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.

Sources

http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/2944/have-researchers-discovered-the-ideal-hiit-formula

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22556401

Strength and Cardio Training: Should They Mix?

Strength and cardiovascular training methods are often at odds. Many people train in strictly one or other, believing that the neglected training style will somehow hinder their progress. Gym myths and misunderstandings just add to the confusion, promoting ideas like “running burns muscle.” Other exercisers simply don’t know how to incorporate both strength and cardiovascular training into their schedule and favor the one they enjoy the most.

Should these two training styles be used together? How?

Myths and Misunderstandings

Usually, people practice cardio because they want to lose weight and lift weights because they want to gain muscle. However, two persistent— and incorrect — ideas have pervaded gyms around the world, deepening the divide between strength training and cardio workouts.

Some people who hope to slim down avoid lifting weights, because they are afraid it will make them too bulky. The truth is that muscle growth is a very slow process, and it requires a well designed program of diet and exercise to be followed for years before you appear “bulky.” On the contrary, proper weight training will increase the strength and endurance of your muscles, which will improve your cardiovascular efficiency and burn more calories and fat in the process.

On the other hand, weightlifters who are looking for bulk tend to fear that cardio burns muscle. This one is more of an oversimplification than an outright myth. It is true that, in extreme cases of over-training, your body will begin to use muscle for fuel. However, your body will only go catabolic, as this is called, when you exercise at a high intensity for more than 45 minutes, exercise every day, or exercise on an empty stomach. Put simply, cardio will only burn muscle when you give it no other choice. Balance, in your training and in your diet, will prevent muscle loss.

A healthy combination of strength and cardio training will allow your body to perform at its best, letting the two systems complement each other rather than compete.

How to Do It Right

Understanding that cardio and strength training don’t cancel each other out is only half the battle: now you have to balance the two properly. Mixing cardio and strength training requires a highly individualized approach based on your goals, body type and chosen sport.

First, you should decide whether your focus is to lose weight or gain muscle. Trying to do both at the same time will most likely slow your progress and frustrate you, and may even lead to over-training injuries. Again, this does not mean that you are choosing one training method over the other; the key is to make them work together.

If your primary goal is to gain muscle, then you should lift three times per week, with two moderate-intensity cardio sessions of about 20 to 30 minutes each on your off days. Lifting and running on the same day not only takes more time, it increases your risk of overworking your muscles, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

Next, you need to consider your body type. Is it easy for you to lose weight or does it feel like a constant struggle? Are you naturally muscular? Your body’s natural tendencies will have a strong bearing on your workout plan. For example, an endomorph —  someone who is natural heavy-set — will need to schedule more cardio days to lose weight, but will likely find it easy to gain muscle with plenty of stored fuel in the body.

Lastly, we need to consider your sport. An endurance athlete, for instance, such as a marathon runner, will need a completely different skill-set than a football player. While both of these examples lean towards either cardio or strength, these athletes can still benefit from both modes of training.

As is the case with many aspects of fitness, balance is the key to mixing both cardio and strength training into your routine. While these two modes of exercise are frequently considered incompatible, when scheduled properly, they will work together to help you reach your fitness goals.

Have any tips on mixing strength and cardio training? Please share them in the comments!

How to Use Periodization Training in your Cardio Workout

There are many potential stumbling blocks that may pop up as you pursue your fitness goals. Plateaus, overuse injuries and even plain old boredom can all slow your progress and eventually impede your performance in competitive events.

A common piece of wisdom, heard in gyms all around the world, says that variety is the key to avoiding these pitfalls, and periodization training provides an organized way to inject that variety into your workouts. This can appear difficult for endurance athletes, whose chosen activities(such as running or cycling) seemingly leave little room for changes. But periodization can be utilized in even these sports to round out your training and keep you engaged.

What is Periodization Training?

Periodization training is, in the most basic terms, a goal-oriented training program. It works by dividing your athletic season into a series of cycles, the largest of which is the “macrocycle,” which will typically end with your event. For example, a marathon runner will set his race as the end of his macrocycle, and divide the months leading up to the race into smaller training blocks called “mesocycles.” Each of these mesocycles will ideally focus on a different skill needed in your sport, such as speed, strength and endurance. An active rest cycle is generally incorporated as the last phase before the event in order to prevent exhaustion. This use of cycles allows you to focus on several smaller objectives that together will lead you, step by step, to your larger goal.

Periodization for Endurance Athletes

We don’t always think of cardiovascular exercise in its most detailed terms. Many people who decide to train for a race, for example, will simply run. They may focus on increasing speed or distance, but rarely use a standardized approach. Strength training is sometimes totally overlooked. The truth is that all of these components work together to finally carry you across the finish line, and by working on each one individually, you can build a more complete cardiovascular unit.

