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Do you frequently think, “Why go to the gym? I can’t work out for more than 20 minutes”? Consider pushing yourself a little harder during a shorter workout. With “interval training,” you go all-out for a spell, slow down, and then go gangbusters again. You can get more bang out of 20 minutes of intervals than 20 minutes at a steady pace. And you’ll definitely get more out of 20 minutes of intervals than 20 minutes of sitting in your car.

You can get more bang out of 20 minutes of intervals than 20 minutes at a steady pace

Is Interval Training a Safe Approach?

You might wonder if this approach can be safe for everyone. The answer is yes—if you set your gangbuster mode to be right for you.   Even if your “all-out” effort isn’t Olympian, you’ll still benefit and save time from alternating between pushing and resting.

Should I Worry About My Age?

Your age shouldn’t scare you off. The benefits of interval-training may be greater for older people, according to research from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. With age, we lose mitochondria, the energy-generators in our cells. Intervals are a way to push back. In the March 2017 issue of Cell Metabolism, a Mayo team reported that 12 weeks of interval training improved the fitness and blood-sugar regulation in a group of healthy but formerly sedentary volunteers older than 64. The surprise: a big increase in the number and health in the mitochondria in their muscle cells.

Design Your Own Workout

In a classic high-intensity interval routine, you’ll aim for 80 to 95 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate for five-second to eight-minute chunks. In between, you slow down to 40-50 percent. Your rest periods are equal to your push-periods. You might do this routine for 20 minutes to an hour. Athletes have long included sets of these to boost their performance.

But you don’t need to reach 95 percent of your maximal heart rate. A report in Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews in July 2017 described good fitness benefits from a program for adults in Japan, who alternated between walking fast enough to push their heart rate up to 70 percent of their max, and 40 percent rest periods.

Take it from Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and a guru of super-short miracle interval workouts. He told the New York Times, “For a brief period of time, you push yourself out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to reach any set percentage of heart rate or anything like that. You just need to feel some brief discomfort.”

What’s the Best Ratio of Work to Rest?

You can also vary the ratio of work to rest. In the Mayo study, volunteers pedaled hard for four minutes and rested for three, repeating the sequence three more times. A gentler alternative is to walk, cycle or jog for 30 seconds and rest for two minutes, repeating that sequence up to 10 times.

How Do I Get Started?

I suggest to my clients that they try intervals to see how they feel. Most gym equipment for aerobic exercise offer an interval option on the console, and you can vary the degree of difficulty. For a few weeks, you might do one set of intervals a week, while continuing your usual program on the other days. Some people switch entirely and others save interval sets for days when they have less time to spare.

Remember: Any exercise you stick to is better than a plan you abandon with a head full of excuses. The Japanese 70/40 walking program proved astonishingly popular: everyone stuck to the program for four months, and only 30 percent had dropped out 22 months later—a remarkable number.

Besides saving time, interval training can be a great confidence-booster–you’ll see that you can go at it, recover, and go at it again. You might just find yourself stretching in other parts of your life as well, with equally good results.

Is interval training for you?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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