Have They Found the Perfect Interval Formula?

In the fitness world, buzzwords come and go almost monthly. One that seems to have some real staying power, though, is high intensity interval training, or HIIT. Although it’s not really a new idea, HIIT has really gained ground in the past few years with the rise of standardized forms like Crossfit, Tabata and the Little method. Even with these programs, though, a universal formula for an effective HIIT workout has been sorely lacking.

A group of Danish researchers set out in 2012 to define the perfect formula for HIIT and their work produced some intriguing results worth considering.

The 10-20-30 Study

At the beginning of their research, the team, led by Dr. Thomas Gunnarsson experimented with different ratios that are already at use in other HIIT methods.

Starting with 30-second sprinting bouts, which is a common approach, they found that, although this produced powerful results in their subjects, it’s also a very demanding. Eventually, through trial-and-error, the team fell on 10-second intervals.

It’s not really surprising that the 10-second sprints produced benefits but the exact depth of those improvements has caught many experts off-guard.

Over the course of the 7-week study, veteran 5K runners cut a full minute off their time and 1500-meter runners reduced their time by an average of 23-seconds. And these reductions all happened while slicing their weekly mileage by half. As an added selling-point, these highly effective workouts only took about 20 to 30 minutes.

Workout Details

At its core, the 10-20-30 program is modeled after the Fartlek approach by involving short bursts of running with the speed adjusted by how you’re feeling.

A typical workout following this new protocol would look like this:

  1. A 10-minute warmup. The runners in the original study ran just 3/4 of a mile for their warmup, with no regard to time.
  2. Jog for 30 seconds, run for 20 and then sprint for 10. Repeat this same pattern four more times, follow this routine for five straight minutes.
  3. Walk or jog for 2 minutes as an active rest.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3. Cycle through these intervals two or three times. Runners in the study eventually worked their way up to four of these sets.

The original study didn’t list any sort of cool-down but a 10-minute walk is generally recommended to wrap-up your workout.

Because this approach allows you to adjust the speed of each interval, whether it be jogging, running or sprinting, and the number of times you repeat the pattern, it’s easily adapted to your fitness level.

Expert Reception

In general, most experts who reviewed the research found no problems with the study methodology or the program that the study produced. A few authorities have questioned the effectiveness of this type of workout for elite-level athletes.

Others have expressed doubts regarding the trustworthiness of the touted benefits since the subjects used were all experienced runners. These detractors feel that those benefits are to be expected by runners who suddenly shift to an easier training method.

Overall, however, both anecdotal and expert reports have supported the use of 10-20-30 intervals.

Have you been able to incorporate 10-20-30 into your workouts? Please share your experience in the comments.




Workout While You Work: Treadmill Desk Basics

Chances are you multitask plenty on the job. Do you check emails and update spreadsheets while on a conference call? If so, you’re in good company. However, there’s a group of office workers taking multitasking on the job to a whole new level: they’re working out while they work.

No, these people aren’t Phys Ed teachers, personal trainers or professional athletes. They’re everyday people who work in an office sitting at a desk. Except they’re not sitting down while they type. They’re walking… on a treadmill… at their desks.

Not your average gym treadmill

These special treadmill desks were created so employees who were often sedentary throughout the work day could get physical activity on the job.

Treadmill desks, also called “walking desks” or “treadmill workstations,” consist of a treadmill with a desktop securely balanced on top of the treadmill’s console. An employee’s workstation equipment – including a computer, keyboard, phone and more – sits at a comfortable height so the employee can work and walk simultaneously. Users should walk at an extremely slow pace – only 1-2 miles per hour. This speed is intentionally slower than a normal walking pace so that employees can carry out routine work activities without breaking a sweat.

The perks of walking while you work

The past few years, study after study has revealed just how harmful sitting for long periods of time is for our health. Sitting over four hours per day (as most office workers do) has been linked with type 2 diabetes, heart disease and a shorter life expectancy.

With that said, there’s also an obesity epidemic going on. Not getting enough exercise is partly to blame for our nation’s expanding waistline. In fact, 80 percent of adults don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity. Using a treadmill desk seems like a great solution for these problems.

Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, would likely agree. Dr. Levine is credited for creating the first treadmill desk back in 2005. He wanted to find a way to help himself and others get in extra activity throughout the day to help meet weight loss goals. Dr. Levine estimates that the average work-walker burns 100-130 calories per hour. So, if an employee uses a treadmill desk for 8 hours a day every workday, he or she could shed up to one to two pounds per week.

Treadmill desk enthusiasts cite more benefits beyond weight loss. Users claim that treadmill desks can help ease back pain and leg neuropathy and improve circulation.

Where to find a treadmill desk

People are using treadmill desks in corporate settings and in their home offices. Several fitness equipment companies make different models, with prices ranging from approximately $500 to a few thousand dollars.

Note that these treadmills differ from traditional treadmills – they don’t have an incline, have a lower range of speed, and are quieter. They’re designed for walking only. However, if you’re crafty and into DIY projects, it’s possible to repurpose a regular treadmill and turn it into a walking desk.

Have you ever tried a treadmill desk?







