In my experience, when most people (women in particular) think about getting in shape and losing weight, the first thing they think about is doing more cardio. And nothing aggravates me more as a professional trainer than the mindset that doing more is going to equal more results.
In fact, I teach my clients the secrets on how to do just the opposite:
Work out less to achieve outstanding results.
And one of the secrets to working out less and getting better results, is through interval training.
If you are not yet familiar, interval training is a form of cardio that alternates periods of higher intensity work (hard) followed by periods of lower intensity work (easy).
For instance, any type of field sport incorporates some form of interval training. Soccer players sprint for a few seconds to score a goal (high intensity), but while on defense, may only jog (lower intensity). Basketball, lacrosse, field hockey, all of these sports are interval based. And for the most part, these athletes have lean, toned and tight bodies – a look many of us aspire to achieve. You can take this same concept of stop and go, and apply it to your own workouts to achieve a fit, lean, and athletic physique.
In this first post of this series, I will list for you some of the awesome benefits of interval training. I’ll include for you research based benefits (to prove that yes, there are scientific reasons as to why interval training works) and some not-so scientific proof, based largely on my own experience and basic, real life observations.
5 Major Benefits Of Interval Training:
My Scientific and Not-So Scientific Proof
1. Interval training reduces your workout times.
In my experience, the most effective interval workouts are kept under 20 minutes total. No more dreaded 45-60 minute bouts with the eliptical. In fact, I would rather stab my eyeballs with rusty nails than waste an hours worth of my life doing cardio. (Actually, that’s not quite a fact because if it actually came down to it, I would opt for the eliptical. But you get the point)
If you’re doing interval training correctly, you shouldn’t be able to sustain more than 20 minutes anyways.
Keep your interval workouts short and intense, and get more work done in less time.
I’ve trained clients with 20 minute cardio workouts and have seen amazing results. And even though I had to initially work very hard to convince some clients that 6 days of cardio was making them fatter, once the results started to show, I had to say less.
If you’re finding it a challenge to get in your workouts, interval training is perfect for you. Get in and get out, one of the best parts of interval training.
2. Interval training increases fat burning and muscle building hormones.
In my opinion, this is where interval training really breaks out as the preferred method of cardio in terms of fat loss because…
…Interval training has been shown to have a sustained anabolic effect on the body.
What the hell does that mean?
Well, it means that when you do interval training, your body produces more fat-burning and muscle-building hormones. One of the main hormones that is responsible for this anabolic effect is growth hormone.
In a study performed at Loughborough University, in Leicestershire, England researchers found that growth hormone levels were 10 x higher compared to baseline 1 hour after the exercise was complete using only 30-seconds of high intensity interval bouts. (Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1996;72(5-6):460-7)
Allow me to repeat that…even an hour after the exercise was complete, growth hormone levels were 10 x higher than compared to pre-exercise.
Knowing that growth hormone is one of the most powerful anti-aging, fat-burning and muscle building hormones in our body, you realize that is a pretty significant finding. And to think that only 30 seconds of short burst activity can increase growth hormone to that extent, is very powerful.
3. Interval training breaks up the boredom of regular cardio.
Not only does interval training have amazing physiological affects on your metabolism, but it can also help you psychologically.
One of the reasons why I find most people fall off a fitness program is because they just get plain bored with their routine. And believe me, your body is just as bored.
Interval training is a great way to make your routine more “sticky” — meaning, you’re more likely to “stick” to your program because the constant change in speed, intensity and resistance keeps you stimulated and engaged. I’ve used various forms of interval training (treadmill, hills, Tabata, jump roping) to keep my clients on their toes mentally as well as physically, to prevent boredom and training plateaus.
4. Interval training increases your body’s metabolic rate for hours AFTER you exercise.
One of the reasons why your metabolism remains elevated after an interval workout is due to what is called Excess Postexercise Oxygen Consumption or “EPOC” for short.
Allow me to explain:
During a strenuous workout, your body works very hard to keep up with the demands of the exercise. All kinds of hormones are released to increase your heart rate, dilate your blood vessels, and break down fuel sources to give you energy. (There is obviously a lot more that goes on, but these are just a few examples).
When your workout is complete, your body’s need for oxygen increases to make up for all of the work it did while you were exercising. Fuel sources need to be replaced, cells need to be repaired, and your body’s regulatory functions (like your heart rate, blood pressure) need to come back down to baseline.
Your body’s increased need for oxygen post-exercises, or EPOC, is precisely what boosts your metabolism directly after a workout.
Even though you may have physically hopped off the treadmill, your body’s chemical and hormonal systems are working very hard behind the scenes to repair. And this work requires more oxygen and thus causes an increase in your metabolism.
Which, makes this repair period after your workout (which can last up to 24-36 hours) so crucial. Overtraining and planning your workouts too close together without adequate rest time will prevent your body from fully recovering.
In a study performed at Colorado State University, researches found that high intensity interval exercise had a significant increase in fat metabolism for up to 3 hours after a workout as opposed to steady state cardio. (J Am Coll Nutr. 1997 Apr;16(2):140-6.)
In other words, your body can still be burning fat for several hours after you leave the gym. Not too shabby.
5. Interval training decreases overall body fat, and more specifically, belly fat.
In 2007, Professor Boutcher at the University of New South Wales in Australia completed a researchstudy that proved some very significant findings in regards to fat loss and interval training.
In his study (Int J Obes (Lond). 2008 Apr;32(4):684-91. Epub 2008 Jan 15.) Prof. Boutcher set up 3 groups over the course of 15 weeks:
Group 1 – Performed high intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE); 8 second intervals with a 12 second, very easy rest. This was done for a total of 20 minutes for 3 times a week.
Group 2 – Performed 40 minutes of steady state exercise (SSE) at about 60% of their maximal efforts, 3 times a week.
Group 3 – Did nothing. They were the control group.
**Note that each group was asked NOT to change their diets.**
**Also note that Group 1, the interval group, worked out for HALF the time (20 mins vs. 40 mins) as the steady state group, Group 2. Both worked out 3 times a week.**
After 15 weeks, the interval group lost on average 5.5 lbs of fat while the steady state group actually gained on average an entire pound.
Doesn’t make sense huh? Workout more and gain weight?
Also, the interval group actually lost more fat around the abdomen and the legs than compared to both groups. Which is totally significant, since we’ve been told for AGES that spot reduction just isn’t possible.
Prof. Boutcher just completely disproved years and years of one of the most prolific fitness myths — that there is no such thing as spot targeting fat loss.
According to Prof. Boutcher’s study, spot reducing the lower body is possible….using interval training on a cycle ergogometer (exercise bike).
Well there you have it.
Hopefully after reading this first post, you’ll walk away with a greater understanding of the benefits of interval training and why it’s the superior form of cardio.
In my next post, I’ll provide you with some basic interval workouts that you can use in your current fitness routine. I’ll also show you exactly how to set up an interval workout, how long your intervals should be, how long you should rest, and how hard you should work.
And if you have any questions along the way, please let me know by leaving a comment down below.
Thanks, and I’ll look forward to sharing my next post on Interval Training with you!