What is Interval Training?
Interval training is bouts of high intensity exercise between periods of recovery. Although it has numerous benefits, its primary goal is cardiovascular health and fitness.
An interval workout is always preceded by a mindful warm-up and followed with an intentional cool-down, and is controlled by wearing a heart rate monitor. This type of workout is best done with friends or in a group. For many people, it is difficult to push as hard as they should when they are alone. An interval workout involves measured or timed distances at a high heart rate (near maximum exertion) with slow recoveries in between. There are many types of interval workouts depending upon the specific event or type of fitness that one is training for, but you will want to “breathe harder” than you usually do when exercising.
Generally during the ‘on’ or hard effort segments of interval training you should work hard enough to go anaerobic (faster than your lactate threshold which is approximately 70 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, so that the body goes into oxygen debt). The pace is uncomfortable. During the “off” period, the heart rate slows and recovers and depending on the workout you may or may not have a complete recovery. Generally, intervals can be as long as 10 minutes or as short as 30 seconds, and typically longer intervals are for longer distances and shorter bouts are for short distance events.
Both energy expenditure and energy recovery are active physiological processes. This type of training is a method that we use to build more capacity for stress, as well as teaching us to recover more efficiently.
Top 10 reasons to do interval training once per week:
- Lowers resting heart rate
- Strengthens the left heart ventricle
- Lowers blood pressure
- Increases endurance
- Builds mental strength and tenacity
- Helps in controlling visceral fat
- Improves in lactate threshold
- Mitochondria density improves
- Capillaries increase in size and efficiency
- New science suggests that intervals can significantly improve mental function
I always recommend doing intervals on a soft, safe surface; track, dirt or snow is best. Very few people are built to tolerate this type of intensity work on a hard surface (road) without injuries. Generally sessions never exceed 20 minutes of hard work in one session. I start ‘newbies’ at 9 or 10 minutes and work up in volume. Most of the time we work on hills for less impact and improvement in leg strength.
I believe in the value of interval training not just for its physical benefits, but also for its practical application in helping us to navigate the challenges that we face in everyday life. On a more soulful note, interval training plays an important role in the work of a person’s inner journey…”finding out what is in there.” I consider interval training a body/mind/spirit workout, as both mental tenacity and emotional control are challenged. During interval intensities we edge closer to our pure spirit. The workouts are difficult but they guarantee growth of inner power.
Ask any coach, “What,s the difference between a recreational athlete and a competitor?’ “Intervals,” will most likely be one of the first responses.
Try an interval session on foot, bike, cross-country skis, or in the pool to experience how this once-per-week type of work can make a significant difference in your fitness level. Your heart will thank you for it. And, if you’d like encouragement, you can find me at the VAC, part of The Vitality Center at Vail Mountain Lodge.
Certified Level 2 Endurance Coach, USATF and the coach/manager for the US Women’s Mountain Running Team