Image suggestion:


this photo isn’t ideal, but I doubt Livestrong wants to highlight a competitor’s treadmill

How Exercise Adds Up

You’ve probably heard the American Heart Association’s recommendations countless times: Maintain a moderate intensity for 30 minutes, 5 days per week. For years, this has been the standard amount of exercise promised to help keep your heart healthy and your weight down. And at first, 30 minutes every day of the week may sound easy to pull off, even a little laughable. In reality, when you find yourself trying to find those 30 minutes between work, your family and whatever else your daily life throws at you, it can quickly become daunting to stick to that schedule.

Fortunately, a new study has produced some encouraging findings regarding how much exercise you really need. More interestingly, the study provides some insight on how you can better fit it into a schedule.

What They Found

The study, published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, was designed to determine whether or not the frequency of your workouts has a bearing on the benefits. Remember that the AHA recommends a total of 150 minutes of exercise per week, so the question at the heart of this study was: Does it really matter if those 150 minutes are broken up in to 5 bouts of 30 minutes?

To answer the question, the researchers monitored the physical activity of 2,324 adults over the course of one week and then calculated their risk of developing certain health condition associated with inactivity. The umbrella term for the condition they were testing for is metabolic syndrome, which includes everything from increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat and high cholesterol.

At the end of the study the findings clearly showed that it didn’t matter how those 150 minutes were accumulated through out the week. For example, if someone was unable to workout at all on Monday through Friday but crammed their 150 minutes, or 2.5 hours, on the weekend, they could except the same benefits as if they had followed the AHA recommendations to the letter.

Why It Matters

These findings open up a large amount of freedom for you in designing your workout schedule. You’re goal should be simply to be able to plug in at least 150 minutes each week, regardless of how that time is spread out over the days.

You should also be able to give yourself more flexibility with this in mind. Things come up during the week and your plans change. An emergency may throw off your schedule to workout on a planned day. But, in light of this study, you can make up for that lost time later in the week just by tacking those 30 minutes onto another day.

A Few Considerations

Remember, though, that these recommendations are the minimum needed to prevent metabolic syndrome. These 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise won’t necessarily help you reach your goals if you’re working towards building endurance or muscle strength but the principle is the same.

Although you can change your workout time to match your goals, it’s now evident that you can be adaptable and spread it out through the week in the way that is most convenient for you.

How have you met the challenge of fitting your workouts into your schedule? Please share your thoughts in the comments.





Posted by Jonathan Thompson | Posted in Fitness

The Many Factors That Affect Caloric Expenditure

It’s practically impossible to talk about exercise without the topic of “calories” somehow coming up. Whether you’re trying to lose weight by burning off excess calories or just trying to fuel your activity by making sure you eat enough, being able to accurately track your caloric expenditure can be a powerful tool. Frustratingly, though, there are many highly personal factors that can have a large impact on the actual amount of calories your body uses during exercise. Understanding these factors, and using that knowledge, can help you design the most effective workout for your unique situation.

Fitness Level

If you’ve ever worked hard to lose a large amount of weight, you know the excitement that comes with that first rapid decrease at the scale and the frustration that follows with the slowing of progress as you get closer to your goal. One of the reasons that this happens has to do with how your body adapts to exercise.

Consider a car: The better maintained it is, the more efficiently the engine runs and the less fuel it needs to travel the same distance as a car that is less cared for. Your body is very similar. As you become more fit, you will use significantly less calories to get through your workouts than you did when you first got started.

Type of Exercise and Workout Design

It may seem obvious to say that some exercises burn more calories than others but the real impact of this statement is much deeper than it appears at first. Generally speaking, the more muscle fibers you have working at once, the more calories you will burn.

To capitalize on this when strength training, focus on compound movements that emphasize big muscle groups like the chest, back and legs. When it comes to cardio, elliptical machines tend to activate more muscles at once than other modes and interval training increases the burn even more.

Surprisingly, your rest periods can also strongly affect how many calories you burn through during your workout. Try to keep your rests to about 60 seconds between each set. This applies to strength training and cardio interval training as well.

A Product of Your Environment

Running presents a special set of challenges that can all change how much fuel your body uses. Uneven and shifting terrain, like sand, incorporates more muscles than a solid surface by forcing your body to compensate and balance you out.

Other aspects of your environment when running outside, even those that seem relatively benign, should be considered. The density of the air, generally associated with elevation can both increase and decrease your caloric expenditure. Running at high altitudes, where the air is thinner, will require significantly fewer calories than at a lower elevation.

Even the wind can make things more difficult. It doesn’t have to be a gale-force gust to make a difference, either. If the wind is steadily blowing against you, it can add a challenge whereas a cycling behind another ride can save up to 26 to 38 percent of energy. Unfortunately, running in the same direction doesn’t necessarily make things any easier for you.

Keeping Your Numbers Accurate

Many devices are available to help you estimate your caloric expenditure during your exercise but, as we’ve discussed a very personalized approach is needed to keep things as accurate as possible. To that end, make sure to enter your correct age and weight into any equipment your on. Using included heart rate meters will also given the machine a good idea of how hard you’re working and, subsequently, your fitness level.

Do you have any tricks to estimating your caloric expenditure? Please share them in comments.