to increase muscle and lose fat?
Do you want to achieve optimal results in a time-efficient workout?

If you answered yes to any one of these, or all of them, then Interval Training is for you.  Interval training consists of alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity.  Although you may find this to be intimidating, or think it is only used on elite athletes, you just need to be able to change speeds while doing cardio activity for it to be effective.  There is a recent trend in HIIT (high Intensity Interval Training) classes  in local gyms/Athletic Clubs.  However, in a recent article published by Micah Zuhl, MS, and Len Kravitz, PhD, HIIT has been around for many centuries.  Apparently in 1912 a Finnish Olympic distance runner by the name of Hannes Kolehmainen was was using HIIT during his training.  It's just that lately we (aka: exercise scientists) have been doing more research and are able to report the benefits.

We have been accustomed to trying to improve our cardiovascular endurance through the traditional method of continuous aerobic exercise and steady increases in training volume.  With HIIT you can accomplish the same benefits (and in some cases better improvement), just in a shorter time.  And considering the "go, go, go" mentality of most of us, this is very appealing.

Here are some advantages of performing high intensity intervals:

    * the more vigorous you exercise, the more calories you burn, even if they are short intervals.  We've all heard the phrase "boost your metabolism to lose fat", and that is exactly what you will be doing with intervals.  Interval training results in a caloric deficit anywhere from several minutes to several hours after your workout due to the elevation of your metabolic rate.  By improving your aerobic fitness, you will be able to increase the length of each interval and with more intensity.
     *by increasing the length and intensity of each interval you will build new capillaries and be better able to take in and deliver oxygen to working muscles.  
If you answered yes to the first questions at the top, then this will be a value benefit to you.
     *adding variety to your current workouts will help keep things fun and exciting.  Doing the same 30-45 min workout activity for extended periods of time will not cut it.  Your body will eventually begin to adapt, and this will NOT allow you to reach maximum results.
     *adding intervals to your routine can help prevent injuries.   Injuries can occur from repetitive endurance activities such as running and cycling.  Interval training allows you to increase your intensity without over-training or burning out.

The length of the intervals can be adjusted according to your fitness level.  As you improve your cardiovascular endurance, you will be able to (and want to) increase your length of each interval and decrease the rest intervals.  In a study (Daussin et al 2008) comparing VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption) responses between men and women during an 8-week HIIT program and continuous cardiovascular training program, VO2 max increases were higher in the HIIT program by 6% (15% compared to 9%).

It's clear that both methods of training will reap rewards, so don't just do one or the other.  For the most bang for your buck, include some continuous aerobic exercise along with some HIIT and enjoy the results.

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