I remember very specific cross-country running workouts back in high school as being the hardest and most dreaded practices known to our team. “Interval training day,” our coach would say as we completed our warm-up laps. Our runs on these days would consist of setting a steady pace to carry for different lengths of time, five-minutes, ten-minutes etc. Then our coach, who thankfully ran and suffered with us, would shout “break!’—not the command to rest and get water; in this case, it meant: ‘go as fast as you can!” The group would burst into a sprint until the coach picked a landmark such as a telephone pole ahead when the sprint could change to a light jog. We would repeat this process over and over, changing only the time held on pace and the length of the sprint intervals based on which new landmark would end our torture.
What made the interval training tough on us was that it was different. We had already been conditioning for several weeks and had reached a general state of fitness for the demands we had placed on our bodies up to that point. By introducing the changes of the intervals, our coach introduced something new to the workout and demands on our bodies. For our collective purpose, he was preparing us for upcoming large races with many teams during which our freedom and ability to break out away from the pack could be limited by space and number of runners. We were training to hold different paces and to be ready to explode into faster bursts when necessary. Although it seemed like torture at the time, looking back it is easy to see how smart this training technique was as it replicated almost exactly what we would encounter in competition. And it worked.
Interval training is not only for racing or elite athletics. Intervals can work well for those of us wanting general conditioning and resistance to injury so we can enjoy safe and fun recreation. As we work toward our springtime goal of seizing the day and season we should remember that outdoor pursuits in Alaska often include hills or at least changing terrain. Whether biking, trail running, backpacking or other overland pursuits, the ground beneath your feet will change almost constantly. This is a great reason to match interval training with the exercise you do now to prepare for these warmer season activities.
Interval training can also lead to greater benefits from regular exercise. Recent research has shown that weight loss may be increased through adding short bouts of faster, slower, harder and easier pace/resistance during cardio work. Stability, balance and agility are enhanced when intervals of high-intensity cardio are added between strength exercises. These are just some of the benefits and ways to put intervals to work for you. Check with a fitness professional for more on how to change the workout within the workout for even greater results. Be well!