By Joli Guenther, MSSW, NASM
Want to step up your home fitness program this spring? Increase your overall workout calorie burn, challenge your fitness, increase your cardiovascular capacity and make your workouts more involved by including interval training in your weekly training program. Interval training, or simply alternating intense activity with periods of recovery, is a great way to accomplish more in a shorter period of time. Approachable for newcomers, yet effective for accomplished athletes, interval training can be customized to your fitness level and lead to big results. Here are a few tips on adapting your current routine to get started on intervals.
What is Interval Training? Interval training involves alternating periods of high intensity with periods of active recovery during your workout. Adjust the intensity by increasing your speed or the resistance of your exercise equipment. Increasing speed is a great option if you're looking to improve your performance for racing, while increasing resistance allows you to train different muscles and work your heart harder, without increasing the impact of your treadmill or elliptical workout. Over time, your performance, speed and endurance will improve – all while you experience an increase in calorie burn as your body works to adapt to the demands of this form of exercise.
How is it done? On your treadmill, you can begin interval training by simply adding in 30-second bursts of more intense effort to your workouts by walking faster or at a steeper incline. Between these efforts, return to a recovery effort for two minutes, allowing your heart rate or exertion level to return to your aerobic training level. As you get used to this approach, you can increase the duration of your intense efforts to as long as 90 seconds and decrease your recovery times to as little as 30 seconds. In a nutshell, that's all there is to it. You'll find both interval and hill settings (i.e. speed and resistance interval training) on most treadmills, ellipticals and recumbent bikes. Once you've accomplished a base level of fitness, you can use these to keep your workouts interesting.
How hard should I be working? You can judge your effort by using perceived exertion or your heart rate as indicators of your intensity. Perceived exertion assigns a number from 1-10 to your effort, with 1 being no effort and 10 being, "if I stop running, these tracker jackers will sting me into oblivion." If you normally work out at a 4, you'll want to up your effort to a 6 or 7 during your harder efforts and return to a 4 during your recovery. Using your heart rate as a guide is more exact, but requires greater effort and involvement. You can read more about heart rate interval training on this recent blog.
How often? Because interval training is an intense exercise technique, newcomers will benefit from adding intervals to their routine as little as once per week. Even experienced exercisers should not plan on interval training more than two to three times per week, allowing one day of easier activity in between training sessions for your body to recover.
Looking for more suggestions? Here are a few web resources that will get you started on designing your own interval program.
Weigh In: Are you interval training using your treadmill, elliptical or recumbent bike? What approach are you taking?