Dr. Martin Gibala, PhD, chairman of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, is researching the astounding effect of interval training. His studies suggest that “six minutes or so a week of hard exercise (plus the time spent warming up, cooling down, and resting between the bouts of intense work) had proven to be as good as multiple hours of working out for achieving fitness.”
This research challenges the longstanding idea that hours of exercise are required to achieve fitness. Even more impressive is the theory that intense interval training helps with weight loss.
Dr. Gibala’s findings have been confirmed by other researchers who found that intense, short exercise sessions improved heart health, even among individuals with heart disease.
But to realize the benefits, the six minutes of interval training need to be intense—demandingly intense, even uncomfortably strenuous. Exercisers must exert themselves flat out for six minutes with nothing held back.
Still, the idea of achieving fitness with a minimal expenditure of time has enormous appeal. So when I read the latest research praising the benefits of interval training, I thought I’d consult John Hendrickson, a local expert. John is a certified member of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a certified personal trainer and a certified post rehab conditioning specialist through the American Academy of Health, Fitness and Rehabilitation Professionals.
I wanted to see if John’s real-world experience made him similarly enthusiastic and also to learn how to add interval training into ongoing exercise routines.
John surprised me by reporting that long before interval training was popular, he incorporated the concept into his tennis clinics and personal training sessions because of the benefits his clients reported. (His clients, by the way, range in age from 15 to 75.)
Here are my questions and John’s answers:
Q. What is interval training?
A. Interval training refers to exercise at a very high intensity followed by exercise at a lower intensity in repeated patterns or sets.
Q. What are the benefits?
A. Interval training improves fitness and balance, increases speed and stamina and reduces recovery time.
Q. How can interval training facilitate weight loss?
A. When you follow high-intensity exercise with low-intensity exercise in repeated patterns, you increase metabolism, thereby increasing the calories that are burned during and after the exercise period.
Q. Is interval training an efficient way to exercise?
A. Structured correctly, interval training can blend strength, cardio, agility, flexibility and speed exercises into one 20- to 30-minute workout. The routines I’ve developed are both fun and challenging. Best of all, they pack a great punch in a short period.
Q. Is tennis an interval sport?
A. Yes, especially when played as a singles player. When I teach tennis, I structure the clinics as interval-training workouts. I introduce controlled, balanced drills followed by higher-intensity drills that focus on balance, cardio, agility and speed.
Q. Before we undertake interval training, are there any safety issues that we should be aware of?
A. It’s prudent to warm up before starting, set realistic goals and make sure the program matches your abilities. Start slowly and build up to the maximum intensity and duration. Monitor your heart rate during the intense drills and bring your heart rate back to normal during rest periods.
If you are pressed for time, you might want to press yourself as hard as you can for six minutes at least once a week. This way, you can achieve the same level of fitness that others take hours to achieve. Which style of exercising will you choose?