Whether you compete in sports, or just want to stay fit, it is always beneficial to have a large arsenal when it comes to types of exercise routines. Interval training (sometimes known as Fartlek training) is a great addition to such an arsenal as it uses variations of intensity to move from aerobic to anaerobic training.
The basic principal of this type of exercise is to perform anaerobic training for a short time (sprinting – high intensity), before reducing the intensity back to your aerobic level of training. The aim of interval training is to improve your speed, strength (both anaerobic) and endurance (aerobic).
How to define aerobic and anaerobic thresholds
Aerobic exercises are generally low intensity and ones that you can carry out for a long period of time (walking, light jogging). This can also be measured by heart rate, with any exercise that keeps heart rate below around 80% of your maximum heart rate*. Once you surpass the 80% threshold your body begins training anaerobically. At this point, your body begins burning fats much quicker, but can’t train for as long. The idea of interval training is to perform at this level for a decent amount of time before slowing down (to reduce your heart rate) to continue training at a lower intensity (aerobically).
What is the ideal ratio between aerobic/anaerobic?
There is much debate about how long you should train aerobically and anaerobically, and it is very subjective – depending on your personal levels of fitness. For a beginner, a ratio of 4:1 would be a good place to start. That would mean training at a low intensity for 4 minutes, then at a high intensity for 1 minute. This can be repeated several times with each 5 minute set being classes as an ‘interval’.
Advantages of interval training
- Fitness – Obviously, any training should improve your fitness, and interval training is no different. The fact it works both your anaerobic and aerobic systems means you are improving your overall fitness efficiently.
- Recovery Time – recovery time can be vital for sports such as football/hockey/basketball where the game is very stop start. Interval training improves recovery time by training your body to expect these starts and stops, meaning you will refuel as quickly as possible after an intense burst, knowing that another burst is likely.
- Speed of Improvements – research suggests that you will notice improvements to your fitness much quicker should you use interval training on a regular basis as opposed to standard training (at a level intensity).
Disadvantages of interval training
- Over training – although this can be monitored and easily prevented, there is an increased chance that you could over train when interval training. The increase in intensity when compared with regular training means there is less margin for error when it comes to training not enough/too much.
- Chance of injury – again based on the increase in intensity, the chance of injury is increased with interval training. If done carefully and sporadically (one interval session every few days is usually enough) then injury can be avoided. With the risk of injury comes the risk of being unable to exercise at all should the injury be severe enough to make exercise impossible until you recover.
Whether you decide that interval training would work for you or not, it is worth knowing how it can benefit you as this allows you to make your own decision as to whether it would help or hinder your current training program. It doesn't suit everyone, but can certainly help the majority – especially those who play field sports such as football; where you will often play at different levels of intensity throughout a game.
*the easiest way to measure your estimated maximum heart rate is to subtract your age from 220. For example, the maximum heart rate of a 25 year old is 195 (220-25).