News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 26, 2012

CHRIS DAVIES: Interval training has many advantages

Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Are you looking for a way to trim the time you spend at the gym while still getting a great workout? Interval training may be just the routine for you.

While the standard 30 minutes on the treadmill is beneficial for you, you can gain more fitness from an interval session in less time than you might think. Instead of 30 continuous minutes at four miles per hour, try increasing the grade to three to five percent for a minute or two minutes and then resume flat walking (active recovery) for another few minutes to recover. Repeat this three to five times if you are just beginning. If you have to hang on to the handles, decrease your speed a bit.

The same principle applies to running, cycling, swimming, elliptical, etc. After a good warmup, a few well-placed hard efforts, followed by equal time or distance for recovery, can pay great fitness dividends.

Using the active recovery principle can spruce up your weight training routine as well. Just think, no more sitting on equipment for a minute while recovering. Active recovery implies doing an activity while another muscle group recovers. Why not move from one exercise to the next on opposing, or other, muscle groups?

For example, if you are doing chest press for 12 repetitions, have the lat pull machine ready as your next set once you finish your chest press. Move from one exercise to the next. Your active rest, once you finish chest press, is the lat pull. In addition, all weights should be challenging. Your final repetitions in each set should be difficult if not impossible. Always maintain proper technique to minimize chances for injury and obtain the best results.

With time constraints on everyone, interval training makes complete sense. In addition, many people hit the gym and exercise at an effort that is barely giving them cardiovascular benefit. Take the person chatting on the cellphone and watching television while they are walking and holding on to the treadmill hand rails. It is likely he or she is not exercising at a hard enough intensity to benefit.  

Then there is the person who worships the calorie counter on their favorite cardio piece. They are likely being deceived as well. Most cardio pieces, especially machines that don’t require you to input your weight, are not very accurate when it comes to caloric expenditure. Entering your weight gives a more accurate calorie count, but in the end a calorie is still a calorie. The more intense you exercise, the more calories you expend, and the longer you’ll maintain an elevated metabolism post-workout.

Many studies support the fact that caloric expenditure post-exercise is higher, and remains elevated, after an intense interval session versus a steady-state workout. This means that if your workout enters un-chartered territory in terms of intensity, you’ll gain more cardiovascular benefit and burn more calories.

Intervals can be as easy or as scientific as you like. If you have access to a lab with metabolic cart, lactate analyzer, EKG machine and other gadgets, you can train very scientifically. For most keeping it simple is the best way to enjoy the experience. If you have specific goals then the training gadgets are more of a necessity.

No matter how you slice it, interval training has many advantages. Intervals give your workout a needed boost, help you burn more calories post-exercise, and will get you out of the gym much quicker.

Chris Davies owns Fitness Solutions Inc. He can be reached at