Updated: Mar 29
I see many endurance athletes who become complacent with their workout program. They assume because they’re in good physical condition and are comfortable at running a sustained pace at distance, then there is nothing left for them to add to their routine. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you’re looking to improve your fitness, develop running economy, or increase speed time, research has proven the effectiveness of high intensity interval training (HIIT), or simply put – interval training.
I don’t want you to think that only competitive athletes have the most to gain from incorporating effective interval training into their life. Interval training can improve your running ability whether you run a 10-minute mile or a 5k in under 20 minutes. With that, I encourage all people to read on and see how to get the most out of this important technique.
WHAT EXACTLY IS INTERVAL TRAINING?
Interval training is basically what it sounds like: Running a distance at a higher than usual intensity, taking a break, and then repeating. These breaks, in which your heart rate has time to recover, are what makes the period of effort true intervals. HIIT consists of a series of short bursts of exercises that can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. Your aim should be to work at a set intensity for a given time or distance during each interval, followed by a low-intensity rest period. To attain different goals from your training session, you will need to change the tempo, length, and rest period.
To be the most effective, you should aim for these workouts to be between 10-30 minutes in duration. Now, you might be thinking “Only 10 – 30 minutes?? That seems too good to be true!” Yup, believe it or not, despite how short the workout is, it can produce health benefits similar to twice as much as moderate-intensity exercise. Though most people associate interval training with running, you can perform HIIT with many different exercises, including biking, jumping rope, rowing, weightlifting or other bodyweight exercises.
BENEFITS OF INTERVAL TRAINING
As I mentioned above, interval training can be applied to all levels of fitness training: beginners, intermediate exercisers, and well-conditioned athletes. With so many benefits it provides, you’d be crazy not to incorporate it into your regular workout routine. Examples of such benefits include:
More Efficient Workouts
Interval workouts are awesome time savers if you don’t have much time. This is the type of workout to use if you want to get in and out of the gym quickly.
Faster Weight Loss
Do you want to lose weight through exercising? Intense exercises are not only more efficient with your time, but they also burn calories quicker. According to research, interval training such as sprinting is more beneficial for weight reduction than continuous, moderate exercise such as brisk walking or cycling under 10 miles per hour over extended distances.
Improved Athletic Performance
When you engage in interval training, new capillaries are built taking oxygen to the muscles to strengthen them, including the heart muscle. The combination of an improved cardiovascular system with muscles that can tolerate lactic acid build-up significantly improves athletic performance and well-being.
Keeps Things Interesting
Interval workouts are less monotonous or dull when compared to other workouts as they provide more variety. This is especially helpful when trying a new form of exercise or activity because it allows you to gradually build up to the continuous activity in a much more enjoyable and effective manner, without tiring too quickly.
Less chance of Injury
Injuries associated with long-term, repetitive exercises are significantly reduced due to lack of overtraining or burn-out.
HOW TO INCORPORATE INTERVAL TRAINING INTO YOUR WORK OUT
“Great! Let me get started with interval training right away!” you might be saying to yourself. I’m happy this post has piqued your interest (mission accomplished!!) but as an experienced Doctor of Physical Therapy, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t provide you with some tried and true tips that will set you up for success! Here are my top 4 that I want to make all athletes aware of before they embark on this new technique:
Don’t take on too much, too soon
\Do not start the first few intervals with too much eagerness. Taking off too fast, or too soon, can lead to injury. You need to start slow and build up your endurance before you can start your sprints, and always be mindful for signs of dehydration.
Once you have developed your endurance, be sure to keep the session balanced. Fatigue will most likely catch up after the first few, so save some of your energy for the final intervals. For runners, you can also train by running the first interval a bit faster, the middle intervals at the aimed pace and then give it your all during the last one.
Format the intervals correctly
Formatting your HIIT workouts can be as simple or complex as you wish. As I said earlier, when first starting off you should aim to keep the workouts short and simple in the beginning as you work towards progressing to higher levels of performance. Just as if you were starting a running plan for the first time, you would not go out and run 6 miles without any previous training experience. Most likely, you would probably begin with a one-minute walk followed by a one-minute run. This is similar to how you can start formatting your intervals. HIIT workouts definitely need to have an intense period followed by a rest period. That period can range anywhere from a much slower pace, easier activity or even a complete rest. When first starting off with the intervals, I recommend using a 1:2 or 1:3 work-rest ratio if a much higher intensity is utilized during the working interval as this can be helpful to getting you adjusted to this style of workout (i.e., a 1:2 work-rest ratio would mean 30 seconds high intensity, then 60 seconds low intensity). As you become more accustomed, you can play with intensities and durations within the workout. You may even progress from a 1:1 work-rest ratio to a 2:1 if your muscular and cardiovascular endurance can tolerate that work level. However, if you are utilizing a 2:1 ratio, I would suggest a complete rest period instead of just doing an easier pace.
Take your rest periods seriously
Rest is critical. You generally want a work-to-rest ratio of 1:1. With this strategy, your work stretch would be the same as your recovery stretch. Sometimes the work-to-rest ratio can even be 1:2 if the working interval is much more significant in intensity than usual, requiring greater rest periods to flush lactic acid, recover the cardiorespiratory system, and have consistent performance across the workout. Many of you may think that the intense portions of the workout are the most important, but studies show that the rest period has also many benefits; it’s during adequate recovery time when the physiological changes take place throughout the body.
How so? When you’re working hard and fast, the chemical composition of your muscles changes and this gives you endurance and increases your metabolism. Your body burns more fat, your heart is more powerful, and you push yourself to a limit that is proportional to your maximal performance. When it comes the time to rest, your body needs to restore itself fast, so it uses every resource it has to get itself back to normal. This means your aerobic metabolism is taking over and you build endurance even more.
Have the right tools available
If you’re going to be keeping track of your workout and rest periods, some people I know find that using an app helps tremendously. Seconds Pro Interval Timer and J&J Official 7 Minute Workout are just two of the many apps available for you to download. You want to make sure whatever app you use offers engaging and diversified workouts, with clear instructions.
You also want to ensure you have the best shoes for interval training, as these will be a bit different when compared to your standard running sneakers. HIIT demands quick and snappy movements, which means that you need to swap any bulky sneakers with something that can adapt quickly to lateral movements and can still help absorb force while still giving your foot space inside to move freely without sliding. You’re going to want to select a design that offers a good deal of support to prevent injury while being just light enough to keep those intervals moving along at a succinct pace.
So there you have it folks! I hope this was helpful to you and gave some useful tips on how to properly incorporate interval training into your workout. If you have any questions about what type of HIIT would be best for you, please reach out to your favorite Doctor of Physical Therapy (hopefully that's me) and call 516-387-0053 or visit www.ascentptny.com today for more info about how we can help you! If you would like to find out how we can best help you, please use the link below to fill out an inquiry to set up a call with a Doctor of Physical Therapy.