I keep coming across this concept of ‘interval training’ in the exercise literature, in the fitness magazines, in the newspaper. Both my personal trainer and my group training classes for that matter incorporate this notion of interspersing bouts of slower activity with bouts of high intensity effort. For example, the trainer will have us spin at a steady pace and then announce an all out sprint for 10-15 seconds. Or we’ll be doing power jacks for what seems like an eternity but are more like 90 seconds, and then he announces that we should go as fast as we can for a short period of time. The heart rate increases, it’s harder to breathe, etc. And the trainer is keeping track of the time.

It seemed like an unnecessary complication to incorporate this into my  solitary workouts until I did some research about why this might be a beneficial strategy. The NPR report linked below discusses why interval training is useful for burning fat in a way that lower impact but longer exercise sessions do not.  According to Steve Boutcher, an exercise science professor from the University of New South Wales, “short bursts of high impact cardio produce higher levels of catecholamines during sprint-type exercises that elevate the heart rate.”These are hormones that tell the fat cells to release their fat,” Let’s get those catecholamines going!  I can get into that. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112069354

So, I get how this interval training might work with a trainer, someone shouting out when to slow up and when to speed up, but how does this work if it’s just me?  The following is a typical prescriptive for self-paced interval training and in my mind seems like high math and a lot for my little pea brain to keep straight: “5 mins at an easy pace. Then alternate 3 min at a difficult-to-talk pace with 6 mins at a catch-your-breath pace. Do two 3-min/6 min cycles. Cool down with 5 min at an easy pace.”  The number of these slow/fast intervals increase each week. The interval suggestion in the NPR report (which incidently is aptly entitled “ Interval Training for the Middle Aged and Slightly Plump” ) suggests a stationary bike routine that ”alternates between 12 seconds of slow, gentle peddling and 8-second intense sprints, peddling as hard as possible. “  Do I have to carry a stop watch? Even assuming I want to lug a stopwatch with me on my outdoors walking trips, I can see that it might work for the longer 3/6/5 minute intervals, but the intervals that last seconds? On the spin bike? What now? The one I’m standing up on while peddling at full tilt? Am I supposed to manage the stop watch while I am running out of oxygen?

I decided to try out self-paced intervals on the canal this weekend, and believe me, it’s harder than it seems. I walked briskly for 20 minutes to warm up, my usual routine. Then, I tried to jog for 45 seconds.  Yeah, like that was going to happen. I jogged and counted slowly until my breath gave out, at about 20 seconds. Needless to say these 3/5/6 min intervals are a ways in my fitness future.  And by “counting” I mean, 1-one thousand -2-one thousand – 3 –one thousand etc etc. Of course no telling exactly how accurate my counting was. Was it really 20 seconds or maybe only 10? Who knows? Does it really matter? Anyhow, I completed these half assed intervals until I got home and then I had to take a nap.

Anyone have any experience with solitary intervals and any strategies to ease their use? Anybody know of any gizmos that might be programmable? Do tell.  

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