Sprint Your Way to a Healthy Heart

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You know you need a healthy heart. It’s just the way most people go about it isn’t very exciting. You know the drill – cut out saturated fat and spend hours plodding away on the treadmill. Big yawn, am I right? While I’d love to attack that saturated fat issue, for now, I’ll help cure your exercise boredom. As a personal trainer, I use to pull my hair out at the notion that people thought they had to jog on a treadmill like a hamster stuck in a wheel.

There are better ways to get a strong ticker. It appears that the medical community is finally catching up to the strength training world. For years, doctors told patients to dedicate hours to walking and jogging long distances in an effort to get “healthy.” But If you hate long distance running, you’re in luck: science tells us that you can sprint your way to a healthy heart.

Enter the case for high intensity interval training. Interval training offers a sense of hope to those who fear being chained to a treadmill for hours on end. In the case of intervals, you simply alternate a period of hard work with recovery. The idea being that you can work at a higher level of intensity with interval training, thus challenging your body to strengthen it’s cardiovascular system. You’ll also burn a ton of fat in the process. It’s been my go to form of training with all my clients and it’s led to tremendous levels of success. Intervals can be anywhere from jogging all out for a few minutes, to sprinting for several seconds.

However, some people still think that this form of exercise won’t lead to health benefits. Nothing could be further from the truth. When subjects performed intervals at 90% of their peak intensity, they had beneficial effects to their HDL cholesterol- commonly known as the “good” form of cholesterol (1). In this case, subjects used a 1:2 work rest ratio. This means that if you ran non-stop for two minutes, you rested for four. Which, as you can see, is far different from running non-stop for 60 minutes. In a similar study, when subjects performed 4 minute long intervals 3 times a week, they had a 28% decrease in their LDL cholesterol (2). Upping your good cholesterol while lowering the bad form is a great victory in the war on heart disease.

Of course, intervals can be used to trim your waistline too. My client’s spend anywhere from 60 to 80% of their training doing some form of intervals, and for good reason: it works. One study showed that doing just four all out sprints for 30 seconds caused more fat to be burned in a 24 hour period when compared to traditional types of exercise (3).

If you haven’t done this form of training before, you certainly don’t want to just jump into the deep end. Here’s the basic guidelines on how to get into intervals and what to do when you get there:

  1. You should do about 8 weeks of aerobic training prior to. As a guideline, be able to run non-stop for at least 20 minutes.
  2. You need a base level of strength too. In this case, be able to squat your bodyweight before doing intervals.
  3. Workouts should be at least 15 minutes long. There’s no need to go longer than 30 minutes.
  4. Start the intervals around 2 minutes long. As you get better, you can up the intensity of the workouts to where you’re doing 100 to 200 meter sprints.

Still want to do that boring treadmill jogging? Sprint your way to a healthy heart and you’ll never look back.

1. 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.: 587-592

2. Tsekouras, Y.E., Magkos, F., Kellas, Y., et al. “High Intensity Interval Aerobic Training Reduces Hepatic Very Low Density Lipoprotein-Triglyceride Secretion Rate In Men.” (2008)American Journal of Physiolgy – Endocrinology and Metabolism. (295): 851-858

3. Whyte, L.J., Jason, M.R., Cathcart, A.J. “Effect of 2 Weeks of Sprint Interval Training on Health Related Outcomes in Sedentary Overweight/Obese Men.”(2010) Metabolism 59 1421-1428

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