Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about interval workouts and metabolic training. But what exactly is interval training? Are these workouts a suitable replacement for steady-state cardiovascular activity? Can and should they be used to train for endurance events? What are the benefits and when should interval training be used?
Interval training is performed by alternating periods of high and low intensity exercise. It typically involves short periods of high intensity exercise alternated with longer periods of low intensity work. Interval training can be done with just about any form of cardiovascular exercise, and there are several benefits to exercising in this manner.
Benefits of Interval Training
- Increased calorie burn. Interval training burns more calories per workout when compared to steady-state cardio. Additionally, many studies have shown that intervals burn more calories throughout the day – hours after the interval workout is complete.
- More work accomplished. By incorporating lower intensity periods throughout the workout, intervals allow you to exercise at higher intensities and for longer periods of time, thus allowing you to do more work. The lower intensity periods provide rest and recovery needed for subsequent high intensity periods that occur seconds or minutes later.
- High intensity training. Intervals allow you to push your body to limits that would normally be unsustainable for long periods of time. The benefit here is that the heart, like any other muscle being pushed to its limits, works harder and your body becomes accustomed to performing while fatigued.
- Shorter workouts. If you have a limited amount of time (like most of us), interval training allows you to accomplish a very quick workout in just a matter of minutes. Because your workout intensity is greater you can effectively get the same benefits of a 60 minute run (calorie burn, heart health, etc.) from a 20 minute interval session.
- Can be easier on joints. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, interval training can be easier on the joints than steady-state cardio. The shorter workouts mean joints endure less repetitive pounding, thereby prolonging joint health in many cases.
Conversely, steady-state cardiovascular activity offers benefits as well. Workouts are less intense and many consider low-intensity aerobic activity relaxing. There are benefits to both types of exercise and there are times when each is appropriate.
When interval training is appropriate (and when it isn’t).
Like most exercise modes, the type of exercise you do depends on your current fitness level and your goals. If you’re looking for the greatest amount of calorie burn, intervals are a better choice. Intervals also provide quality workouts in a short amount of time for those who have busy schedules. For some older individuals and those with previous injuries who may not be able to perform highly intense workouts, even for short periods of time, low intensity steady state aerobic exercise is more appropriate. Additionally, intervals are not appropriate for those who are just beginning or are new to exercise.
Both interval training and low intensity cardiovascular activity have their places in a general exercise program. It’s good to push your limits from time to time, but also remember to slow down a bit and enjoy the act of exercising itself.About the Author: Coach T. is an ACE Certified Health Coach and an NSCA Certified Personal Trainer. Follow Coach T. and TD Fitness on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.