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The Three Keys of Fitness: Part III: Intensity

Posted Mar 13 2012 9:18pm

This is the third and final installment in my series on the three keys to optimal training. After incorporating the training principles we covered in parts one and two, hopefully you’ve now been exercising consistently and you’ve added variety to your program . You’re now ready to push the envelope by raising the intensity in some of your cardio and strength workouts.

Training at high intensities increases aerobic capacity and raises your anaerobic threshold, your body’s ability to dissipate lactic acid at higher levels of exercise. High intensity aerobic interval training also burns more calories per minute compared with moderate-intensity, continuous aerobic exercise. Think of your body as a car. Low-to-moderate intensity, sustained aerobic exercise is analogous to freeway driving at 55 mph in “cruise control”. Interval training, by comparison, is akin to” around-town driving” where you speed up and slow down, going up and down hills — which requires more energy (i.e. calories). Recent research also suggests that higher intensity training also elevates the metabolism longer after exercise compared with continuous, moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. By substituting one or two higher intensity interval sessions per week for your longer, moderate-intensity aerobic workouts, you’ll take your fitness and your training to a higher level.

Interval training provides one of the most effective and efficient means of increasing your aerobic conditioning . Originally evolving from sports conditioning, interval training is defined as performing repeated bouts of high intensity exercise interspersed with intervals of relatively light exercise. Contrary to popular belief, the “interval” is actually the intervening active rest period in between the bursts of speed or other increases in intensity. The faster, more intense segments are called repetitions or “reps”. The intervals and the reps should be approximately the same duration. Principles of aerobic interval training can be applied to any form of cardiorespiratory exercise, from cycling, to swimming, to inline skating.

If you don’t have access to a heart rate monitor, use the “talk test” to gauge your intensity level when interval training. During the repeats (the hard efforts), and breathing should be somewhat labored and speaking difficult. During the recovery intervals you should remain aerobic but your breathing should return to a more comfortable level and you should be able to talk (though not sing).

Raising your intensity level in the weight room is also critical to increasing your power, and your performance, particularly if your sport is more anaerobic and strength-oriented. This is usually managed in one of two ways (or ideally both): by increasing the amount of weight you lift to failure while decreasing the number of times you lift it and/or add new and increasingly challenging strength exercises every three to six weeks. Using a combination of free weights and machines and then constantly mixing that combination is another effective technique.

Another benefit of adding high intensity training is in maintaining your conditioning as you age. Exercise physiologists used to believe that aerobic capacity automatically declines about one percent per year after age 35. But research suggests that this declines results from reduced activity and especially reduced exercise intensity level. Furthermore, some of the most dramatic gains have been shown in older populations. A few final words of caution:   pushing yourself in your workouts is an important means of challenging and increasing your fitness level. Be sure, however, that you have been performing consistent, quality aerobic and strength workouts before pushing yourself to the next level.

Be Well,

Carolyn


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