Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Friday, February 26, 2010

Interval Training: Super short workouts- better results

Interval Training Can Cut Exercise Hours Sharply -ABC News Story

Everyone is talking about the latest research on this apparently new way to exercise:  Short bursts of intensive exercise lasting mere seconds or minutes interspersed with short rest periods.  Some are selling the idea that since exercise sucks anyway and no one has time for it, might as well make it suck a little bit more by making it even harder but get it over with sooner.

I'm all for saving time, but not at the expense of making exercise out to be a villain.  Do we really want to promote the idea; the less exercise the better?  How about we get into the idea that exercise can be a lifesaver, can make you smarter, stronger, faster.. Those are good things aren't they?

Regular exercise is a good thing.  Something to like, not to shove aside or marginalise at the first opportunity.  Intervals can definitely nock a lot of time off common steady state plodding along cardio though..

All in all your workout, though quite intense, is completed in as little as 4 minutes, but you get the same results, or better than what you would get from traditional exercise that takes hours.

Is it true?

Well, yes and no.  The no part is; people are not getting fantastically fit with 4 minutes of exercise a day- that is an extreme exaggeration. There may be 4 minutes of intense intervals within a workout that has a warm up and cool down, but the workout is not merely 4 minutes in length.  The no part is; people are not becoming star athlete's within a few months of training, it still takes years to build athleticism, but athletes who know how to use modern training are getting better results with as little as one half the volume of training that has been done traditionally.

And no, you can't survive on intense intervals alone.  There are exercises to correct poor posture, to correct strength imbalances, to build your base.  What about going for a hike up a mountain or in your favorite park?  Does this need to be converted to interval training?  Golf?  Lawn bowling?

Interval training should be part of our regular exercise, but we still want to enjoy our fitness through outdoor activities, sports, or just taking the dog for a walk.

Yes interval training, which has been used for at least 2000 years*, has been proven through traditional trial and error as well as modern research to be the most effective means of developing peak performance.

But what about a sedentary person or someone who hasn’t done all preparation work of trained athletes.. can you benefit from intervals if you’re not a highly conditioned athlete?

Yes, so long as your intervals are matched to your current level of conditioning.  So the blow your brains out, sweat dripping, heart pounding, muscles burning, face grimacing intensity is NOT what is being researched when cardiac patients are doing mild intervals under a doctors supervision, and no one in their right mind is recommending intensive intervals for the unprepared.

The message is you don't need to be on the Olympic team to benefit from intervals- simply match the intervals to your current ability.

No qualified coach is going to push an unconditioned person to max intensity because that person is likely to get injured or at least overworked.

We don’t actually need much intensity to cause our bodies to improve from exercise, but we do need maximal intensity if we want maximal performance.

So what do athlete's do?  Intervals for sure.  All intervals all the time?  Not the smart ones.  Intervals are part of any athletes program and should be part of everyones exercise plan, and the intensity of the intervals need to be matched to current fitness level.

Don’t get too excited about claims of 5, 10, 20, 50% improvements from intervals as these same improvements occur without intervals.  That means the same results without feeling like your lungs are about to burst from your chest, and you wont feel like you were hit by a bus afterwards.  It will take you longer to get results though.  So if you can't get passed the idea of working to the extreme, there is no need to worry; you will get great results from easy to moderate exercise.  Just remember to gradually increase your pace or lift a heavier weight as you get more fit. The results you won’t replicate with easy to moderate exercise is high performance gains- you must train hard to achieve high performance, and you must be physically prepared to train hard otherwise injury and overtraining will result.

What do I do?

Only a small percentage of my total exercise time is spent doing intense intervals.  But when I do go hard I go very, very hard, and when needed absolute 100% all out. I spend more time warming up and cooling down than I do in the actual interval part of the workout.  I don't do many long endurance workouts anymore even though I compete in an endurance sport.  Intervals have provided so much benefit that I don't need as many or as lengthy endurance workouts, yet I can still compete in an 8 hour endurance mountain bike event, significantly longer than a standard marathon.

I personally love interval training. No workout satisfies me more than than the ones where I give it my all.  That being said, I also love the feeling I get when get to the top of a mountain faster than ever before- but that hill climb might take the better part of an hour or more of mostly steady pace- no intervals.

I like finishing 100 kilometre rides in record time- no intervals there either. But the intervlas I do in training make me faster for those longer efforts.  The intervals are a tool to improve your performance elsewhere.

In the past I have made the rookie mistake of letting the satisfaction of hard training get to my head and pushed my body too hard too often.  Eventually I developed pains that would not go away and kept me from training hard.  My performance although accelerated quickly by hard training started to be unpredictable.. good days.. bad days.. more colds.. poor sleep quality.  I had pushed my body into overtraining.  Fortunately I was able to wise up and take the advice of my sports medicine doctor, massage therapist, physiotherapist, and chiropractor: Back off the intensity!

Too much interval training is dumb.  The right amount of interval training at the right time is smart.

I had to learn how to appreciate base conditioning and easy days.  Ultimately my own performance and that of athletes I train is far better when exercise intensity is appropriate for the level of conditioning of the person, and has the right amount of easy recovery days when needed.

I teach my athletes how to train hard for the purpose of increasing performance rather than going hard just to go hard.

Go easy to start, add intensity as you get more fit, then hammer hard in measured doses to get high performance benefits.

Interval training can be done when you’re not an athlete, and I say should be done by everyone who has the ability to do so without risk to health or limb..  But there are no miracles here and you still need physical activity daily to maximize health.

*Intervals 2000 years ago?  No way!

I really do roll my eyes back every time I hear someone mention interval training in the context of being "new".  A fellow named Philostratus wrote in a book called "Gymnasticus" (about 230 BC) about how ancient Greek athletes trained.  He wrote of a system called "Tetra" or "Tetrad": a systematic weekly training plan that included short intense intervals, but also recovery days, moderate days, and maximal days without shorter intervals.

Modern research shows us how intervals stimulate our bodies to respond so we understand intervals better now, but intervals are not new...

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