The Right Coast

July 14, 2005
Interval training
By Tom Smith

This study made the mainstream news a couple of weeks ago. McMaster University (where a number of these higher end training studies seem to come from) researchers found that 20 minutes of interval training three times a week was more effective at building endurance than 5-6 hours per week of moderate exercise. Well alrighty then. Sounds perfect. Interval training here means 30 seconds of all out effort with 4 minutes of rest in between, repeated 4 to 7 times. It is said to be painful, but it sounds easier than slogging away for six hours.

The test subjects, however, were physically active students, but not athletes. If you are already in pretty good shape aerobicly, would you experience similar benefits? Also, you burn fewer calories, so it may not be the best way to lose fat. Several of the articles mention the "intense suffering" of interval training. I think that is overstated. It involves pain, yes, but boredom is a kind of pain too. Short, intense workouts make a lot of sense.

I TAKE back whatever I implied about it not being that painful. I don't understand how a mere five 30 second all out sprints (I did them up a longish flight on stairs on campus) can be that painful; yet it definitely gets to you. A reader sends the abstract and notes it was quite a small study, over a very short period, and not clear what the control group was doing, which is fair enough.