The benefits of interval training

In the lead up to my postponed half marathon and 10k races this year, my coach put me on a training plan that involved something I’d never done before off the track – interval training. In fact, two of my three planned running sessions a week were interval sessions, which baffled me at the time. Surely to get better at running longer distances I should be doing just that? But, trusting my coach, I went out and did the sessions (clocking less mileage than I thought I ‘should’ be doing) and the results spoke for themselves. At around the time I was supposed to run my races, I manage to get half marathon and 10k pbs in solo time trials. So it turns out intervals do work.

 

What is interval training?

An interval training workout or run involves periods of high intensity work alternated with periods of low intensity work, the recovery.

 

What are the benefits?

According to the NHS, the benefits gained from interval training are similar to those gained from longer, more moderate runs. These are numerous, and not limited to performance benefits – interval training could be better for your health, too.

  1. Intervals can improve your VO2 max (the amount of oxygen able to be utilised by your body, i.e. aerobic capacity) significantly, improving your efficiency as a runner. This will also mean your body is better at clearing lactic acid buildup – useful in your next race!
  2. Interval training can provide health benefits similar to doing up to twice as much more moderate training. These include lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
  3. Variety builds strength. If you’re used to plodding around your same route at the same pace, incorporating intervals can quickly make you a better runner. It will challenge your cardiovascular system and muscles in new ways, triggering adaptations and improvements.
  4. When you learn how to run fast for extended periods of time through interval training, more moderately paced runs suddenly feel much slower. You’ll likely end up feeling more comfortable at a faster pace, and all your runs will end up faster.
  5. Although interval training is tough on the body, switching out a long run or two for interval training can reduce the risk of injury. Increasing mileage too quickly can lead to a greater risk of injury, so incorporating intervals sessions means you can gain the same benefits of long runs, but doing less overall mileage, thus reducing risk of injury.
  6. Enjoyment! There are several studies that suggest that runners, especially those just starting out, enjoy intervals sessions more than steady state running. If this means you’re more likely to get out and get a session done, this can also lead to greater performance benefits. Win win!
  7. Fat loss. Interval training of any kind can induce the ‘after-burn effect’, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). This increases the amount of calories burned by your body after a session, even at rest. This can promote fat loss over time.
  8. Less stress. Long runs can actually increase your cortisol (stress hormone) levels for days afterwards, lowering the immune system temporarily. Interval sessions reduce cortisol levels, reducing the overall load and stress on the body each week. This, coupled with the endorphin hit of a good workout means you’ll likely leave each session smiling!
  9. Mental discipline. Running closer to your maximum pace is tough, both physically and mentally. However, if you’re looking to run faster overall, this mental strength will be needed in races. Training closer to threshold can prepare you for your races mentally as well as physically.
  10. For the benefits you get, interval training can take considerably less time than a steady run. Sure, the whole thing is more painful, but when you only have to endure it for 20 or 30 minutes, how bad can it be? This leaves more time for other things you want to do.

 

How do I do intervals?

There are more types of intervals than I could possibly include in a blog post, and calculating what works best for you will be dependent on your goals, strengths and weaknesses. As someone who isn’t a coach, I am reluctant to give specific advice, but some good advice I found is shared below. You can read the rest of the article here, which discusses how to build your own interval training sessions.

While there’s no across-the-board pace prescription, there are some rough guidelines that can help get you started. For instance, if you’re running 1-mile intervals, try to complete them at your goal 10K pace. For shorter intervals, like 800m, execute those at 5K pace, and 400m intervals should be slightly faster than that. This is where a coach can come in handy, but there are also online resources, such as Rickerman’s calculator, that can help you figure out a pace range.

 

I hope this encourages some of you to try interval training sessions! The benefits are numerous, but for me what I love is that it doesn’t take all day. I love my long runs, but convincing myself to get out for several hours multiple times a week is never going to happen. My interval sessions usually last 30 minutes maximum, rest periods included, so there’s really no excuse not to get out. They’re also super fun and always leave me feeling positive, which after all, is what running’s all about!

Let me know if you give interval training a go, and come and find me on Instagram to share your experience!

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Images by Tamsin Louise

London’s best lunchtime fitness classes

Waking up super early in the morning or trekking to the gym after a long day at work isn’t for everyone, which is why we’re all about those lunchtime classes. With classes from 30 to 45 minutes and studios dotted around London, ‘I don’t have time’ is no longer a valid excuse to not fit in a workout. And when the classes leave you feeling positive and motivated for the rest of the day, what’s not to love?

