Interval training leads to many physiological changes including an increase in cardiovascular efficiency (the ability to deliver oxygen to the working muscles) as well as increased tolerance to the build-up of lactic acid. These changes result in improved performance, greater speed and endurance. Interval training also helps avoid injuries associated with repetitive overuse, common in endurance athletes; it also allows an athlete to increase training intensity without overtraining or burnout.
Sports and Interval Training
Most team sports are not characterized by continuous maximized movement and speeds, but rather many sports demand periods of high-intensity effort interspersed with bursts of speed and periods of almost complete inactivity. In basketball and soccer for example, a player may move at a moderate speed for minutes while following the play and then will be forced to sprint at their maximal pace for the ball. After that, the player could be faced with a stoppage in play of up to a minute due to various factors. Coaches in these sports generally formulate the practices to account for these game time situations so a player in each of these sports will often do interval sets where he or she is running at optimal speed while dribbling the ball.
Two common workouts that I institute during swim, bike or running workouts are 30-20-10’s and what I refer to as Pain Management sets. During the 30-20-10’s athletes start with 30 seconds of easy effort followed by 20 seconds of moderate effort then finally 10 seconds of all out effort – then repeat up to 5-10 sets depending on the athlete’s level of fitness or training goals. The Pain Management sets are simpler: one minute of all out effort followed by two minutes of easy effort to allow the body to ‘catch up’. Few athletes’ benefit from performing intervals more than two times per week. One of my favorite interval training sets is even simpler: running stairs. The individual runs up a set of stairs and walks down for their recovery. The athlete can customize this to his or her own level of fitness.
It is recommended that you consult an athletic trainer, coach or personal trainer prior to designing an interval-training program. Interval training can be quite taxing on the body so having a trusted and watchful eye of a training professional is vital and, as Mr. Booker T. Washington timelessly pointed out, it is worth the effort.