Slash Your Workout Time with Interval Training


To make the most of your hectic day, spike your workout with a healthy infusion of intervals. The concept of interval training is simple - - push yourself extra hard for short bursts of activity, and cut about 30 percent off of your normal exercise time. Whether you're a current couch potato, or you run three marathons a year, interval training can get you into the best shape of your life faster than you thought possible.

Here are three sample interval routines:

  • Exercise novices: walk at a pace of roughly 3.5 miles per hour for three minutes. Then power-walk at about 4.5 miles per hour for a minute. Repeat the cycle for a total duration of 20 minutes.
  • Fitness intermediates: Walk at a pace of roughly 4 miles per hour for three minutes. Break into a 6 miles per hour jog for two minutes, and repeat for a total exercise time of 30 minutes.
  • Athletes: Jog at about 6 miles per hour for two minutes. Sprint as hard as you can for a minute, then repeat the cycle for a 45-minute exercise session.

You don't have to run, jog or walk to do intervals. Anything goes, as long as it has an aerobic effect. Do what you love - - bicycling, swimming, stair-climbing - - as long as the activity raises your breathing and heart rates.

Keep tabs on your interval training by tracking your pulse. Aim for 85 percent of your maximum heart rate (MHR) during your intense intervals. To figure out your MHR just subtract your age in years from the number 220. So if you're 35 years old, your MHR is 185. Multiply that number times 0.85 to find 85 percent of your MHR. Or, do it the easy way by using an online target heart rate calculator. The best way to measure your heart rate is with an electric monitor, but you can also find it yourself by counting the pulses on your wrist with two fingers for 30 seconds, and then doubling that number to come up with beats per minute.

If you're not sure how much exercise you need, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise to maintain weight, and combat cardiovascular illness. But when you add intervals, you can get away with less. If you spend one-third of your exercise time in the "vigorous" interval zone, you should be fine with just 100 minutes a week, spread out over several days. If you want to shed pounds though, you may need to exercise more frequently and/or for longing periods.

Besides saving time, there are plenty of other reasons to give interval training a shot. For one thing, intervals are exciting. Changing things up every few minutes helps eliminate boredom, and the constant shifts in energy expenditure will keep you on your toes. Interval training also boosts your aerobic capacity, and builds endurance. What's more, you'll torch more calories with the added intensity of intervals, which means you'll probably lose weight faster. And as much as we love the health benefits, weight loss is a heck of a motivator to stick with a fitness program.

Once you've nestled comfortably into your interval routine, it's time to up the ante by making things even more intense. Interval training is so effective at endurance building that you'll probably be able to increase your workout after just a few weeks. If you find your heart rate falling below 85 percent of your MRH, extend your intense intervals by 15 to 30 seconds, and decrease your more leisurely intervals by the same.

image: hernan.seoane

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