Here are some of the top classes for you to check out in London on your lunch break:

1. Barry’s Bootcamp

Best for: Calorie burn

Studios: West (Bayswater), Central (Euston), East (Liverpool Street), Canary Wharf, SW1 (Victoria), however not all of these locations offer reduced-length lunchtime classes.

Cost: £22 per class, with package deals for multiple class purchases.

Global fitness chain Barry’s Bootcamp is based on the science of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn as many calories as possible and increase fitness. Attendees alternate between resistance training on the floor to intervals on the treadmill. Normal classes are 60 minutes, but at lunchtime (12pm and 1pm), certain locations shorten classes to 50 minutes (including stretching); to compensate for the reduced class length, free protein shakes are offered after the class. It’s a seriously intense session, but perfect for a mid-day pick-me-up if you’re feeling lethargic!

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Barry’s Bootcamp ‘red room’

2. HIIT – Another Space

Best for: Fat burn

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

HIIT at Another Space combines boxing and MMA moves with floor-based resistance training. This high-intensity class is short (35 minutes at lunchtime) and incorporates a variety of exercises to keep your body working. The studios are also beautiful, so perfect to enjoy a shake and shower in post-class.

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HIIT at Another Space, Bank

3. Hot yoga – Another Space

Best for: Flexibility

Studios: Bank and Covent Garden

Cost: £22 for a one-off class, or monthly passes available.

Held in the same studios as HIIT, hot yoga at Another Space is the perfect option if you’re looking for a less intense workout. Don’t be fooled though – expect to work on both your flexibility and strength in this dynamic, heated yoga class. The heat is held at 32 degrees for 45 minutes to gain maximal muscle benefits without the extreme heat of other hot yoga.

4. F45

Best for: HIIT

Studios: All over London! You’d be hard pressed not to find one near your office.

Cost: Cost depends on your membership, which are available as monthly to biannually. The eight-week challenges are priced separately. Intro offers available at most studios.

A concept born in Australia, F45 provides groups classes of functional high-intensity circuit training. F45 has 27 different ‘genres’ of workout, each focussing on a different aspect of fitness, such as HIIT, cardio or resistance training. At the front of each class, screens display each exercise, while multiple instructors roam the class and are on hand to motivate and correct where needed. Most studios also offer an ‘eight-week F45 challenge’, aimed at reducing body fat over the course of eight weeks. This may be too extreme for many (it encourages the cutting of carbohydrates for quick results), but could be the kick needed to get back into shape after some time off.

5. Signature Express – Barrecore

Best for: Barre

Studios: All around London, including Chelsea, Islington, Kensington, Mayfair, Notting Hill and Moorgate.

Cost: Membership starts at £200/month for 9 credits. Introductory offer available.

Barrecore’s Signature Express class promises to strengthen, lengthen and tone muscles in the space of 45 minutes. This class incorporates barre (ballet-like) moves coupled with resistance training.

6. Define Express – Define London

Best for: Low-impact sculpting

Studios: Great Portland Street, Fitzrovia.

Cost: Single credit £28 (excluding £10 off offer for new clients).

If you’re looking for a quick and dynamic workout, the Define Express classes offer all the toning and strengthening of their longer classes in just 30 minutes. Depending on the day, you can expect barre, floor workouts and strength workouts to target specific muscle groups. Lunchtime classes run from 12:30 – 1pm and 1:05pm – 1:35pm.

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Define London

7. Shake & Ride – Boom Cycle

Best for: Mood boost

Studios: Hammersmith, Holborn, Battersea, Monument.

Cost: One ride is £18 with package deals available. A one-month unlimited pass is £135.

There’s nothing quite like spinning to raise the heart rate and get the blood pumping. Boom Cycle is akin to a party on a bike, with loud music, coloured lights and an instructor who practically dances at the front. If you’re into high intensity cardio, Boom Cycle is for you – expect to leave grinning (and sweating) from ear to ear. Lunchtime classes vary in length – they are either 45 minutes or 30 minutes, and the latter includes a free shake after the class!

8. Quick HIIT – Metabolic London

Best for: All-round everything

Studios: Mornington Crescent.

Cost: Monthly membership is £100/month for unlimited classes. Single class is £20.

If you’re truly strapped for time, this 30-minute class could be exactly what you’re looking for. With a mixture of cardio and strength training, this class will leave you burning fat long after leaving the studio, and the endorphins with power you through your afternoon at work. This isn’t for the faint-hearted, but you get out as much as you put in, and at only 30 minutes long, what is there to lose?