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Interval Training for Weight Loss and Fitness
By Maia Appleby
The theory behind interval training is this: By mixing bursts of high
intensity work with low intensity periods of recovery, you're
overloading both the aerobic and anaerobic systems at the same
time, getting the benefits of both aspects of training
simultaneously. You can realistically get a complete workout in
thirty minutes with interval training.
How is it done?
Start at an easy pace and gradually increase your heart rate for at
least five minutes. You can monitor this by taking your pulse for
fifteen seconds and multiplying it by four or using a heart rate
monitor (here's a cool one that also keeps track of calories!) When
you're sufficiently warmed up, you're ready for a burst of high
intensity work. If you're on a treadmill, break into a jog or a sprint,
depending on what "high intensity" means to you.
During the high intensity periods, you're decreasing your body's
ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. You begin to feel
the "burn" as your body eliminates lactic acid (a toxic by-product)
and your muscles begin to lose their ability to contract. You
wouldn't physically be able to maintain this level of intensity for
When you begin to wear your muscles out, decrease the intensity
level to something that you could maintain for a longer period.
Don't slow down so much that your pulse dips too low, though, or
you will lose the aerobic effect completely. Now, you're in the
"active recovery period". Your body's ability to exchange oxygen
and carbon dioxide increases and it can deliver nutrients to your
muscles. The burn goes away and your breathing and heart rate
slow down slightly. You have completed one cycle.
Repeat this process of maxing out and recovering your
anaerobic system for at least thirty minutes. The high intensity
periods should be shorter than the active recovery periods,
especially at first. You might walk for five minutes and then run
for one when you begin to introduce your body to this type of
training. As you become more adept, increase the time you
spend in high intensity periods. Forcing yourself to sustain
long periods of high intensity activity is dangerous, so do use
caution and work yourself up gradually.
Why is it good? Here are four big reasons:
- It saves time.
If you normally spend an hour and a half in the
gym following the traditional sequence, you'll work yourself just
as hard in 45 minutes with interval training. Finding time to
exercise is a big problem for (I dare say) most people. Here's a
- It's a great way to get beyond a plateau.
I'm by no means
claiming that interval training is better than the traditional,
tried-and-true warm-up, weight training, cool-down sequence,
but when you stop seeing improvements in your physical
condition, it's time to do something new and different. Throwing
a couple days of interval training into your exercise regimen
each week tells your body that it's time to get over the plateau
and make additional progress.
- It combats monotony.
Once a routine gets boring, you might
decide to do different weight lifting exercises or change around
your aerobic activities. You might stop using weight machines
and switch exclusively to free weights. Interval training can
help you during the transition period between one exercise
program and another. It's fun, and the time flies by during
each session, because you're working in cycles of high and
low intensity work instead of spending a long period of time
at any one activity.
- It's easy!
You can do an entire workout without moving from
one spot. You set your own rules, using your body's cues, so
you feel completely in control of the workout. There's no counting
involved and the time seems to go by much more quickly.
How can it help me lose weight?
By challenging both you aerobic and anaerobic systems
simultaneously, you're improving your body's ability to burn
calories by leaps and bounds. You're adding new muscle, which
speeds up your metabolism of fat in general. You're getting an
aerobic workout that burns lots of calories. You're pushing
yourself beyond any plateaus that you may have hit doing the
same thing over and over again. Your body is becoming a more
efficient fat-burning machine.
What activities can I use for interval training?
The possibilities are endless, but the most practical are probably
walking/running, other cardiovascular machines like stair
steppers, elliptical trainers and stationary bikes, aerobic exercise,
water exercise and things like that. You could even incorporate it
into jumping rope or a sport like racquetball. If you want to be
creative, you can really make fitness fun.
How often should I do it?
If you're a beginner, throw in one session a week, along with your
normal routine. If you're more seasoned, two or three times a
week is great. This is a demanding form of exercise, so use
common sense and listen to your body.
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assume any liability for the information contained herein.
The Information contained herein reflects only the opinion
of the author and is in no way to be considered medical advice.
Specific medical advice should be obtained from a licensed
health care practitioner. Consult your physician before you
begin any nutrition, exercise, or dietary supplement program.