Interval Training

The Importance of Physical “Variability” in Cardio Exercise

Your Cardio Workouts may NOT be helping you unless you incorporate a high range of heart rate shifts in your training

By Mike Geary – Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Specialist
Author of best-seller: The Truth about Six Pack Abs

Are you a cardio junkie? Everyone seems to think that “cardio” is the best way to get in shape and lose body fat. I’m going to show you with this article why I disagree!

It is quite common to hear fitness pros, doctors, and other health professionals prescribe low to moderate intensity aerobic training (cardio) to people who are trying to prevent heart disease or lose weight. Most often, the recommendations go something like this:

“Perform 30-60 minutes of steady pace cardio 3-5 times/week maintaining your heart rate at a moderate level”

Before you just give in to this popular belief and become the “hamster on the wheel” doing endless hours of boring cardio exercise, I’d like you to consider some recent scientific research that indicates that steady pace endurance cardio work may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

First, realize that our bodies are designed to perform physical activity in bursts of exertion followed by recovery, or stop-and-go movement instead of steady state movement. Recent research is suggesting that “physical variability” is one of THE most important aspects to consider in your training.

This tendency can be seen throughout nature as most animals tend to demonstrate “stop-and-go” motion instead of steady state motion. In fact, humans are the only creatures in nature that attempt to do “endurance” type physical activities such as running long distances at the exact same speed the whole time.

Most competitive sports (with the exception of endurance running or cycling) are also based on stop-and-go movement or short bursts of exertion followed by recovery.

To examine an example of the different effects of endurance or steady state training versus stop-and-go training, consider the physiques of marathoners versus sprinters. Most sprinters carry a physique that is very lean, muscular, and powerful looking, while the typical dedicated marathoner is more often emaciated and sickly looking. Now which would you rather resemble?

Another factor to keep in mind regarding the benefits of physical variability is the internal effect of various forms of exercise on our body. Scientists have known that excessive steady state endurance exercise (different for everyone, but sometimes defined as greater than 60 minutes per session most days of the week) increases free radical production in the body, can degenerate joints, reduces immune function, causes muscle wasting, and can cause a pro-inflammatory response in the body that can potentially lead to chronic diseases.

Highly Variable Cyclic Training

On the other hand, highly variable cyclic training has been linked to increased antioxidant production in the body and an anti-inflammatory response, a more efficient nitric oxide response (which can encourage a healthy cardiovascular system), and an increased metabolic rate response (which can assist with weight loss). Furthermore, steady state endurance training only trains the heart at one specific heart rate range and doesn’t train it to respond to various every day stressors.

On the other hand, highly variable cyclic training teaches the heart to respond to and recover from a variety of demands making it less likely to fail when you need it. Think about it this way… Exercise that trains your heart to rapidly increase and rapidly decrease will make your heart more capable of handling everyday stress. Stress can cause your blood pressure and heart rate to increase rapidly. Steady state jogging and other endurance training does not train your heart to be able to handle rapid changes in heart rate or blood pressure.

The important aspect of variable cyclic training that makes it superior over steady state cardio exercise is the recovery period in between bursts of exertion. That recovery period is crucially important for the body to elicit a healthy response to an exercise stimulus. Another benefit of variable cyclic training is that it is much more interesting and has lower drop-out rates than long boring steady state cardio programs.

To summarize, some of the potential benefits of variable cyclic training compared to steady state endurance training are as follows: improved cardiovascular health, increased anti-oxidant protection, improved immune function, reduced risk for joint wear and tear, increased muscularity (versus decreased muscularity with endurance training), increased residual metabolic rate following exercise, and an increased capacity for the heart to handle life’s every day stressors.

Sports Workouts and Sprinting

There are many ways you can reap the benefits of stop-and-go or variable intensity physical training. Most competitive sports such as football, basketball, volleyball, racquetball, tennis, hockey, baseball, etc. are naturally comprised of highly variable stop-and-go motion which trains the heart through a MUCH wider heart rate range compared to just steady walking or jogging.

Doing swimming workouts in a variable intensity fashion may also be more beneficial than just swimming for a long duration at the same speed. Same goes for bicycling — that is why mountain biking, which involves extreme ups and downs at various intensity levels may also be more beneficial than just a long flat steady pace bike ride.

