The Very Best Interval Workouts
When it comes to getting clients in shape, I tend to follow the K.I.S.S. principle. You know, keep it simple…..er, sassy? Sappy? Sorry, I just don’t want to call you stupid. But I think you get the idea: simple means that things are easy, and when things are kept stress free, clients can lose weight. I don’t usually dip into complex dietary practices and training programs until a client hits a major plateau. Until that happens, we can keep things pretty informal by following a simple interval program.
High intensity interval training is a clear standard of easy. Well, the workouts aren’t easy, but the concept is relatively simple to follow: couple a lot of work with a little bit of rest. It should basically look like this: do non-stop work for 30-60 seconds, catch a few breaths, and get back to work. At the end of the day you’ve managed to do a lot more work in 25 minutes than you would probably do in 60. That 25 minutes doesn’t seem like much, but work hard enough and you’ve forced the body into what’s called EPOC – which is the scientific explanation of an elevated metabolism 1,2, and possibly even 3 days after the exercise bout.
Manipulating your metabolism is where the magic happens. In the era of apps and software that track every calorie we burn, people are starting to realize that a calorie is not a calorie. Case in point: researchers compared two minutes of all out exercise (a test I used to administer in college called a Wingate) against 30 minutes of cycling. Metabolism was measured for 24 hours after the exercise bout. Both groups burned the same amount of calories, but here’s the kicker – the interval group burned more of their calories from fat (1). So when people are making reference to fat burning workouts, they better be referring to interval training.
We here at UEFP thought we should condense a list of different interval training workouts. Therefore whether you’re a novice or someone looking to take their training up a notch, you’ll find what you’re looking for.
1. Those New to Interval Training
If you’re new to this concept of interval training then the best place to start may actually be on the bike. While the bike may not be as glamorous as sprinting down a track, it’s a great place to start for those looking to dip their toe into the water. One research study found that subjects who completed 3 20 minute workouts per week lost 5 pounds of fat mass in 12 weeks (2). Subjects simply pedaled extremely hard for 8 seconds and rested for 12. Another interesting study compared the same protocol to doing 40 minutes of exercise. The study used obese subjects, which shows that overweight or unfit people can still safely perform interval workouts. When comparing the two groups, those who did the interval workout managed to lose 2.5% bodyfat (3). The other group? No change whatsoever.
Workout that you can use: Pedal hard for 30 seconds/Pedal light for 30 seconds. Repeat 25 times
2. Improving Health
If you’re aiming to just get healthy, then intervals can do that too. It’s been long touted that going for long and s….l….o….w walks was the way to improve heart health. Not so much nowadays. Research has shown that interval training can improve markers of health, like cholesterol. When subjects were instructed to run 800 meter intervals (running around a track twice) and resting as long as it took them to run the 800 (meaning if it took you 3 minutes to run 800 meters, you rested 3 minutes), subjects increased their good cholesterol by 18% (4).
Workout that you can use: 2 minutes of hard jog/2 minutes of walking. Repeat 8 times
3. Improving Health, part 2
Intervals can also be used to get your blood sugar under control. If you have elevated blood sugar levels, you may run into problems with insulin control, and in the long term, possibly become a diabetic. Diabetics struggle to lose weight, but even those with insulin resistance (which comes hand in hand with high blood sugar) have an uphill battle. In a study with individuals with elevated blood sugar, researchers found that a two week protocol was enough to lower resting blood sugar levels by 13% (5). To lower their blood sugar, subjects followed the following protocol:
60 seconds of work (running)/60 seconds of walking. Repeat 10 times
4. Advanced Workouts
If you’ve been training for a while (i.e doing a lot of distance running), your body may need a shock in the form of interval training. In some of these cases, these intervals may need to turn into sprint workouts. For advanced trainees, sprint training is arguably the most intense form of training you can do. Running 800 meters is more intense than a light jog, and doing repeat 50 meter sprints is certainly more intense than those 800 meter runs. Make sense?
If not, maybe some examples are needed. The most popular case is a study that is 20 years old. For this research, subjects were divided into two groups, with one group doing 10 30 second sprints (somewhere between 100 and 200 meters for your average Joe….or Jane). At the end of the study, those who had sprinted lost significantly more body fat those who did 50 minutes of slow aerobics (6).
Are 30 second sprints not hard enough of a workout for you? Then try this: researchers used sprint intervals in collegiate wrestlers to get them to improve their conditioning. Subjects performed 8 35 meter sprints. It doesn’t sound too bad, but here’s the nasty part: they only rested 10 seconds in between each interval. It was found at the end of the study that the sprint group had increases in several different markers of fitness (7).
Workouts that you can use:
30 seconds of all out running/1 minute of rest. Repeat 10 times
200 meter sprints/2 minutes of rest. Repeat 8 times
50 meter sprints. Rest 30 seconds. Repeat 20 times
If you weren’t ready to start interval training, you should be now. Regardless of which protocol you use, just remember that interval training is a very intense form of exercise. It will only work if you are able to recover from the training. So give it your all in your workouts, but make sure to eat quality proteins and get plenty of rest in between sessions.
1. Hazell, T.J., Olver, T.D., Hamilton, C.D., Lemon, P.W.R. “Two Minutes of Sprint Interval Exercise Elicits 24 Hr Oxygen Consumption Similar to That of 30 Min of Continuous Exercise.(2012) International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 22, 276-283
2. Heydari, M., Freud, J., et al. “The Effect of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise on Body Composition of Overweight Young Males.”(2012) Journal of Obesity 10.1155/2012/480467
3. Irvin, BA., Davis, CK., et al. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition.” (2008) Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.40:11,1863-1872.
4. Musa, D.I., Adeniran, S.A., Dikko, A.U., Sayers, S.P. “The Effect of a High-Intensity Interval Training Program on High-Denisty Lipoprotein Cholesterol in Young Men.”(2009) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23:2, 587-592
5. Little, J.P., Gillen, J.B., et al. “Low Volume High Intensity Interval Training Reduces Hyperglycemia and Increases Muscle Mitochondrial Capacity in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes.”(2011) Journal of Applied Physiology. 111,1554-1560.
6. Tremblay, A., Simoneau, JA., Bouchard, C. “Impact of Exercise Intensity on Body Fatness and Skeletal Muscle Metabolism.”(1994) Metabolism 7,814-818
7. Babak, F., Gharakhanlou, R., Agha-Alinejad, H., et al. “Physiological and Performance Changes From the Addition of a Sprint Interval Program to Wrestling Training.”(2011) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 25.9, 2392