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Interval training for beginners

Are your workouts getting boring? Tired of running up and down Lekki Bridge without any real progress? Perhaps it’s time to change things up a little with some Interval Training. Interval Training has been around for many years now. No matter what your goals are, whether to lose fat, improve your heart and lung capacity,…

Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, Lagos, Nigeria. Photo credit: Google.

Are your workouts getting boring? Tired of running up and down Lekki Bridge without any real progress? Perhaps it’s time to change things up a little with some Interval Training.

Interval Training has been around for many years now. No matter what your goals are, whether to lose fat, improve your heart and lung capacity, complete a marathon, increase your lean tissue or improve your insulin sensitivity, interval training is far superior than long steady cardio training.

In fact this type of ‘short burst’ training is so effective at improving your health I’m surprised that more people aren’t doing it!

The concept of this type of training is simple, just mix in short periods of hard exercise with periods of rest.
So, a very simple example might be:
* Run hard for 30 seconds
* Rest for 2 minutes
* Repeat 4-8 times
Often this type of training is called HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training. The reason for this title is because the periods of work or exercise needs to be demanding. How demanding you may ask? Well usually hard enough for you to reach your anaerobic zone or the zone where you no longer use oxygen to fuel your energy system.

When I talk about Long Steady Cardio I’m referring to what most of you will understand as regular cardio exercise, this is the stuff that lasts for 20 minutes or more and the intensity doesn’t really change. You will probably understand it as what most people do at the gym e.g. running on a treadmill, sitting on an exercise bike, using the elliptical, going up and down on the stepper etc.

Here are some of the advantages of keeping things short and intense rather than long and steady:

It’s quicker
Interval training is fast. Based on the example I have given above your actual time exercising hard will only last 2-4 minutes. The rest of the time you will spend warming up, resting in between intervals and then cooling down. Most steady cardio will last 20-40 minutes and you get less results for your time investment.

More fat burning
You actually burn more fat in the long term than with steady cardio. Once you stop your steady cardio then the fat burning stops but when you stop your Intervals you continue to burn fat for up to 24-48 hours depending on what research you read.

Following your hard interval workout you get what is called an EPOC effect or Excessive Post Oxygen Consumption. What EPOC basically means is that hard workouts disrupt your body’s natural homeostasis and this takes a lot of calories to repair and restore lost energy levels. So you shouldn’t just look at the impact of the exercise during the workout but the consequences of that workout afterwards.

Less cortisol production
Exercising for long periods produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol in turn raises your blood sugar levels which stimulates the production of insulin which is not ideal for improving insulin sensitivity which is a huge problem today. The release of cortisol also suppresses your immune system and leaves you more vulnerable to attack from all sorts of infections.

Cortisol also breaks down muscle tissue. This is the reason why bodybuilders do not run long distances, their muscle mass is far too important to be jeopardised by muscle eating cortisol. It is also important to note that muscle tissue requires a lot of energy to function, so the more you have the more calories your will burn at rest.

Improve heart and lung capacity
In order to improve the capacity of anything you need to push it or expand it. With interval training you increase your heart and lung capacity very quickly because the workouts, by their very nature, push your capacity. With long steady cardio you do not challenge your capacity to the same degree. In fact, after the initial shock of the first few weeks of long cardio training your capacity levels even out and very little improvement is made.

More importantly short bursts of exercise build up a reserve capacity for your heart and lungs. What this means is that you have a naturally safe buffer. If your heart rate is suddenly raised then that is OK, you can handle it. Now compare this to steady cardio. The buffer you build is not very large because you don’t push to develop it. Now what happens when your heart rate is quickly raised? Is your heart capable of handling it?

Continue to get results
Fat is vital for survival and is actually the body’s favourite source of energy. Without fat we would have never evolved to be in the place we are today. So naturally the body is very protective of its fat stores and hence why many people struggle to lose fat.

When you perform lots of long steady cardio you are telling your body that it is going to need a lot of fat for energy. As you persist with your long cardio workouts the body becomes more efficient at making fat available. Although you do burn some fat with these long workouts if you stop then you pile on the pounds quicker than you took them off. This process is totally natural and the body’s way of simply looking after its own survival.

Examples of Interval Training
OK, so now you have an understanding of the benefits of this intense training lets take a look at how it’s done. As mentioned earlier all you basically need to do is choose an activity that increases your heart rate and gets you into that Anaerobic (without oxygen) Zone. The more muscles you use during an exercise the more energy is required, so you will want to focus on big full body exercises like:

Sprinting or Running Quickly
Bike Sprints
Rower Sprints
Swimming Sprints (although be careful in deep water)
Hitting/Kicking A Punch Bag
Kettlebell Swings
Complex Barbell Circuits
Bodyweight Circuits
Dumbbell Circuits
Jump Rope or Skipping

This list could go on and on. Basically anything that gets you seriously out of breath quickly can be a method for interval training, so use your imagination.