One of the absolute most effective forms of variable intensity training to really reduce body fat and bring out serious muscular definition is performing wind sprints. Wind sprints can be done by sprinting at near max speed for 10-30 seconds, and then taking 60 seconds to walk for recovery before your next sprint. 6-12 total sprint intervals is usually a very challenging workout for most people.

In addition, weight training naturally incorporates short bursts of exertion followed by recovery periods. High intensity interval training (varying between high and low intensity intervals on any piece of cardio equipment) is yet another training method that utilizes exertion and recovery periods. For example, an interval training session on the treadmill could look something like this:

Warm-up for 3-4 minutes at a fast walk or light jog

Interval 1 – run at 8.0 mi/hr for 1 minute
Interval 2 – walk at 4.0 mi/hr for 1.5 minutes
Interval 3 – run at 10.0 mi/hr for 1 minute
Interval 4 – walk at 4.0 mi/hr for 1.5 minutes

Repeat those 4 intervals 4 times for a very intense 20-minute workout.

Also, don’t overlook other great ways to incorporate variable intensity cardio training by using a jump rope, a rowing machine, stairs running, or even outdoor hill sprints.

The take-away message from this article is to try to train your body at highly variable intensity rates for the majority of your workouts to get the most beneficial response in terms of heart health, fat loss, and muscle maintenance.

Full-body strategically-designed resistance training programs along with high intensity cardiovascular training programs guaranteed to strip off body fat when combined with a healthy diet are included in my book The Truth About Six Pack Abs. If you’re serious about getting lean for good, this book is a must-read.

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Posted by The Running Guy - December 28, 2011 at 11:48 am

Categories: Fitness, Interval Training, Weight Loss   Tags: , ,

Interval Training – Get Dramatic Results with Interval Training

Interval training is a great way to spice up a workout and get awesome results. Do you ever find that your cardiovascular workout routine is getting a little too repetitive, a little too boring? Boredom is a huge problem and one of the main reasons people give up on exercise, but it doesn’t have to be that way. There are so many different ways to challenge your body and your mind during your workouts that you should never feel bored.

The key is to always keep learning new things and to learn variations of the exercises and routines you are currently doing. One of these variations is aerobic interval training and that is what we are going to talk about today.

So what is aerobic interval training? Basically, it means working out by alternating bursts of intense activity with intervals of light activity. This type of training can be done by anyone and with any aerobic activity. Let’s use walking as an example. If you’re already in pretty good shape and you’ve been walking for a while, you might incorporate short bursts of jogging into your regular brisk walks. If you’re more of a beginner, you might just alternate faster, harder walking with leisurely walking.

For example, if you are walking outside you could pick a landmark in the distance like a tree or a stop sign and pick up the intensity until you get to it. If you’re working out on a treadmill or elliptical machine, it is as easy as watching the timer on the machine and timing your light intensity and high intensity intervals.

There are many advantages to interval training. Perhaps the most popular is that interval training burns more calories without spending more time in the gym, who doesn’t like the sound of that? There are other benefits as well, like improving your aerobic capacity, which is great news for your workouts but more importantly it is great news for your heart and lungs. Interval training is also nice because it doesn’t require drastic changes to your routine or any kind of special equipment.

Whatever type of cardiovascular exercise you are doing now can be easily converted into interval training. This type of training will grow with you as you progress. Getting started is as easy as choosing the length and speed of your high intensity intervals. Obviously the length and speed can be altered depending of how you are feeling that day, it is all up to you.

Of course this does require you to be more disciplined during your workout. It is up to you to do your intervals at a level that will challenge you and only you can determine what that level is. Also, as with any exercise routine, it is important to warm up first. You want to make sure your body is warmed up before you go into your first interval.

If you are working out seriously to improve sports performance, this type of training is also a good choice for you. In this case, you may want to look at interval training a little more seriously. A personal trainer or other fitness expert can help you plan the intensity and duration of your intervals based on your target heart rate, aerobic capacity and other factors.

No matter what your fitness level, aerobic interval training is something you can use to boost your workout, relieve some boredom and challenge your body. Why not try it today?

Learn more about interval training and get inspired to challenge your body in new ways and get results.

Barry Lovelace is an internationally recognized personal trainer and fitness coach. Visit his website,, and get FREE health and fitness tips as well as the Ebook ‘How To Juggle Your Health and Fitness’.

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Posted by The Running Guy - August 29, 2009 at 12:39 am

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