First thing first: Intervals are for everyone. You do not need to be a professional athlete or run a sub-40 minute 10K to incorporate a 20 minute HIIT session into your weekly workout plan. Not only has HIIT/sprint training been scientifically proven to enhance performance, it will boost fat loss as well as save you a load of time. Here, I will go into the details of what interval training is, its amazing benefits, and how to plan your next session.
What is interval training?
Interval training is simply alternating periods of intense exercise with a less-intense recovery period. The length of the intervals, speed, length of the recovery and number of intervals will all depend on the individual; your fitness levels and your performance goals. An example sprint-interval training (SIT) session may look something like this:
1 minute @ 85% effort
1 minute active recovery
Repeat the above 8 times through
Interval training is not limited to running. Virtually any exercise or group of exercises can be used for a high-intensity interval (HIIT) session. An example HIIT session may look something like this:
3 x 30 seconds of burpees, 30 seconds rest
3 x 30 seconds of mountain climbers, 30 seconds rest
3 x 30 seconds squat jumps, 30 seconds rest
3 x 30 seconds lunges, 30 seconds rest
Rest an additional minute between each round
The focus should be on the intensity of the workout. SIT/HIIT is not meant to be easy, and you should be pushing your body beyond your comfort zone in each and every interval; to the point that you are continually checking your watch and counting down the seconds until your next rest period. Having said this, it is also important to start out with an intensity you can maintain throughout the workout. There’s not point at running your first interval at 20kph, if by interval 10 you’re hanging onto the handlebars with your dear life, and are about to end up half-way across the gym floor.
Why should I incorporate intervals into my workout regime?
The benefits of interval training are endless.
- Time saving. Imagine if I told you you could spend less time in the gym, and you still get the same results. Well… interval training does exactly that. Just imagine trying to run flat-out for 6 minutes. You can probably last just 2 or 3 before collapsing. Instead, imagine breaking it up into 6 x 1 minute high-intensity intervals, with 30 seconds between each. Not only does it seem a lot more achievable, you will in fact be running for a longer-period of time, covering a greater distance and burning more calories. To burn the same amount of calories you would in the above workout, you would need to do a slow, sustainable jog for 1.5-2x as long. 9 minutes of exercise, or almost 20? I know which one I would choose.
- More calories burnt. No, I don’t just mean while you working out. Intervals do this wonderful, miraculous thing where you actually continue burning calories well after you finish working out. What does this mean? Greater weight/fat loss. But how?! By undergoing short, sharp bursts of high-intensity exercise, muscles undergo a greater pressure than if you were to perform low-intensity exercises such as walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Your muscles need to recover post-workout, which requires energy, i.e. calories. As a result, your body may continue burning calories for hours after you walk out of the gym. Post-workout pizza, anyone?
- Improved performance. In running terms, this means you will be able to run faster and for longer. Intervals have multiple physiological benefits including: lowering resting heart rate (HR), shortening recovery periods (the time it takes for your HR to fall back to its resting rate), and increasing VO2 max. I won’t delve into all the science here, but trust me on this one. Since switching from multiple-times-per-week steady 6-milers to more interval-focused running, I’ve achieved PBs in my 10K and half marathon times. No coincidence, if you ask me.
How to plan an interval training session.
Intervals are easily adaptive to experience level. If you are just starting out, reduce the high-intensity period, increase the low-intensity period and aim for a lower number of overall intervals. I good ratio to start with is 1:2 (high intensity:low intensity). For example, a first-timer may try something like this:
30 seconds run
1 minute walk
Repeat the above 5 times
As you become more experienced, you can either:
- Increase the high-intensity period
- Decrease the low-intensity period
- Increase the number of intervals
- Increase the intensity (speed or incline)
An experienced runners’ SIT session (training for an endurance event) may look like this:
8 minutes run on varied terrain
90 seconds recovery
Repeat 4 times
A couple of important rules:
- Do not stop. “Recovery” means be active at a lower-intensity. It does not mean do the treadmill splits and almost break your neck as you attempt to jump back on again. Even if you end up walking, just keep moving.
- Warm up. Given the strain put on your muscles during interval training, it is extremely important to make sure you a sufficiently warm before starting to avoid injury. Spend 5-10 minutes on a treadmill, either walking at incline or a slow jog, as well as stretching out the main muscle groups. Then you should be good to go.
Finally, you may be wondering how to adapt your session when training for a specific race. The longer the run, the longer your intervals should be. For example, for a 5K race, you should be looking at 2-3 minute intervals, whereas for a marathon, you will want longer intervals (8-10 minutes for example). Obviously as the length of the interval increases, you will be decreasing your speed. However, always focus on being at around 85% of your max effort for the entirety of the high-intensity period.
For more HIIT/SIT workout ideas, head to my Instagram (@mybusinessbody).