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Making Sense of Interval Training

After taking the time to build up a base with your cardio training, start thinking about alternate cardio forms that can help you get better results for your time investment. Moderate paced, steady state cardio does have its advantages. First, it’s lower on the intensity scale, so you don’t have to worry quite as much about overtraining. Second, it’s great for beginners since you don’t have to be in incredible shape in order to complete a session. And third, it’s a type of cardio that doesn’t require carbohydrates in order to be performed; therefore it suits those on low-carb diets.

The drawbacks to this form of cardio are that you have to perform it for a much longer period of time to get good fat loss results and it won’t do all that much to help boost your metabolic rate in the long run. It’s definitely going to help beginners kick-start a fat loss program, but as you progress you’ll likely notice that your progress begins to dramatically slow.

This is a good signal that it’s then time to turn to an interval training program instead, which will help take your results to a much higher level. Let’s first look at some of the benefits of interval training.

Increased Metabolic Rate

One of the best aspects of interval training is the metabolic boost you’ll get in the hours following a session. After performing a moderate intensity workout, your metabolism will increase slightly for about an hour after the session is finished.

After an intense interval session is performed, you will find your metabolic rate increases for four to five hours after the session has been completed, helping you burn a higher amount of calories over time. Having this extra burn will significantly add up over time and could mean the difference of a couple of extra pounds of fat lost each month.

Decreased Time Commitment

The second major reason why interval training is superior to moderate forms is the reduced time commitment. While you may spend 45- to- 60 minutes performing your traditional cardio session, when you do an interval session you’re looking at 15- to- 20 minutes. This makes it much better for those who have busy schedules who don’t have time for five lengthy cardio sessions a week. Three sessions of twenty minutes is a much more tolerable and practical option for many.

Enhanced Muscle Retention

While interval training can cause you to lose muscle mass (if you do enough of it coupled with a low calorie intake), you stand a much lower chance of muscle loss when using this form of cardio over moderate-paced cardio.

Compare the way a marathon runner looks to a sprinter. The sprinter contains a much higher degree of lean muscle mass and this is due to the fact that interval training can actually cause muscle tissue to be built, while long duration cardio tends to be muscle wasting.

When the body knows it has to transport the body over such a long period of time, it’s going to do what it can to get rid of the most energy-intensive, heavy tissue, which is your muscle mass. Since your total muscle mass is one of the most important components for determining your metabolic rate, when this is lost you’re really at a disadvantage.

Lower Levels of Workout Boredom

Finally, boredom is a big factor many people deal with during those long, steady-state cardio sessions, and interval training helps to break this boredom by constantly changing your pace.

Types of Interval Training

Not all cardio training is created equally, so understanding the three main variations will be important. All forms will work quite well, so it’s important to find the one you are most comfortable with.

Short-High Intensity Sprints

The first of the variations is shorter, high-intensity sprints. These are best for those who are in very good shape and really looking to push their limits while working on their VO2 max. These will be very demanding on the body, so you want to be sure you’re providing enough time for recovery throughout the week when performing them.

The set-up for these will be sprinting at a full-out effort for fifteen to twenty seconds, followed by an active rest period (slow walk is ideal) for three times that length. Since you are working at such a max-out effort for the sprints, you are required to take a much longer recovery period in accordance with the sprint duration (a 1:3 ratio). Do not try and shorten this ratio because you will not be able to push as hard during the sprint, which is the main focus here. You are to repeat this interval set-up for a total of six to twelve times, adding in a proper warm-up and cool-down before and after.

Longer-Moderate Intensity Intervals

The second type of interval workout is a longer interval set-up. Lower the intensity so you’re working between 90 and 100 percent effort for thirty and sixty seconds. If you are going to move to the higher end of that range (sixty seconds) you will need to work at closer to 90 percent effort, slowly increasing it as you build up your fitness level. Couple these intervals with a rest period twice as long (a 1:2 ratio) and complete a total of six to ten intervals.

Some individuals who are in extremely good shape will push the ratio to a 1:1, but really watch your recovery when doing so. You don’t want to sacrifice being able to work hard in the interval because you didn’t take a long enough time to fully recover.

Increasing Pyramid Intervals

The last of the variations is pyramiding intervals, which are another very intense form that should be done by those who do have some experience with one of the interval forms above.

Start out a moderate pace and then slowly increase the intensity as you go. So, you might do 2 minutes at 7.0 mph, 1 minute 30 seconds at 7.5 mph, 1 minute at 8 mph, 30 seconds at 8.5 mph, and finish off with 15 seconds at 9 mph.

As you will be working at a much higher intensity for a longer period of time to get through all the intervals, expect to be resting between these upwards of five minutes, and only aim to complete two or three total cycles each session.

Incorporating Intervals Into Your Program

When determining how you are going to incorporate your interval training into your workout program, make sure you are not performing them before any lifting sessions as it will fatigue the muscles too much to be able to lift effectively.

Instead, perform them either after an upper body lifting session or on an entirely separate day altogether. Note that if you are going to do them on a different day, you should still make sure you have a good two- to- three days of complete rest each week, especially while dieting so you don’t become overtrained.

Choosing your interval-training program carefully will ensure you get the results you’re looking for and feel comfortable while doing it.

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