Interval training is an effective and time-efficient way to get a workout. Research shows interval training gives better training results in less time compared to steady-state cardio. In other words, a 20-minute interval workout can give you superior results to an hour of slow, monotonous cardio on the elliptical machine or treadmill. But many people fail to get the full benefits of interval training because they don’t do it properly. Here are the most common interval training mistakes.
Not Working Hard Enough During the Hard Portion
Interval training alternates periods of intense, all-out exercise with recovery periods. During the intense phase of the interval, the key is to work hard enough so your body has to use the anaerobic energy system for fuel. Because lactic acid builds up when you enter the anaerobic zone, you can only sustain this kind of intensity for short periods of time. During the recovery phase, your heart rate comes down and lactic acid levels fall, and you’re able to repeat the interval. Most people don’t push themselves hard enough during the active phase of the interval to reach the anaerobic zone, so they don’t get the full benefits.
So how can you do intervals properly? When doing intervals on a track, sprint during the active phase of the interval. The active portion of an interval is kept short, usually around 30 seconds, because you can only sustain maximum intensity for brief periods of time. At the end of an interval, you should feel winded and almost completely wiped out. It’s this type of intensity that creates the oxygen deficit that keeps you burning more calories for hours and even days after your workout. The active portion of an interval should be an all-out effort, not a fast jog.
Looking for indoor interval workouts that are not machine based? DVDs like my Tabatacise, HiiT and CrossFire videos are just some of my high-intensity interval workouts that will push you into your anaerobic zone in the comfort of your own home.
Not Recovering Adequately During the Recovery Phase
Most people work too hard during the recovery period and not hard enough during the active phase of an interval. During recovery, your heart rate should come down so you can maximize your effort during the next active interval. The recovery phase also allows you to remove some of the lactic acid that’s built up in the muscles. This is why you bring the intensity way down. Many people jog at a slower rate during the recovery phase when they should be walking to allow their heart rate to drop. If you’re able to jog during the recovery phase, it may mean you’re not working hard enough during the active intervals.
Doing Interval Training Too Often
When you do it right, interval training is a tough workout that puts substantial stress on your body. That’s why you should limit interval workouts to no more than three times a week, to give your body a chance to recover. If you do them more than this, you run the risk of overtraining.
Interval Workouts Can Be Varied
You can do an interval workout on any cardiovascular machine at the gym including a treadmill, elliptical machine or a cycle. The key is to work as hard as you can during the active intervals and allow your body to recover between intervals. You can vary the length of the intervals, but 30 seconds is about the longest you’ll be able to sustain an all-out active effort. The recovery can be anywhere from 10 seconds to 3 minutes.
Interval workouts offer excellent fitness benefits but make sure you’re in good health before doing one. It’s a challenging workout – and one that gives results.
Exercise Physiology. Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Seventh edition. 2009.