Ok, perhaps the title of this one is a little "OTT" (over the top).
However, there is a great myth surrounding interval training at this point in the fitness industry, thanks to the latest trend taking the industry by storm, group training.
These group training facilities are taking every exercise known to man - and turning them into 'high intensity interval training' sessions - without even conforming to the basic definition of interval training.
Interval training, to my mind, is performing bouts of maximal intensity exercise, intertwined with bouts of rest, long enough so you can go maximal again.
In studies, interval training is typically defined by intense periods of exercise (above 92% max heart rate), with periods of rest.
One of the more famous styles of interval training is the Tabata method. This method is used in every group training environment in the country - however I doubt any of the coaches preaching the benefits of this protocol has ever even read the study!
Izumi Tabata conducted this study in 1996, and it really was ground breaking stuff at the time.
Tabata got 2 groups of subjects;
Group 1 did moderate intensity training, long duration, and they trained 5 days a week at 70% of their VO2 max, for 60 minutes.
Group 2 did 5 days a week of training as well, however, 4 of those days were at 170% VO2 max, with an interval protocol of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds recovery, repeated 8 times (4 minutes).
The 5th day they performed 30 minutes of training at 70% VO2 max, plus 4 repeats of the 20:10 protocol.
This was repeated for 6 weeks:
The results of the study are outlined below. As you can see, Group 1 achieved a 10% increase in aerobic capacity, with no change in anaerobic capacity.
Group 2, however, achieved a 15% increase in aerobic capacity, plus a whopping 23% increase in anaerobic capacity.
Now if you do the math, group 2 only trained for 48 minutes during the week!
Absolutely it is. However;
To get the same benefit proven from the Tabata protocol, you must train at the same intensity as the subjects in the study trained.
That means training at 170% VO2 max. Possible, yes. Achievable, unlikely.
And definitely not achievable doing 20 seconds of push ups or sit ups!
Back to interval training in general:
Interval training has been well researched and have been shown to produce rapid and marked gains in fitness and they expend huge amounts of energy both during and after the session, which goes a long way towards burning through unwanted fat stores.
Intervals are also an incredibly efficient way to train for the time poor, or those that don't enjoy exercise. Training for 20 minutes is much more appealing than training for 60 minutes, right?
However, one must remember:
To get the same benefit proven from interval training, you must train at the same intensity as the subjects in the studies have trained.
And that means training bloody hard.
Intervals aren't designed to be an enjoyable form of exercise. Remember, they are bouts of maximal intensity exercise. Often, subjects in studies done on interval training report feeling nauseous and even vomiting after the sessions.
However, the benefits of this style of training are profound and quite honestly, fascinating. Done correctly, interval training is an incredibly effective way to maximize energy expenditure, improve fitness and other health markers.
Do you feel like you need help with interval training programming? Just ask!
Drew is a personal trainer and nutritionist and is the co-founder of Evexia Wellbeing. Drew specialises in long-term habit change, body composition training, and mindset.