Interval training can be very powerful.
The idea is simple: You work out for a short amount of time in intense bursts that spike your heart rate, often alternating those bursts with gentler exercise that lets you catch your breath.
Recent research shows that these short bursts of intense exercise can provide some of the same health benefits as long, endurance-style workouts.
This is music to the ears of those of us who don’t have a ton of time on our hands. But it does come with some caveats, of course. The work is short, but for it to have the desired effect, the work also has to be very hard.
Interval training is nothing new, but it’s a big trend in the fitness world these days so when we recently spoke to Shawn Arent, an exercise scientist at Rutgers University, we asked him: What are the benefits of interval training? Here’s what he told us.
“Quite a few. One, if somebody tells me that they’re time limited, and they don’t have time to work out — fine, do intervals. It’s shorter and you’ll get the same benefit as a long duration cardiovascular exercise. It improves insulin sensitivity, and it increases fat loss.
“There’s also some evidence that with interval training, you maintain muscle mass compared to traditional cardiovascular exercise. So you lose fat, but you also hold onto the muscle better. So that’s an advantage. It’s a little shorter, but it’s hard, it’s demanding. And there are studies out there that say you can do high intensity interval training even in obese patients.
“You can go hard, you can go long, but you can’t do both. With interval training, you’re increasing caloric expenditure dramatically … [and] for longer after you stop.
“Exercise is a stressor. Your body responds to stress in multiple ways. The biggest thing it does is it tries to adapt to the stress. If you apply a low intensity stresser, you don’t have to do much adaptation … If you apply a high intensity stresser your body has a bigger response, it has to mobilize more resources to respond. The key, though, is recovering from that high intensity stresser. Because if we keep that high intensity stresser going, you’re going to break down.
“So what we’re doing with interval training is we’re applying a high intensity stimulus, that forces the body to mobilize resources — fat, enzymes, hormones, all the things that help the body react to the stresser. Then, what we do is remove the stresser and you recover … and then you get stronger. The body basically does this — it says, ‘I’m not letting you do that to me again.’ So what does it do in response? It gets stronger and it gets more fit. So now if you try to do the same intervals, it’s not as hard! So what do you do? You go harder, now the body has to respond. So that’s why this stuff works the way that it does. Because at its core, exercise is a stress.
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