How do I do…interval training?
What is it?
Chances are you’re familiar with the term already, but are you using interval training in your exercise regime? It could be the key to improving your fitness, whatever your current level.
‘Interval training is simply a combination of higher intensity efforts – that is, going faster or with more resistance – followed by a lower intensity effort for a set period of time,’ says Richard Phillips, a personal trainer at Embody Fitness gym (www.embodyfitness.co.uk). It works with any cardiovascular activity and you can vary the length of the work and rest periods, as well as the resistance (eg running uphill).
Why do it?
You’ll see results faster than exercising at a regular pace. ‘An intense burst of exercise requires your body to shift energy systems from aerobic, which uses oxygen to give you energy, to anaerobic, which uses energy from the carbohydrate stores in your muscles,’ says Phillips. ‘Anaerobic exercise has been shown to burn a greater percentage of fat than traditional aerobic exercise as well as being more beneficial for building muscle and speeding up your metabolism.’
A study from Aberdeen University found that doing two-and-a-half minutes of exercise could be just as good as a 90-minute run. US research found only two weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) improves your aerobic capacity as much as six-to-eight weeks of exercising at a more steady pace.
How do I begin?
‘Make a plan and set strict goals, aiming for small improvements each session,’ says Phillips. For example, if you want to improve at running, start by brisk walking for five minutes, breaking into a slow jog for one minute, then repeat. Still able to carry on a conversation? You need to switch it up a gear. If you already run, make the high-intensity period a sprint. Do as often as is comfortable within a 20-minute time frame. ‘As your fitness improves, increase jogging time and speed,’ says Phillips. ‘After six-to-eight weeks you’ll be amazed how much your fitness and body fat levels improve.’
- It’s all in the timing. Your intense interval should be a maximum of two minutes, but it should last at least 10 seconds – the shorter your intervals, the more sets you’ll need to do.
- Recovery is key. You won’t be able to train as hard if you don’t fully recover before each intense interval. This should be anything from a 1:2 interval-to-rest ratio (eg a fast 60-second activity followed by easy two-minute recovery periods), and up to a 1:4 interval-to-rest ratio.
- Mix up your training. ‘Seasoned exercisers should combine different forms of exercise in a session, such as the bike and rowing machine in the gym,’ says Phillips. ‘Try one minute of resistance work on the bike then a two-minute recovery. Do this for 30 minutes. Follow with a 60-second maximum effort on the rowing machine with a one-minute recovery for 10-12 minutes total so your metabolism turns into a fat-burning furnace.’ Sign us up.