It’s the time of year for rich food, stiff drinks and regretting how there just isn’t enough time to exercise.
But Martin Gibala, chair of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University, says you can probably carve out enough of your day to reap its benefits.
He’s an advocate of the short, intense workout, also called high intensity training.
If your doctor’s onside, Gibala says, you can probably get in far better shape with the daily exercise commitment of 10 minutes or so.
That’s far less time than it takes to watch even a short television program and not much longer than it takes to read an article of this length.
Are you saying that people should ignore public health guidelines that say we should do at least 2 ½ hours of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week?
The short answer is no.
Interval training is like the new drug on the market. It’s showing a lot of promise in early phase trials. But we don’t have data on mortality risk or long-term data on rates of disease prognosis like we do for traditional moderate-intensity continuous exercise.
We do know most people aren’t listening to the public health guidelines and the main reason given in lack of time.
I imagine people shouldn’t do this without a doctor’s checkup first.
Obviously our standard advice is to get checked out before you start or change your exercise routine. But the greatest overall risk is continuing to live a sedentary lifestyle as opposed to exercising.
How short and how intense are we talking about?
In our most recent studies, we’re talking about three 20-second all-out sprints with in a 10-minute time commitment. That includes a warm-up, recovery periods and cool down.
How do you define “intense”?
The analogy I use is the sprint-from-danger pace or the effort you would give to save your child from an oncoming car. About as intense an effort as you can imagine.
Is that the only way to do interval training?
No, definitely not.
Interval training comes in many different formats and it can be scaled to any level of fitness. We have studied less intense versions of interval training in people with Type 2 diabetes, for example.
Can anyone do interval training?
It’s not only for elite athletes or very fit people.
Certainly, there are some individuals for whom it is not suited. But interval training has been widely applied to people with many different conditions including heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
What sort of exercises are we talking about?
Most forms of traditional cardio training, such as cycling, running, rowing, swimming all can be applied in an interval fashion.
We’re starting to look at stair climbing. Most people have access to a few flights of stairs or even a single flight of stairs in their home.
What’s the lowest amount of time you can do with benefits?
There’s Tabata-style training which involves 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by a 10-second recovery, repeated eight times.
That’s only four minutes but it’s extremely demanding.
Below this, you’re starting to scrape the bottom for minimal time commitment.
Is there anything special about cycling? You seem to often use bikes a lot to measure people.
We use cycling in our lab because it’s easy to quantify work and power. It’s also generally safer since the exercise is non-weight bearing. There’s less risk for literally falling off or falling down.
There’s also less soreness the next day.
How does this work for people who are already fit?
Most serious endurance athletes are already incorporating interval training into their workouts.
Many coaches would recommend that 15 or 20 per cent of total training time be set aside for interval training, with the remainder being traditional steady-state aerobic exercise.
Can you train for a marathon with short bursts of interval training?
Yes, but I don’t know that you would run the fastest marathon you have in you.
I don’t think many marathon coaches out there are going to advocate a purely interval training approach. For one, it’s very mentally demanding.
There is also the notion of putting in the miles or what cyclists call “time in the saddle.”
Most elite coaches are going to recommend a blend of traditional moderate training and high intensity training.
Are there differences between men and women in how they respond to short, hard workouts?
The short answer right now is, “Maybe and we’re looking into it more.”
There is some evidence that women respond less than men in certain aspects. The improvement in blood sugar control, for example. Both respond to interval training, though.
Have your workouts been affected by your research?
They have been.
I have osteoarthritis in my left knee, so unfortunately I can’t run any more.
Most of my cardio training is on a bike and I like to vary the pace.
You can get more bang for your buck with interval training.
Do you rely on some sort of device to measure your heart rate while exercising?
I wear a heart rate monitor when I exercise. I can pretty much guess where I am but I like that external verification.
It is not necessary though, and perceived exertion can be a good indicator as well.
How do you see exercise patterns changing over next decade?
I don’t think interval training is a fad, nor is it a panacea that’ll do everything.
There’s increasing recognition of individual responsiveness to exercise.
We have all heard of personalized medicine and we’re going to get better at individualizing exercise prescriptions, too.