It's no surprise that long distance cardio is one of the most popular exercises in the world. It's inexpensive, can be done anywhere, anytime, and it's require little to no expertise to get started. And for most, long distance cardio is a great place to begin their journey to health. But, what if just the thought of running for more than 5 minutes makes you sick? What if you're built like Gimli the dwarf? Short stumpy legs full of power with surprising speed across short distances.
So if you hate traditional cardio, are built like a tank, or just want to switch things up, this post is for you. What if you just ran really fast for about half the time, then went home? Well, you can do that. It's called interval training. And about 20 intense minutes of interval training 2-3 times per week is an adequate replacement or supplement to traditional cardio. I've turned hardcore cardio haters into lukewarm cardio lovers with interval training. And if it sounds like something that would appeal to you, I urge you to keep reading.
How Does It Work?
Interval training means you are working on time intervals. You get to mix and match however you want. You pick a work interval (and since we're working fast, it needs to be at a higher intensity), then you pick a rest interval (and the rest should be somewhat active). For example, interval running could be 30 seconds of fast running followed by 60 seconds of fast walking. Alternate that for 20 minutes, and BOOM you're done!! You can pick any time interval you want (60/60, 30/30, 30/90), and you can pick any exercise you want (swimming, walking, cycling, whatever).
Interval training boosts metabolic rate similar to weight training.
More effective at improving one's cardiovascular function than traditional long distance cardio.
Your better option when it comes to fat loss compared to traditional cardio.
When it comes to psychological benefits, interval training is actually easier to adhere to than traditional cardio. You wouldn't think that people would enjoy interval training since the work is at a higher intensity than moderate cardio. But having the upcoming low intensity rest after each interval allows folks to enjoy the intense portions even more. Kind of like looking forward to the promise of a nap later on during a very intense work day.
Remember interval training is considered vigorous exercise. If you are not cleared for intense/vigorous training, then you shouldn't participate. But you can participate in more moderate forms of interval training. That's the beauty of it. You can make this style of training your own.
For those interested in starting an interval training program, here's the ACSM recommendations.
Warm up at a low intensity for 2 to 5 minutes
Work at about 90% of your max intensity for 1 minute
Rest at a low intensity for 1 minute
Repeat the interval 10 times for a total of 20 minutes
Cool down for 5 minutes at a low intensity
Since this will be a movement at a higher intensity than you're used to, be sure to pick an exercise you're familiar with to avoid injury.