All About Interval Training

Hi and welcome to my first blog post. Today I am talking about interval training and why it’s much better for fat loss than going for a long, slow run. 

Firstly lets get a few definitions out of the way. Interval training (also referred to as HIIT) consists of bouts of exercise at a high intensity mixed with bouts of a lower intensity or even complete rest. Steady state (also “cardio” or long slow distance LSD) is what it says on the tin, exercises at the same pace with very little fluctuation in speed/intensity.

For a long time it was considered that “cardio” was the mother of all exercise plans if you wanted to lose body fat. Strength training wasn’t an option, if you want to lose pounds then you had to go for a jog. However, as time has passed science has shown that steady state cardio training is not the most efficient or beneficial way to lose body fat.

The idea that a long slow jog helps to burn fat comes from the idea of heart rate training zones. I’m sure that you have seen them in gyms, the fat burning zone is 60-70% of your max heart rate. This is because your body uses carbohydrate and fat as primary fuel stores (protein can be used but this isn’t relevant at the moment). Working in the fat burning zone means that the body gets most of it’s energy from fat. When we start working at higher heart rates then the shift moves towards carbohydrates.

This is great if you have unlimited time to train and are strong enough to withstand injuries caused by constant repetition on the joints. Think about it, most of us don’t have a couple of hours everyday that we can dedicate to running. And even if we did most of us would develop sore knees, shin splints, blistered feet or hip problems from overuse.

Enter interval training. Not only can you work hard for a shorter amount of time, you are putting less stress on the joints. Think about it, you could run for an hour a day five days a week or you could do 30 minute intervals 3 days a week. Not only would get the same benefits (or better) but you would also reduce the chances of overuse injuries.

Interval training is often thought of as reserved for elite athletes. Not so. For a complete beginner to exercise intervals are ideal. Intensity is different for everyone. So, if you have never run before and are overweight then a jog might be high enough to start with. Mixed in with bouts of walking this enables the beginner to have worked their aerobic and anaerobic systems, run more than they could at a steady pace and have boosted their metabolism for the rest of the day.

There are many different protocols to be used for intervals (tabata, Little etc) where the work and recovery periods vary and can be applied to many different activities (running, cycling, rowing and even weight training). A couple of ideas to get you started:

Work 15 seconds, recovery 45 seconds – complete 6 rounds.
Work 1 minute, recovery 2 minutes – complete 4 rounds.

You can also employ Fartlek training, a type of interval. Rather than be governed by a time you can just adjust the work/rest as you see fit. For example, whilst running in a field start sprinting in a different direction until you reach a certain point. Then jog or walk a different way and repeat as and when you feel like it. Or make it harder and have a training partner shout commands during your run.

There is a lot more to interval training but I’ll save that for another day. Please feel free to comment below.