Interval Training: What Is It Good for?

The article talked about interval training for what — I believe — is an often ignored energy system: Glycolysis. The body uses this important energy system when doing intense bursts of activity for 30 seconds to three minutes in length.

A lot of people lift weights (phosphagen system) and engage in aerobic activities like running, swimming and cycling (oxidative system). But the system in the middle — glycolysis — gets left out of the exercise equation. That’s where interval training comes in.

Interval training is often touted as a mega-calorie burner, but that’s actually more of a myth. What it really does is enhance athletic performance when doing intense activities — sports like basketball, soccer, hockey, racquet sports, river kayaking and that whole sex thing.

I use the system when downhill skiing. Every chance I get (which isn’t enough), I head up to Sunshine Village near Banff. As I ski, I push myself through runs until I have to take a short rest because my legs burn so badly. I can usually go all-out for about 90 seconds. During those 90 seconds, I’m using the glycolysis system for energy. And because I only ski about 10 times a year, my system doesn’t perform at its peak (it’s just not used to that kind of activity). However, if — throughout the year — I were to integrate bursts of interval training into activities like running, cycling, swimming and even sea kayaking, my glycolysis system would learn to work more effectively. And then the next time I hit the slopes, I’d be able to go harder. Hoo-rah!

Interval training can help improve aerobic performance, too. Distance racers regularly train with intervals to improve their ability to run, cycle or swim faster. Days that you do interval training involve getting close to your maximum heart rate for a few minutes then slowing down and going at half that intensity for another three to five minutes. You can do this interval 10 times or until you throw up, whichever comes first.

Training in intervals also improves your ability to transport and utilize oxygen — and that’s a good thing when it comes to giving you energy.
It’s important to note, interval training should be used sparingly — it puts a great deal of physical stress on the body. If you’re used to running at a moderate pace then suddenly start integrating a bunch of short speed bursts into your routine, you could strain your various joints and muscles. To make the most of it, be sure to ease into it.

James S. Fell is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a middle-aged family man with a desk job and not much free time, yet he’s able to keep in shape because he loves exercise and doesn’t mind eating healthy. He is the author of ‘Body for Wife: The Family Guy’s Guide to Getting in Shape.’