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Take your game to the next level with short bursts of high intensity activity

Posted on June 09 2014

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about interval training lately—new research shows that short bursts of high intensity aerobic activity burns more calories and increases overall fitness faster than steady-state aerobic workouts. In fact, just 10 minutes of interval training, several times a week, can reap as many benefits to your cardiovascular system as an hour of low intensity exercise. But do you know exactly what an interval workout entails, and how to choose a routine for your fitness level?

For starters, the “interval” refers not to the segments of high intensity exercise, but to the segments of rest that fall between your aerobic bursts. That interval will be longer or shorter based on your fitness level. If you are a total beginner, you may need to literally rest during that period—stop exercising and catch your breath. More experienced athletes will do what’s known as “active rest,” where you continue to run, bike or move in some manner but at a significantly reduced pace.

Interval training is appealing because you can apply the principles across sports: Running, biking, swimming, rowing—you can do interval workouts by simply varying the intensity of your activity. The key is going hard enough during the short bursts to really work your heart and lungs. On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 1 feels super easy, like you can carry on a conversation while exercising; 10 feels so hard you can’t sustain the intensity for more than a minute), your bursts of activity should be around an 8 or 9.

Between those bursts, you’ll recover with a rest interval at an effort level around 2. Don’t try to be a hero and push the pace during the rest segments—the purpose of this workout is to store up all your energy for those all-out bursts.

If you are new to interval training or to working out, start with a ratio of 30/90: Thirty seconds of super-intense sprinting or pedaling on a bike, followed by 90 seconds of recovery (either by walking, pedaling slowly or simply pausing for the duration of rest). As your fitness improves, you’ll want to adjust your workout so that you keep pushing your body’s limits. Rather than increase the aerobic burst, reduce the rest interval from 90 to 60 seconds. Advanced athletes can try workouts with equal lengths of high intensity exercise and active rest (30 seconds all-out sprinting followed by 30 seconds of jogging).

Start by doing five reps of hard/easy, and work your way up to 10. Do these workouts a few times a week, with low intensity, steady state workouts on the days in-between. Studies show regular interval training will improve your body’s ability to transport oxygen and fuel to your muscles during exercise, and also help your muscles work more efficiently. Translation: A stronger, fitter body.

By Julia Savacool from American Athlete Magazine

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