Why Most Interval Training Won’t Work

Interval training can be used to lose weight, build muscle and boost stamina – if you know how to do it right. Here’s what’s wrong with most interval training programs and how you can avoid making serious training mistakes.

If you’re like me, you know that interval training is all the rage in many of the mainstream health and fitness websites, fitness magazines, etc.

But, if you look at a lot of the suggested programs – they aren’t truly high intensity interval training at all.

By now, you’ve probably heard plenty of fitness experts talk about the benefits of cranking up the intensity of your workouts… less time spent working out, more fat burned, boosts metabolism, revs up heart and lung power, etc. But that’s where many of these so-called interval workouts miss the boat.

Here’s a simple example (and one that you’ve probably read out there somewhere):

“Sprint for one minute. Jog for 2 minutes. Sprint again and repeat the cycle 10 or more times.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

First of all, you can’t “sprint” for 1 minute. World class long sprinters and middle distance runners can come close, but even they are entering differently energy systems after around 30 or 40 seconds. For the rest of us, a sprint should never go over 30 seconds – and for most of us (in “normal person condition”) sprints of 10 or even 5 seconds are plenty to reap the rewards of high intensity intervals.

Secondly, the recovery times are two short. Tell me this: Even if you COULD actually sprint (really go pedal to the floor, all out effort) for 1 minute, would you be fully recovered after 2 minutes of lower intensity? How fast would your second 1 minute sprint be? As fast as the first one? How fast would you be going by number 8 or 9 or 10? See my point? You would get progressively slower – and each sprint would be progressively lower in intensity.

Longer recoveries allow you to truly sprint “full out” for each of your fast intervals. Doing this can let you train at the higher intensity for a longer total period of time (when compared to trying to go hard straight through or with minimum recovery). You’ll spend more actual time training at the high intensity.

And remember, it’s the intensity that’s most important here, not the volume. Going full effort with longer recovery periods between sprints can give you maximum results. Unfortunately, I think people are too caught up in the “more is better” volume belief. They are either too conditioned into a mileage mentality or just think that sprinting for only a few seconds (and recovering) can’t possibly do you any good.

They’ve turned interval training into just another long, boring form of cardio – only they’ve made it impossible for most people to do it successfully – and therefore easy for them to quit because it’s “too hard”. If you can’t complete a workout – or even a tenth of it, what’s the sense in beating your head against a brick wall and continuing? This can happen as quickly as the first time you try to “sprint” for one minute. The workout sets you up for failure.

To achieve your goals, I strongly suggest you break out of that mindset. Because true high intensity interval training can bring you to the fitness level you’ve been looking for.

I’ll even take it a step further and add my favorite training method -hill sprints – into the mix. Using them, not only will your sprints be high intensity – they’ll be even higher intensity from the incline you sprint on (and you won’t even have to think about it – sprinting up hill is naturally more intense than going on flat ground). Plus, you can spend less time on each sprint – and on your total workout – since the intensity is kicked up that extra notch. Not to mention the safety benefits for your hamstrings, knees and back.

Hey, truth is, anyone can benefit from adding high intensity to their training. But, to be successful, you’ve got to do it right. Avoid the watered-down, cardio-in-disguise interval workouts. Replace them with what works: high intensity, low volume and long recovery techniques.