While the exact construction and length of your mesocycles will vary based on your personal training schedule and sport, we’ll consider a 6-month macrocycle for runners as an example of periodization training.

Example Program

Mesocycle 1 – Active Rest (3-4 weeks)

Because this first cycle is typically either coming after your last race or a period of inactivity, it’s important to start slowly. This active rest period will keep you moving while giving your running muscles a break. Cross-train with light cycling or swimming. Small amounts of jogging are allowed, but try to spread them out, and don’t push yourself. Even household chores like yard work can be used to fill in this cycle. The goal is to build and maintain a healthy cardiovascular base while not exhausting your muscles.

Mesocycle 2 – Endurance (8-12 weeks)

At this stage, your real training begins. Focus on long, steady runs with a focus on volume. Tempo runs or slow intervals can also be used for variety, but be careful not to focus on your time. Your goal in this cycle is to build an endurance base; you’ll improve your speed later.

Mesocycle 3 – Strength (6-8 weeks)

During this cycle, use hill runs to increase the strength in your key muscle groups. Schedule faster intervals and more difficult tempo runs. Your focus should  be on increasing your intensity while maintaining the same mileage.

Mesocycle 4 – Speed (4-6 weeks)

Continue to use more intense tempo and interval runs during this phase, while lowering your total mileage. Adequate rest is vital during speed training so that, even when fully exerting yourself, you maintain good form and allow your muscles time to recover. Your concentration now should be on increasing your speed and decreasing your time.

Mesocycle 5 – Competition

By now, race season has arrived. The length of this period will depend on how many races you plan on running, but it will typically last between four to six weeks. Run early in the week using a high-intensity, low-distance formula so that you can fully recover by race day. At this point, you should be able to give the race your maximum effort.

Periodization training can take some time at first, as you lay out a long-term schedule, but the benefits will be well worth the extra effort.

Have you using periodization in your cardiovascular routine? Do you have any tips to share?

8 Steps to Succeed on Race Day

There’s nothing like the anticipation of race day. The miles you’ve run in preparation for the big event on your LIVESTRONG 10.0t treadmill are behind you. But while your training may have come to an end, you still have work to do if you want to succeed on race day.

Whether you’ll be running, cycling, swimming or all three, the choices you make in the days before a race can make the difference between a positive and negative experience. Following these tips will leave you as prepared as possible, and grinning all the way to the finish line.

1. Trust your training plan. In the last few weeks before a race, a training plan will call for a “taper.” Tapering means you shorten the length and possibly the intensity of your workouts in order to help your legs recover from a demanding training schedule, and make them fresh for race day.

Not doing long, tough workouts in the final weeks before your race can be mentally tough for athletes, but resist the urge to do a few extra miles. Your body will thank you during the race.

2. Don’t try anything new. Don’t break in a new pair of shoes on race day unless you want blisters. Instead, start training in the shoes you’ll wear during the race at least few weeks before the big day. Similarly, don’t race in your event shirt or any other new clothes. New apparel may appear comfortable, but there’s no way to know beforehand if it will cause chafing or other problems. Do a test run or two in your race day outfit to make sure it works.

As with clothing and equipment, a race is no time to experiment with food. Don’t “carbo load” the night before your event unless you’ve been eating carbohydrate-heavy meals throughout your training. If you regularly eat a carbohydrate-rich diet with variety, you’ll likely have enough energy. Try out your pre-event meals in the weeks before race day to see how various foods affect your stomach. This way you’ll avoid digestive problems – and possibly extra bathroom breaks – during the event.

3. Set out your clothes and other race essentials the night before. Make a checklist early in the week and use it to make sure you have everything. Going to a destination race? Pack your bag early and double check your gear. Note that many triathlons will not let you compete without a wet suit or a bike helmet.

4. Rest up. Sleep is essential in the days leading up to a race, and so is conserving your energy. Don’t spend the entire day before your race at the expo; you don’t want to tire your legs out before the start.

5. Be familiar with the course. Studying the course map and elevation (often available on the race’s website) before the race gun goes off can be invaluable. You may reconsider sprinting to the finish if you know the last mile is uphill.

6. Start slowly. Pre-race jitters and excitement may cause you to start out too fast, causing burnout in later miles. Instead, take a few deep breaths and start at an easy, comfortable pace.

7. Stay hydrated. Begin hydrating two days before the race, and drink up during the event too. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking five to 12 ounces of water or sports drink every 15 to 20 minutes during a marathon.

8. Have fun! There are a lot of tips and suggestions and instructions to keep in mind, but don’t forget that race day is a celebration of your hard work and dedication. Soak up the excitement and enjoy the trip to the finish.

What are your best tips for race day success?

Sources:

http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244-255-5958-0,00.html

http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/running_a_marathon_race_day_success/index.html

http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/beginners/your-first-10k-five-easy-steps/6843-6.html