Take it slow — then fast — to burn calories, improve fitness

By: Rebecca Babicz // Salt Lake Tribune

Now that it’s summer, many of us are using the great outdoors for our exercise routines.

A leisurely hike is a good way to get some fresh air, but it is not going to negate last night’s pizza dinner.

A good way to burn more calories during your workout — without adding additional time — is through interval training.

In its most basic form, interval training is alternating bursts of intense activity with periods of lighter activity that is used as recoIn the past, interval training has been reserved mostly for elite athletes. But average exercisers are finding they can benefit from this exercise regime.very time.

Intervals should not be done every day, says Denise Druce, a master instructor for 24 Hour Fitness Utah who writes the DeniseDruce.com website. She suggests adding them just three times a week.

Intervals are not for beginners, either. Someone who hasn’t been active would need to work up to a basic fitness level to avoid injury.

But if you are willing and able, intervals can be added to many outdoor summer activities you may already be doing:

On a bike » Choose a route with hills, which are natural intervals. For flat routes, keep the pedal speed consistent but change gears frequently.

On a run » Warm up and run at your normal pace. Pick a point of reference such as a tree or a stop sign. Then jog or run (depending on your fitness level) to that point. Then return to your regular pace. Repeat this throughout your run. As your fitness level improves, go longer and push yourself harder. Use a stopwatch to better time the length of your intervals.

In the pool » A kick board is a good tool for beginner swimmers. Leave the kick board at one end of the pool and swim as many laps as you can. Then use the kick board for recovery time. When your arms are rested, repeat. Fins are also a good aid in the pool and will help you swim faster without overdoing it. Hand paddles and hand gloves add power to your arm stroke and add water resistance, which works arms and shoulders more. If you are a more advanced swimmer, try sprinting laps in a freestyle stroke and recovery laps using the breast stroke.

On a hike or walk » Choose a route with hills. Pick up the pace as you go up the hill. This naturally causes more resistance and it will also be easier on your joints. For for flatter routes, alternate between quick “power” walking and jogging. Or walk the track at a nearby high-school football stadium and alternately run up and down the bleacher steps.

How hard to push » During these intense periods of exercise, someone who is moderately fit should push “comfortably hard,” said Traci Thompson, director of the PEAK Academy at University of Utah. Breathing and heart rate should increase and you should be working at a level that can be sustained for a reasonable amount of time.

Shannon Mulder, exercise and sports science fitness director at the University of Utah, said the intensity/recovery ratio during intervals should be 1:3 or 1:4. For example, someone who runs for 30 seconds at a high intensity pace would need a minimum of 1 minute and 30 seconds or 2 minutes (or more) of lower-intensity running before going at full speed again.

“Some people feel it has to hurt to work,” Mulder said. “That’s not always the case. The rest is absolutely imperative for intervals to work.”

You will know you are recovered when your breathing is comfortable and you feel physically ready to go again, much as you felt before starting the interval.

Those who are faithful to an interval-training regimen also will benefit from EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. In a phenomenon often called the “afterburn” effect, the more calories you burn during a workout, the more calories you will burn throughout the rest of the day.

Intervals offer other benefits as well. Lower blood pressure, improved bone density, endurance and increased concentration are a few. “You feel the results right away,” Druce said. “Within the first two weeks you have more energy.”

After about six weeks, she said, people really tap into their strength. “Your body knows you are serious, and that is when you will notice a considerable improvement.”

Interval-training tips

  • Warm up.
  • Add intervals gradually.
  • Intervals should not be done every day — usually just three days a week.
  • Push yourself “comfortably hard, during the intense part of the interval.
  • Listen to your body and don’t overdo it.
  • During the slower “recovery” period, keep moving. (If you can’t keep moving, you’ve pushed too hard.)
  • You are ready to do another intense interval when your heart rate and breathing return to a regular pattern.
  • Cool down.
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