Interval Training

Youniverse Contributor: Jason R. Karp, Ph.D., of run-fit.com

There has been a lot of commotion lately about interval training. Once the training secret of the world’s best runners, interval training has become the new buzz term in the fitness industry. It seems as if everyone is doing it, from competitive athletes to the grandma next door.

In the 1960s, famous Swedish physiologist Per-Olaf Åstrand discovered, using a stationary bicycle in a laboratory, what many coaches and runners already knew and had already been doing—that by breaking up a set amount of work into smaller segments, you can perform a greater volume of work at a higher intensity. Sounds obvious, but Åstrand’s simple observation is the basis for interval training and getting fit fast.

The main reason interval training works is because it’s intense, so you’re placing a large demand on your body, which forces it to adapt. Doing cardio for two hours also places a large demand on your body, but most people don’t have the time or the inclination to exercise for two hours. Interval training is a quick way to get fit, which is great news if you’re busy and don’t want to spend two hours (or even an hour) in the gym.

Interval training is also good for your health. Research has shown that interval training improves vascular health, decreases cardiovascular disease risk factors in obese individuals, increases physical and cardiac performance following coronary bypass surgery, and reverses the risk factors of metabolic syndrome, which is a collection of factors that can lead to diabetes.

Repeated high-intensity efforts in a single workout improve two major aspects of your fitness—anaerobic (exercise that doesn’t use oxygen) and aerobic fitness, giving you two bangs for your workout buck.

Interval training manipulates four variables:

1) duration of each work period

2) intensity of each work period

3) duration of each recovery interval

4) number of repetitions

With so many possible combinations of these four variables, the potential to vary workouts is nearly unlimited. Possibly the greatest use of interval training lies in its ability to improve specific aspects of your fitness level, such as cardiovascular, metabolic, muscular endurance, and muscular strength.

Interval training is tough, but it will dramatically improve your fitness. If you’re just starting to work out, spend a few weeks to a month building your stamina with steady-state cardio workouts before adding interval training to your routine. Then add an interval workout once per week to burn more calories, build more fitness and get out of the gym faster.

Here are three interval workouts to get you started. If you train smart enough, not only will you be the fittest and have the hottest body of all your friends, you may also even become fitter than an Olympian… or at least grandma next door.

Cardio Blaster

This cardio workout is one of the best workouts you can do to improve fitness. It burns lots of calories in a short time.

How to do it: Start with a 10-minute warm-up, then use the cardio machine of your choice for 3 minutes at an intensity that feels like an 8 on a scale of 1 to 10. Take 3 minutes of very easy active recovery and repeat 3 more times. Finish with a 10-minute cool-down.

Bonus benefit: This workout is like weight training for your heart—it strengthens your cardiovascular system, which improves your health.

Speedplay

There’s nothing like sprinting to get your legs, glutes and core tight and toned. Sprinting increases your muscle power, which helps you push harder in everything you do, making your other workouts feel easier so you can challenge yourself and burn even more calories.

How to do it: Start with a 10-minute warm-up, adding a few 10-second bursts at the end to prepare for the workout. Then use the cardio machine of your choice for 20 seconds at a nearly all-out effort. Take 3 minutes of very easy active recovery and repeat 5 more times. Finish with a 10-minute cool-down.

Bonus benefit: Because of its very high intensity, this workout is very short.

Cardio-Sprint Pyramid

This workout mixes cardio training with sprint training for a fun workout you’ll never forget.

How to do it: Start with a 10-minute warm-up, adding a few 10-second bursts at the end to prepare for the workout. Then use the cardio machine of your choice for 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute and 30 seconds at an effort of 8 to 10 (adjusting the effort with the duration of the segment). Follow each hard segment with a very easy active recovery interval equaling the same amount of time. Finish with a 10-minute cool-down.

Bonus benefit: This big calorie-burner workout gives you the best of both worlds—high-octane cardio and muscle-sculpting sprinting.

Sprint-Resistance Interval Workout

Rev your metabolic engine with this running and body-weight interval workout, during which you do body-weight exercises (legs, abs, arms) during the recovery intervals.

Level 1Beginner Level 2Intermediate Level 3Advanced
Sprint Run 10 secondsRest 10 seconds 30 secondsRest 20 seconds 60 secondsRest 30 seconds
Squats 5 repsRest 5 seconds 10 repsRest 5 seconds 20 repsRest 5 seconds
Crunches 5 repsRest 5 seconds 10 repsRest 5 seconds 20 repsRest 5 seconds
Push-Ups 5 repsRest 5 seconds 10 repsRest 5 seconds 20 repsRest 5 seconds
Sprint Run 10 secondsRest 10 seconds 30 secondsRest 20 seconds 60 secondsRest 30 seconds
Lunges 5 repsRest 5 seconds 10 repsRest 5 seconds 20 repsRest 5 seconds
V-Sits 5 repsRest 5 seconds 10 repsRest 5 seconds 20 repsRest 5 seconds
Overhead Press 5 repsRest 5 seconds 10 repsRest 5 seconds 20 repsRest 5 seconds
Sprint Run 10 secondsRest 10 seconds 30 secondsRest 20 seconds 60 secondsRest 30 seconds

Squats

Stand with feet shoulder-width or slightly greater than shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, bend your knees and squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Move your hips back as if you’re attempting to sit in a chair. Straighten your legs and stand up to return to the starting position, and repeat.

Crunches

Lie on your back on the ground, lift your legs, bend your knees, and cross your feet at the ankles. Place hands across chest or behind head. Contract abs, lifting shoulder blades and upper back off the ground.

Push-Ups
Kneel on the ground with hands slightly less than shoulder-width apart and palms on the ground, legs lifted off the ground, and back straight and parallel to the ground. Lower yourself down until your chest touches the ground. Push yourself back up until arms are straight, and repeat. You can modify this standard push-up position by placing knees on the ground and flexed to 90 degrees with ankles crossed.

Lunges

With hands on hips, take exaggerated steps forward, allowing both knees to bend so that the thigh of the forward leg is parallel to the floor and the knee of the rear leg touches the floor.

V-Sits

Lay on your back on the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees and hips flexed at about 45 degrees. Keep your arms to the sides with the palms of your hands on the floor. Contract your abs and curl your upper body while simultaneously bringing your knees toward your chest to create a “V” shape (your hips should be the point of the “V” as you balance on your buttocks in the “V” position).

Overhead Press

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell (or the handles of a resistance band) in each hand at shoulder-level with elbows bent and pointing down, upper part of arms parallel to the ground, and palms facing forward. Press the dumbbells (or resistance band handles) up and in together over your head until they meet. Lower the dumbbells (or resistance band handles), keeping the resistance balanced over your elbows until your elbows are just below shoulder-level.