Less time in the gym doesn't mean you have to sacrifice fitness if you know this secret: Interval training. Research shows that interval training—workouts in which you alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods—increases fitness and burns more calories over a short period of time than steady-state cardio (you know: just doing the same thing for your whole workout time).
So how do you get the most out of interval training, and how long should each push and recovery be? One of the many great things about intervals is that there's no single hard-and-fast rule. Different lengths of work and recovery bring different benefits—and they're all good.
You don't have to be involved in sports to interval train. Interval training offers many benefits to your health like improving cardiovascular fitness, increasing speed and burning more calories. Interval training is dynamic because it can be used in many types of activities and in many environments. You can use interval training in swimming, walking, running and in weight training and you can do it at home or at the gym.
What can interval training do for me?Whether you're a novice exerciser or you've been exercising for years, interval training can help you jazz up your workout routine. Consider the benefits:
- You'll burn more calories. The more vigorously you exercise, the more calories you'll burn — even if you increase intensity for just a few minutes at a time.
- You'll improve your aerobic capacity. As your cardiovascular fitness improves, you'll be able to exercise longer or with more intensity. Imagine finishing your 60-minute walk in 45 minutes — or the additional calories you'll burn by keeping up the pace for the full 60 minutes.
- You'll keep boredom at bay. Turning up your intensity in short intervals can add variety to your exercise routine.
- You don't need special equipment. You can simply modify your current routine.
How will my muscles respond to interval training?During intense exercise, muscles produce waste products that can contribute to muscle soreness. Too many accumulated waste products can make exercise painful and exhausting. But by alternating bursts of intense exercise with easier intervals, you'll help reduce the buildup of waste products in your muscles. The result is more comfortable exercise.
Are the principles of interval training the same for everyone?Yes — but you can take interval training to many levels. If you simply want to vary your exercise routine, you can determine the length and speed of each high-intensity interval based on how you feel that day.
After warming up, you might increase the intensity for 30 seconds and then resume your normal pace. The next burst of more intense activity may last two to three minutes. How much you pick up the pace, how often and for how long is up to you.
If you're working toward a specific fitness goal, you may want to take a more scientific approach. A personal trainer or other expert can help you time the intensity and duration of your intervals — which may include movement patterns similar to those you'll use during your sport or activity — based on your target heart rate, the ability of your heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to your muscles (peak oxygen intake), and other factors.