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Top Interval Training Workouts

Posted Jan 27 2011 8:32am
No big surprise to any regular CFB readers that I'm a huge interval training advocate.

Over the past couple of years I've explored different methods of interval training, many which I've shared on CFB. My personal faves include bodyweight intervals, treadmill sprints and the farmer's walk.

I just found out that Turbulence Training guru Craig Ballantyne is working on a new manual, 51 Interval Training Workouts, due out this summer. I'm super excited about this as I'm always looking for new ideas for interval workouts.

Here's just a small (very small!) glimpse in to the type of material we can expect to see in that manual, courtesy of Craig (thanks Craig!) ...

Here is my list of preferred ways to do your intervals, ranked in order from best to worst, based on my experiences…

1. Sprinting outdoors (and hills might be the absolute best)
2. Strongman movements (Farmer’s walks, tire flips, car pushing)
3. Bodyweight interval circuits
4. Treadmill running
5. Stationary cycle (upright preferred)
6. Stairclimber
7. Rower
8. Swimming (only works for competent swimmers)
9. Elliptical & Crosstrainer machines

Okay, so how long should you do intervals?

First, there is NO “best” interval training program – no best “sets and reps” for fat loss.

But that is good because it allows us to use variety in our approach. (So perhaps the best interval training method is simply the one that changes every 4 weeks.)

Interval recommendations have ranged from 15 seconds (from Muscle Media waaaay back in the late 90’s), to 5 minutes (these are known as aerobic intervals). So let’s take a look at each interval recommendation and all those in between.

8 seconds on, 12 seconds off
This is the duration used by the Australian researchers in the now famous “intervals vs. cardio” study from 2007. The results found that intervals helped subjects lose belly fat, but cardio didn’t. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to replicate 8 seconds on, 12 seconds off using cardio equipment in your gym.

15 seconds
The great thing about 15 second intervals is that you’ll be able to work at a very high rate (almost near your maximum power output), as long as you get adequate recovery between work intervals. The downside is that it is very difficult to do 15 second intervals on machines, because it takes a long time to “build up” and “bring
down” the machine settings to the correct speed.

If you decide to use these short, high-intensity intervals, you should do so only if you already have an above average level of fitness. Your rest interval should be at least 15 seconds long, and can be as long as 60 seconds. The longer you rest, the harder you will be able to exercise in each interval.

20 seconds on, 10 seconds off
This method is known as the Tabata protocol, after the Japanese scientist that published a study on this routine. It is very demanding (obviously), and while some trainers have suggested this is the best method for interval training, there is NO proof that you will get better fat loss results.

Clearly, the pro’s with this method (as well as the 15 second intervals) is that you’ll get your workout done faster (provided you do the same number of intervals as any other workout). Again, it would be very difficult to perform this type of interval training on a machine, due to the time lag as you increase or decrease the settings. And finally, these too should only be performed by above average fitness levels.

30 seconds
The Turbulence Training workouts tend to use a lot of 30 second intervals. Beginners will rest up to 90 seconds between intervals, while advanced fitness levels will rest 30-60 seconds. The longer (relative) rest allows you to work harder in each successive interval (i.e. you’ll almost be able to match your performance in the first interval with each following interval). Short rest intervals (as in the Tabata protocol) will lead to a dramatic drop-off in performance with each interval. You can easily do the 3-second intervals on any machine.

I started using these with athletes back in the 90’s, and that is when I first realized they worked AWESOME for fat loss. Sure they don’t sound as exotic as Tabatas, but they work!

45 seconds
These intervals are proven for fat loss, in addition to being effective for many team sports (such as hockey, soccer, basketball, and rugby). I have used 45 second intervals extensively in both areas of training. Not only will these tax your muscles, they will also tax your will to complete each interval (if done at the right intensity). Use 45-90 seconds of recovery between intervals. Do 3-6 intervals per workout. Your fitness and fat loss will skyrocket.

60 second intervals
Similar to the 45 second intervals in benefits and toughness. Use 60-120 seconds of recovery between each.

120 second intervals
These are now officially aerobic intervals, and can be used for both fat loss and improving aerobic capacity for sports and running. A great way to achieve two fitness goals at once. Exercise for 2 minutes and then recover for 2 minutes. Repeat 6 times. These workouts take longer (obviously), but can have a role in changing your body and improving your performance.

3, 4, or 5 minute aerobic intervals
These have been used in a lot of strength-endurance studies, and also in a lot of soccer-training protocols. Same strategy as with the two minute intervals. This really increases your workout time, so these are only used with serious endurance athletes.

Beginner vs. Advanced
If you are thinking that these intervals all sound “too intense” for you, please don’t worry. Interval training is all relative. In fact, a recent study found that coronary-heart disease patients found interval training EASIER than cardio! You don’t have to sprint for your life in each type of interval.

Instead, just work at a slightly harder than normal pace. By the end of the interval, you should be getting tired, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air. Start conservatively and you will get the hang of it.

For example, if you regularly use level 5 on the stationary bike for 30 minutes continuously, you might try doing a 1 minute interval at level 7. Try that for an interval workout and let me know how it goes.

My favorite intervals for fat loss are between 30-60 seconds. These have been the staple intervals in my Turbulence Training workouts since the first workout was designed back in 2001. But again, I think you will get your best fat loss results if you vary your interval training workouts – just like you must vary your strength training workouts.

... of course, we're going to need to wait for the manual before we have access to the actual workouts. Nevertheless, great info.

For those of you itching to get started, you may want to check out the TT March 2009 March Madness Circuits which includes a 5-minute bodyweight interval training session and a timed bodyweight interval program.

Train hard; stay strong.



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