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Roller Coaster Workout

by on April 11, 2013

How can you pump up your strength, push your threshold higher, and increase results from your workouts?

Today let’s talk about intervals.

This was one of the most frustrating things for me when I started out as a Spin enthusiast and later as an instructor. Intervals are definitely a case of “work smarter, not harder.” All too often, I would be in classes or military PT sessions where the leader thought that “intervals” meant short bursts at very high intensity followed by equally short bursts at merely high intensity. You end up with a 20 second sprint followed by 20 seconds of jogging or pedaling or what-have-you.

That’s really not the point of an interval exercise.

The goal with intervals is to push you to your anaerobic threshold – the point at which your muscles stop using oxygen for fuel. When you lift weights, it’s an anaerobic workout. Breathing is important, of course, but your muscles are working at a different level than a routine jog or aerobic class at the gym. (Aerobics… hence the name.)

Working to increase your anaerobic threshold is working those fast-twitch muscles, the kind that will help you make bursts of speed and quick, explosive movements. It’s not the same as a long run to build your endurance.

So how do intervals help you do this? If done correctly, intervals force you to push your body up past that anaerobic threshold for a brief time, maybe 20 seconds to a minute. The essential part is what comes after that hard push.

Your heart rate has to drop back down to normal. The point is to push the heart rate up and then let it drop back down, because the act of pushing it back up is what’s giving you that intense interval workout and resulting benefits.

What we often see is people working hard, then working really hard for half a minute, then back to working hard, then really hard again, and so on, back and forth. They never rest enough, so they never recover enough to be able to push hard enough to gain the benefits of interval workouts.

Imagine a roller coaster with steep hills and deep valleys. If you graphed out the intensity of your intervals, that’s what you want to see:

A hard push to the top, to your peak performance, something you can only sustain for half a minute or a minute at most.

Then a descent to the bottom, where your heartbeat slows to a leisurely pace.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Without a sufficient intensity in your hard push, and without a sufficient rest before your next push, you’re just working out kind of hard pretty much the way you would normally. It might as well be called “intense cardio” at that point, because it’s not an interval.

You work hard and use precious time and energy in doing so. You deserve to get the most out of it. They say “Don’t take anything home with you; give it all you’ve got. Leave it all on the track” (or bike, or court, or bench, etc).

Make sure you’re also not leaving any of the benefits behind.


From → Get Moving

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