Barbara Lockhart, a BYU exercise science professor, says she hasn’t run more than a mile in forty years. But that doesn’t jive with the fact that Lockhart recently completed a day-long hike without a problem. Her secret? Interval training.
What It Is
Interval training is when you do any kind of intense activity to get your heart rate up, and then let your heart rate go down again. Then you repeat the process multiple times. For example, you sprint 800 meters. Then you rest for a minute. Then you go again at 100 percent.
Who’s Doing It
Interval training seems to spit in the face of accepted get-fit tactics, which say sustained high heart beat is the way to go. But Lockhart says steady state exercise isn’t the king of fitness.
“You see people go round and round the track,” she says. “But that isn’t how today’s athletes train.”
She says modern athletes, even distance runners, do interval training, splitting their workouts into sections of high intensity and rest.
This kind of training improves how well the heart delivers oxygen to the muscles, and how well those muscles receive that oxygen. It is better than regular aerobic exercise at improving the cardiovascular system. In short, interval training improves athletic capacity in ways that steady state training cannot.
- Short time commitment, great results.
- Muscle toning.
- Mental benefits: You train yourself to lower heart rate, which helps when you want to lower stress.
- Integrate body and mind: Learn how to control your body better with the constant mental exertion that distance training doesn’t always demand.
- You don’t give up stamina (remember Lockhart can hike all day, no problem).
One woman Lockhart worked with ran a nine-minute mile in her runs. The woman started interval workouts, and decreased her mile pace to seven minutes, even though she ran less mileage to train.
Still, Lockhart says, it isn’t a matter of either or. Steady state workouts have their scientifically proven benefits, as do interval workouts. Mixing it up might be what you need.
A Running Interval Workout to Try
Shuttles. Some shudder at this word. Shuttles are a form of interval training that really hits.
But it is effective, and can be done almost anywhere, be it a basketball court, football field or on the track. In a typical shuttle, you will run about five yards to a marker or line, and then run back to the starting point, all at full speed.
But you don’t stop there. You turn around and run at full speed to a marker ten yards away, turn around and run back. Repeat the process at 15, 20 and 25 yards. After completing the shuttle, rest for two minutes, then do it again.
It sounds brutal, and it is brutal. The sudden changes in direction transitioning into full sprints gives your muscles an excellent workout, and strengthens those fast twitch muscles that distance running doesn’t touch.