…by Mary Pearsall

I have heard it again and again – “I am exercising every day for an hour and I am just not getting the weight off like I was before. What is the problem?” Well, it could be a variety of things, but invariably I find that most people are doing the same kind of exercise every day with out varying any of the components – intensity, duration or mode. One of the fastest and easiest ways to remedy this is with introducing interval training one or two times a week. It works wonders. Why?

The acceleration in intensity for brief spurts is good for your heart. The muscles of your body (biceps, triceps etc.) get stronger by stressing them with a program of resistance training. Your heart is a muscle too, and gets stronger as you stress it with short bouts of increased intensity. Your body will also burn more fat, not just during your exercise session, but also afterward – you will be a fat burning machine – and who doesn\’t want that?

Interval training uses repeated cardiovascular work intervals performed at intensities above what you consider moderate. You “push” your heart rate to where the effort feels hard, and then you “recover” at a moderate intensity. A push followed by a recovery period is called a cycle. In its most basic form, interval training might involve walking for three minutes, running for two and alternating this pattern throughout your workout.

You can incorporate this type of training into anything you are doing for exercise – biking, walking, jogging, cardio machines of any type, even dancing. It is important however, to start out gradually and work up to more intervals and more time. Measure intensity by using the rating of perceived exertion scale (RPE) – one is the easiest effort and 10 the most difficult. As your fitness level improves, you can train harder at a given RPE. Here are some examples of interval workouts:

  • Spontaneous speed play. If you are new to interval training, try this method during your workout: Speed up a little for 30 seconds; then continue the cardiovascular activity for 90 seconds at an easy effort. Do as many cycles as you desire or can handle.
  • Fitness Model. Exercise for three to five minutes at an RPE of four to six (somewhat hard to very hard), then recovering for three to five minutes at two or three RPE. Perform as many cycles as you become more experienced.
  • Challenging Fitness Model. To use this model you should be moderately to extremely fit. Exercise hard for 30 to 90 seconds; then recover for three times the length of the work interval. For example, recover for 180 seconds if you\’ve exercised hard for 60 seconds. Perform work intervals at an RPE of seven to 10 and rest intervals at two to three RPE. Repeat a number of times.
  • You can increase the intensity, interval times and number of intervals you do as you get more fit. But please be sure to train safely. Precede intervals with a warm up of at least five to 10 minutes and follow it with a cool-down of at least five minutes. Interval training should be challenging, yet enjoyable. Use common sense. If you need more time to recover after a work interval, give yourself more time! Interval train no more than two times a week. These programs are for apparently healthy adults. If you are pregnant or have special medical concerns, plan a program in conjunction with a physician and a personal trainer.