The many benefits of interval training

Bupa Challenge 5About ten years ago, long before I had thought about taking up cycling, I used to go on a morning walk. It was a brisk walk but it was still just a walk. I had been doing the same thing for many years for exercise, but one day I decided to start jogging instead so that I was ‘getting more bang for my buck’. I figured, if I was going to exercise for 30 minutes every morning, then I should up the intensity to gain more in the short period of time.

Years later I realised that the same idea was behind interval training, but because the intervals are so hard you can’t sustain them over long periods of time. But they certainly give you more ‘bang for your buck’ and help you make real improvements in your fitness. I’ve recently started doing intervals as part of my ongoing training program on the bike and I’m seeing real results.

I prefer to do intervals when I’m on the stationery trainer in my garage because I can concentrate on metrics like my cadence, time, gear selection and heart rate. But I plan to do more of them out on the road as I get more practiced.

I’m not an expert on interval training so I’m not here to tell you about how to build them into a training program but I do know that they have many benefits.

Interval training is characterised by low and high intensity workout periods, inter-dispersed with rest periods. The main aim is to improve speed and cardiovascular fitness. Women and men will benefit equally from interval training. According to a study published in The Journal of Physiology, three sessions of sprint interval training are as effective as five sessions of longer endurance exercise which is great news for time-poor women.

A couple of important rules that you should remember are:

  • the effort needs to be even throughout the interval period
  • the effort needs to be even from one interval to the next
  • the on and off period are equally important
  • you get out what you put in
  • the mental part of a interval training is critical.

Interval training leads to many physiological changes including an increase in cardiovascular efficiency (the ability to deliver oxygen to the working muscles) as well as increased tolerance to the build-up of lactic acid. These changes result in improved performance, greater speed, and endurance.

Interval training also helps avoid injuries associated with repetitive overuse, common in endurance athletes. Intervals also allow an athlete to increase training intensity without overtraining or burn-out. Adding intervals to a workout routine is also a great way add cross training to an exercise routine.

I also find that they break up the monotony. On the indoor trainer they give you something to focus on because just sitting and pedalling can be pretty boring. Sure you can watch TV but it is still pretty boring and you feel stuck in one place. It’s like anything in life, if you set a goal it makes it far more interesting trying to achieve it.

So give interval training a go. There’s heaps written about intervals and how to add them to you exercise program. Try reading the articles in magazines like Bicycling Australia or buy a book on the subject.

2 comments

  1. A really interesting blog. I do a 20 mile commute once a week (amongst other cycles) and I started to think that maybe intervals are a way to really make it count. That was until I read the ‘important rules to remember’. Sadly it doesn’t look like a viable option to do regular intervals whilst negotiating City traffic lights. I will definitely be looking for another way to fit intervals onto my training though.

  2. I’m not a PT or have any expertise on this subject either, but over the years that I’ve been developing my cycling skills, and my love of long distance events, I’ve always had a cross training approach, which includes the interval training. I love seeing my fitness move from one level to the next, and like you, i think this occurs as a result of the increasing efforts that intervals require and the psychological challenges that go with it. Thanks for the motivational reminder to look at focusing on interval training again. It’s harder to be motivated in winter…

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