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Interval training vs. slow, long distance aerobic training

For this week’s blog entry, I want to answer a few questions I have been presented. I’d also like to begin with this thought: I am all for long distance training if it is done correctly and efficiently, and for the right people and their respected sport. I just feel that intervals are better suited for most of the population once they develop a fitness base.

What is interval training?

It is a method of conditioning that is uses alternating periods of work and rest. The tough thing to figure out is how to utilize them correctly.

Why should someone interval train?

Interval training has been utilized by athletes and fitness enthusisist alike to get in shape for years. Interval training has even taken on a new name in recent years, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of training is not only being used by athletes to improve conditioning, but also by trainers and their clients as one of the best methods for fat loss. Also, in our busy lifestyles that have time to do 40-60 minutes of aerobic training? Not me! The scientific data now shows less is better when it comes to fat loss!

Why don’t more people interval train?

The first reason is that the media has drastically oversold the idea that we need long bouts of aerobic training to get in shape and keep our tickers healthy. Totally not true. Do you remember how the media oversold high carb/low fat diets? We now know that doesn’t work!

The second reason is that they a hard! Yes, exercise is supposed to make you sweat! Unless you have some health condition or injury I don’t think you are truly exercising to burn lots of fat and build muscle unless you are breathing hard and sweating. Period!

The last big reason why we don’t perform intervals is that we are confused on how they work, and where to begin.

When is aerobic training (long slow distance) good for?

I feel that conventional aerobic training is only good to get a person fit enough to tolerate interval training or to serve as an active break from intervals. It should only be used as a precursor for interval training, or to train for marathons, ½ marathons, or triathlons. Walking and low intensity cardiovascualr exercise is only for the begginers and injured in most cases.

The proof

Interval training stresses not only the energy system but, the muscular system. Another study, done in Canada at McMaster University, and often referenced as the Gibala Study, after lead researcher Martin Gibala, had a similar result. The Gibala study compared twenty minutes of high intensity interval training, consisting of a 30 second sprint followed by a four minute rest, with 90-120 minutes in the target heart rate zone. The result was amazing. Subjects got the same improvement in oxygen utilization from both programs. The twenty minute program only requires about two minutes and thirty seconds of actual work! I think that most people can handle that?

A second study that has become known as the Tabata study again showing how beneficial   interval training can be. Tabata compared moderate intensity endurance training at about 70 percent of VO2 max to high intensity intervals done at 170 percent of VO2 max. Tabata used a unique protocol of 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest done in 7-8 bouts. This was basically a series of 20 second intervals performed during a 4 minute span. Again the results were nothing short of amazing. The 20/10 protocol, now applied in a variety of ways as Tabata’s, improved the VO2 max and the anaerobic capabilities more than the steady state program.

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