Home / Resources / Featured Writers / Using Interval Training Effectively

Using Interval Training Effectively

May 20, 2011


By Sheri Colberg, Ph.D., FACSM


Now that you know the basics of aerobic training, it’s time to learn some tricks to get even more fit while doing these activities. For starters, during any activity, simply increase the intensity of your exercise for short periods of time (so-called interval training) to gain more from it.


For example, if you are out walking, speed up slightly for a short distance (such as between two light poles or mailboxes) before slowing back down to your original pace. During the course of your walk, continue to include these short, faster intervals occasionally, and, as you are able to, lengthen these intervals so that they last two to five minutes at a time. Not only will you become more fit and use up extra calories doing so, but you also will likely feel more tired when you finish your walk (which is actually a good thing). Over the course of several weeks, you may even find that your general walking speed has increased due to the extra conditioning from your interspersed bouts of faster walking.

By way of example, when unfit men and women in their 30s and 40s trained just twice a week doing only three to four minutes of aerobic exercise at an intensity of 70 to 80 percent of their maximal heart rate (i.e., short, intense exercise), preceded and followed by three-minute warm-up and cool-down periods, they increased their maximal aerobic capacity by over 13 percent in twelve weeks — and most people can’t increase their maximal capacity by more than 25 percent total, no matter how much or how long they train. Almost unbelievably, the participants in this study experienced major gains in their aerobic capacity by doing only six to eight minutes of harder exercise a week. 

Tip for the day:

  • By alternating workout intensities (mild, moderate, and heavy), your body will get both the enhanced fitness and strength benefits of hard workouts, and the healing effects of greater recuperative time between intense workouts. Always consider taking a day of rest a week, though, to prevent overuse injuries.

Perhaps studies like these explain the sudden interest in the ROM Time Machine, an exercise machine available in specialized gyms that you work on for only four minutes at a time, but at a near-maximal pace. It’s definitely not going to get you as fit as longer sessions of aerobic exercise, and it certainly won’t prepare you to run a marathon, but it has its benefits. The same intensity principle applies to almost every kind of exercise you do, from walking to cycling to gardening. In fact, even competitive athletes generally plateau at a certain level unless they do some version of this heavier "interval" training from time to time.

More recently, a research study in the July issue of Diabetes Care tested out the exact regimen that I always recommend on people with type 2 diabetes, which is to increase your exercise intensity at least during part of your normal workouts. In that study, they took individuals with type 2 diabetes who were already walking over 10,000 steps a day (good for them!) and added a "Pick Up the Pace," or PUP, program to their training that involved increased walking speeds. The participants wore pedometers and determined their usual walking pace as the number of steps they took during a 10-minute walk; then they established a training cadence that was 10% above their usual pace 30 minutes per day three days a week. For example, if your usual pace is 90 steps per minute, you would increase your walking pace to about 100 steps per minute during that time. As a result, after 12 weeks of PUP training, participants increased their fitness beyond what they had already achieved walking 10,000 steps a day without walking any extra, but simply walking faster for 90 minutes a week.

The 7 Step Diabetes Fitness Plan: Living Well and Being Fit with Diabetes, No Matter Your Weight (2006). Information about all of my books, my many articles, my research, and more is available on my web site: www.SheriColberg.com

Click here for a full list of all of Sheri Colberg’s articles on fitness and diabetes.

Copyright © 2011 Diabetes In Control, Inc., www.DiabetesInControl.com