According to the New York Times, interval training is the Lifehacker's shortcut to exercise and fitness. If 20 minutes of exercise a day is enough to seriously improve my fitness, I'm game, but I'm not sure what interval training is all about or how to get started. What do I need to know?
Interval training is a great way to fit the recommended 30 minutes of exercise, five days a week, into a busy schedule. Essentially, it compacts your workout into short, intensive bursts so you can get them done in 20 minutes. Until recently, interval training was typically used in conjunction with regular exercise for people already training, but a study from McMaster University suggests you can use interval training in place of regular exercise. The study also suggests you can get started right away even if you're out of shape. Let's start with a quick look at interval training and then check out a few exercises you can do without a gym.
The Basics Of Interval Training
In simple terms, interval training means: Push yourself almost as hard as you can for a little while, then pull back and rest for a little while, and then repeat. For example, if you're jogging, you push yourself near you maximum for one minute, then turn down and lightly jog for another minute.
What does maximum mean exactly? It's different for everyone, but it's gauged on a one to 10 scale, where 10 is somewhere around, "My lungs are on fire and I can't feel my legs" and one is "I'm too lazy to change the channel." The scale is based on your heart rate and you can get a rough estimate of your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Most interval training workouts want you to push yourself to around an eight or nine, which is the equivalent to about 80 or 90 per cent of your maximum heart rate. If you're 30 years old, your maximum is 190. 90 per cent of that is 171.
Interval training burns the same amount of calories as (and possibly more than) a traditional workout. A lot of variations on the timing in interval training are out there, but here are two of the most popular.
- High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): HIIT is the type of interval training specifically mentioned in the New York Times article. This has you pushing yourself at about 90 per cent of your maximum for one minute and then resting for one minute. You repeat this 10 times for a total of 20 minutes. We'll detail a few ideas for using HIIT in the next section.
- Tabata: Tabata takes the same premise, but shrinks down the time period. Here, you push to your absolute max for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. This is great if you have a hill in your neighbourhood where you run up the hill at full speed, walk down and repeat. Like HIIT, you can integrate this into pretty much any workout.
Interval training can save you a lot of time and shrink your workout down to a short period that you can fit it into your day. Let's check out a few ideas for getting started with your workout.
Photo remixed with Martin Alvarez Espinar.
How You Can Work It Into Your Exercise Routine To Save Time, No Gym Necessary
The study mentioned in the New York Times works off the idea that high intensity interval training is the way to go. As with any workout, you want to schedule a short warm up before you start, but it can still save you time throughout the day. Here's a few different workout ideas, no gym necessary.
Running Or Jogging
Alternating between running and jogging (or jogging and walking) is the easiest, most cost efficient way to start interval training. It's also dead simple and works no matter what type of shape you're in. The benefit is that instead of trying to sustain a jog for a full 30 minutes, you only have to get in 10 minutes of hard work. Start by jogging for a full minute. When the time is up, slow down to a fast walk for another minute. Repeat this 10 times, for a total of 20 minutes. If you're jogging outside and don't have a timer handy, use landmarks instead. Jog to the end of the block and then walk for half a block.
Even better, an exercise app like RunKeeper (available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and the Nokia S60) allows you to set timed intervals and prompt you to start and stop with a "coach".
As someone who has toyed with, but never got in the habit of jogging, I can say that this exercise routine will absolutely wear you out, but the small blocks of time make it more manageable.
You have a few different options to use interval training in skipping. Like the video to the left describes, you can switch from jumping on both feet for a duration of time, to jumping on one. If you don't have the strength to handle that, one minute of skipping followed by one minute of running in place will also do the trick. Again, repeat this 10 times for a total of 20 minutes of exercise.
Mix It Up
For some of us, the repetition of working out is what kills us more than the effort. If that's the case, interval training is a great way to mix things up and make it a little more interesting. In this video, there's burpees (the drop to the ground and stand up thing), mountain climbers (the running in place) and jumping jacks. You can cycle those every minute, fit all three into one intense minute, or mix and match any way you like. Interval training allows for a lot of variation in what you do as long as you push your body near that maximum for short periods of time throughout the workout.
You can apply interval training to nearly any workout activity. If you wanted to, you could run around in circles for one minute, then walk backwards for one minute. As long as you push your body near the maximum 10 times in 20 minutes you're doing it right. As with any exercise, be careful. If you suffer from any heart conditions talk with your doctor before you start. Interval training is a great way to fit an entire workout into a very small section of time and with new research suggesting it's just as good as a regular-length workout, it's not a bad idea to start doing it now.
PS Have some interval exercises you'd like to share? Sound off in the comments.
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