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Interval training gets results

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

If you want to get fitter or lose weight faster you might want to think about interval training. If you mix up your steady exercise regime you'll get better results, often in less time!

Interval training can be adapted to take into account your individual goals and level of fitness. Professional athletes and sports people include interval training in their programmes, but everyone can benefit, from the gym bunny who's hit a wall on the weight loss front, to the older, more out of shape individual who wants to improve their fitness.

From Fartlek to HIIT

The concept of interval training was developed in Sweden in the 1930s. It was known as 'fartlek training' meaning fast play in Swedish. It was basically varying the length and duration of running which led to a faster and more efficient pace.

When they think of interval training nowadays people may well think of HIIT or 'High Intensity Interval Training'. Many gym classes and personal trainers incorporate this type of training into their routines and programmes. Think classes like Insanity, Blast, Ugi, TwentyFour, the Grit series and Body Attack.

It sounds complicated but it isn't. "High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is defined as brief, intermittent bursts of maximal or near maximal intensity exercise, interspersed by periods of rest or low-intensity exercise", says Dr Keith Tolfrey, chair of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences.

So it's basically working flat out, resting and doing it again. Ollie Frost is a former professional rugby player turned personal trainer. He's a big fan of HIIT. "It's a form of exercise in which you alternate between very intense anaerobic periods and slower recovery periods for a shorter, more efficient workout. An example would be 30 seconds sprinting followed by 30 seconds recovery then repeated 8 times. This would be typical HIIT workout."

Lose weight and get fitter

Rob Deutsch is founder of F45, a function training programme which is based on high intensity interval training.

"If done correctly, HIIT and functional training uses more joints, more muscles, and more movement planes. The end result is simple, more calories burnt in less time," says Rob.

That's not all. "Did you know that HIIT stimulates human growth hormone (HGH) in the body? This may help increase the calorie burning process. Another underrated benefit is the retention of muscle associated with HIIT. Short, sharp interval training leads to far less muscle erosion than long, slow cardiovascular training," adds Rob.

Interval training burns more calories than training at one steady level as each increase and decrease of activity corresponds to your heart rate going up and down. It's not the actual speed of your heart beat that burns the calories, it's about how fast your heart rate recovers after intense exercise.

"High intensity training affects mitochondria, the bits in our cells responsible for generating energy," says Ollie. "Research suggests that this can increase fat loss therefore increasing the chances of weight loss."

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