Interval training traditionally works to improve your cardiovascular health and you can further enhance this with exercises that are tailor-made for your different cardio needs.
To enjoy this benefit, you need to know these three key systems; 1. ATP-PC (the short-term energy system), 2. Glycolytic pathway (the intermediate energy system), and 3. Aerobic (long-term energy system). Each of these systems are activated at various stages when you run, cycle, or even when you climb the stairs, so we suggest you develop all three.
Understanding how these systems work can help improve the effectiveness of your training. Here’s how to upgrade these systems and produce a fitter and better you.
These letters stand for adenosine triphosphate-phosphocreatine. All you need to remember is that this is your short-term energy system, used for quick bursts of all-out effort. You activate this system during sprints and maximum lifts, and in such real-life situations as pushing a car out of a ditch or dashing across the yard to keep your toddler from wandering into the street.
Ideal activities: Running, cycling, and rope jumping.
Improve it: After a thorough moderate-intensity warmup (about 5 minutes, or until you break a light sweat), do 10-second sprints on a track or any cardio apparatus. (A “sprint” is an all-out effort.) Recover by coasting at a moderate intensity for 50 to 60 seconds. Start with 5 sprints, and build up to 10. When you’re done with your sprints and recoveries, cool down with 5 more minutes at a moderate intensity. Try this once or twice a week. If you’re an absolute beginner, hold off until you’ve built up a fitness base.
2. Glycolytic Pathway
You know the burning sensation you get in your muscles when you’ve worked them intensely for a minute or so? That’s lactic acid, a waste product produced in your muscles during exercise that lasts 15 seconds to 3 minutes (although few of us can last more than a minute or two with lactic acid doing its Spanish Inquisition number on our muscle tissues).
The glycolytic pathway is your intermediate energy system, bridging the gap between your ATP-PC system and your aerobic-energy system. Like the ATP-PC system, it’s anaerobic, meaning your body doesn’t yet use oxygen to break down fat and carbohydrates for energy.
Ideal activities: Running, cycling, rowing and swimming.
Improve it: After a thorough warmup, go as hard as you can at a pace you can maintain for a full 30 seconds. Once the 30 seconds are up, recover by moving at a moderate pace for 60 seconds. Start with five intervals, and build up to eight. After your intervals and recoveries, cool down for 5 minutes. Do this once or twice a week. When 30-second intervals are comfortable, increase to 45 seconds with 90 seconds of recovery. Then move up to 60-second intervals and 2 minutes of recovery. Finally, if you dare, try 90-second intervals, with 3-minute recoveries.
You use this system for activities lasting 2 minutes or longer. Studies have shown that you improve this system quickest when you work at varying speeds rather than one steady speed.
Ideal activities: Running (you can do jog-walk intervals if you’re just starting out, or run-jog intervals if you’re in pretty good shape), stairclimbing, rowing, cycling, and swimming.
Improve it: After a thorough warmup, improve your speed to one that is challenging but not so hard you can’t maintain it for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, return to a moderate pace for 2 minutes. After your intervals and recoveries, cool down for 5 minutes. Start with five intervals, and build up to eight. Try this once or twice a week. You can increase the intervals to any length you choose. Just make sure you do intervals and recoveries at a 1-to-1 ratio.
(Want to know more about interval trainings? Understand why They Are Important For Marathoners.)