If you've talked to any educated fitness trainers, coaches or athletes in the last 5-10 years, they surely said that interval training is, hands down, the fastest way to improve strength and endurance over moderate-intensity steady-state cardiovascular exercise. Research has shown time and time again that interval training, especially high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the gold standard for rapid results in speed, strength and endurance, whether you're running, cycling, weight training or using cardio machines at your gym.
HIIT has been all the rage for total body fitness the last several years. If you've been intrigued by the results people have achieved from home workout videos like Insanity, CrossFit workouts, most boot camp-styled classes or websites like BodyRock.Tv, you're seeing the indisputable results of interval training.
But HIIT isn't just for the already fit. As far back as 2007, researchers found that even after having heart failure, patients achieved much greater cardiovascular benefits from aerobic interval training (at 95 percent of their maximum heart rate) than doing moderate-intensity, continuous cardio exercise (at 70 percent of their max heart rate).
If you still haven't gotten with the program, fear not! There is actually an easy way to get all the great benefits interval training has to offer in a super-simple format that you can do in just 20-30 minutes! Researchers from the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of Copenhagen designed and tested an interval-training concept called "10-20-30" and the results were pretty remarkable.
The researchers used 18 moderately-trained runners for a seven-week program of 10-20-30 training and found that they were able to improve performance on a 1,500-meter run by 23 seconds and almost by a minute on a 5-km run -- and this despite a 50 percent reduction in their typical amount of training time.
That's all well and good if you're training for a 5k or a 10k race. But if your goal is to just improve your overall health, the runners from the study also had a significant decrease in blood pressure and a reduction in cholesterol in the blood. Remember, this was in Denmark where whale fat is considered a delicacy, pork is king and the common cuisine is largely meat and potatoes.
So how do you do this 10-20-30 thing? Pick a cardio exercise where you can watch a timer. Warm up for a few minutes, then perform 10 seconds at a high-intensity effort (go hard!), follow that with 20 seconds at moderate-intensity effort, then go for another 30 seconds at an easy comfortable effort level. You'll notice it takes one minute to complete each cycle. Keep this pattern going for 5 consecutive minutes then take a 2-minute recovery break (if you need one), before beginning again. Try to complete three-to-four blocks of these 5-minute rounds (two blocks if you're just starting out). You can take a 2-minute recovery break or rest after each 5-minute round. Finish up with a few more minutes at a comfortable effort or pace to warm down, and viola! That's all there is to it.
Ever since I read this study last year, I've been doing the 10-20-30s on a Schwinn AC Indoor Cycling bike, either on my own or in the classes I teach, because I'm not a runner. If you're not a runner either, any bike that can be used for spinning classes will work great, because the resistance can be changed quickly. Some of the newer cardio machines with computer interfaces and resistance adjusters on the hand grips also work well as long as you're able to quickly go from light to medium to hard resistance. Keep in mind, it doesn't have to be the resistance level that changes if you're on a cardio machine. Just like the runners did in the study, you can just change your pace from easy and slow to moderately challenging to sprints for the 10-second segments.
If you are a runner and want to simulate the routine done in the study, here's the program the researchers administered during the 7-week trial: Warm up for 1-km at a low intensity. Follow with three-to-four blocks of 5 minutes running interspersed with 2 minutes of rest. (Each block consists of five consecutive 1-minute intervals, divided into 30, 20 and 10 seconds of running at a low, moderate and near-maximal intensity, respectively.)
If you want to see one of the professors and participants from the study in action, click here.
As you improve, whether it's running, cycling or whatever your cardio method of choice is, work on completing more cycles and/or taking fewer breaks. If you're new to HIIT training, you'll be seeing an improvement in just a few weeks, depending on how often you do the program. At your next physical, your doctor may notice the improvement, too!
Give it a try on your next workout and leave your comments below.