Interval training has been growing in popularity and it’s obvious why, the health benefits are significant. Whether you are trying to lose weight, build muscle, or improve cardiovascular health, interval training has a place in your exercise program. Interval training is alternating moderate to strenuous bursts of high intensity exercise, followed by periods of low intensity exercise or rest. The high intensity bursts can last anywhere from 30-seconds to 2-minutes and should raise your heart rate to 80-85% of your maximum heart rate, and then allow your heart rate to recover back down to 60%. There is varying research on how long an interval program should be, but I would shoot for anywhere from 15-30 minutes. To figure out estimations of what specific numbers you need to strive for, here are a few equations:
To figure out Resting Heart Rate (RHR), place two fingers on the carotid artery for 15 seconds and multiply by 4. Make sure it is during a restful state.
Target Heart Rate= (MHR – RHR) x Intensity (%) + RHR
Example for myself:
Maximum Heart Rate: 220-27= 193bpm
Resting Heart Rate: 56bpm
60% of MHR: (193 bpm – 56 bpm) x 0.6 + 56bpm= 132bpm
Here are 4 reasons why you should try interval training:
- You can receive twice the benefits in less time. When you compare the benefits of interval training to steady-state training, moving at the same speed for an extended period of time, interval training is far superior. You will burn more calories not only during the exercise session, but even after you have stopped and throughout the day. Research shows that only 15-minutes, 3x a week of interval training can improve cardiovascular health, exercise tolerance, insulin sensitivity, muscular resistance to fatigue and lower blood pressure. If you are crunched for time, or just don’t like doing long bouts of cardio, interval training may be a manageable alternative.
- A true heart healthy form of exercise. Even though you are doing shorter bursts of high intensity exercise, the heart rate is increasing to a much higher level than steady-state training. Though it may not be elevated for an extended period of time, the body perceives and adapts to these short bursts of increased heart rate making the heart function more efficiently.
- Lean muscle will be preserved. While working at higher intensities the body will preserve it’s lean muscle mass. With extended duration, slow speed cardio, muscle may break down in order to supply sufficient energy to complete the task. So, if preserving or increasing lean muscle mass is your goal, try interval training to keep your muscles intact! A 12-week cardiac rehab study showed that with 3-sessions a week their subjects actually increased muscular strength.
- You can design the program based on what you enjoy. There are many ways to design an effective interval training program. By utilizing a piece of cardio equipment, walking/running outdoors, using free weights, or your own body weight, you can use the same equations above to figure it out. If you are using external resistance or your body weight, complete the exercise until your heart rate elevates to the target range, and then allow it to recover back down to 60%. Repeat this for the desired duration. But, if you do choose to use resistance or body weight exercises you will not have the luxury of a heart rate monitor like on cardio equipment. You may need to purchase a heart rate monitor which could cost anywhere from $50 up. Remember, our goal is elevating and recovering the heart rate, which means you can use whatever resources you have to make this happen.
Therefore, if you are looking for a quick and effective cardiovascular workout, interval training may be for you. I would recommend adding intervals into your exercise routine at least 2 days per week. Not only will you preserve and possibly increase muscular strength, but the heart health benefits are substantial! For questions about creating your own interval training program, contact Garrett.
Garrett McLaughlin is a licensed athletic trainer and personal trainer in Nashville, TN. He thoroughly enjoys helping people make improvements within their lives. Aside from one-on-one personal training, Garrett is a certified active release techniques provider. ART is a soft-tissue manual therapy technique to quickly and safely restore the natural function of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and fascia. Contact Garrett for more information.