The Limitations of Interval TrainingPosted on the 29 March 2011 by 180degreehealth
I’ve heard a few people make remarks like, “Matt is recommending interval training.” I’m not actually. Interval training is just as retarded as many other forms of exercise, and this is why...
If you read stuff like Lyle McDonald, you’ll notice that no such magic status is given to interval training over other forms of exercise. If there are any advantages to it, those advantages are short-lived, expiring after 6-8 weeks or so. I would agree with this wholeheartedly.
Any form of exercise that you do that contains no element of progression will cease to continually give you results. Bodybuilders seem to understand this general principle of exercise and adaptation better than anyone else. To continually gain strength and muscle size, the exercise has to get harder and harder over months and years.
But with interval training as it is typically performed, the exercise doesn’t get harder and harder. It gets easier and easier, putting the brakes on adaptive hormonal changes that increase your fitness levels, partition the food you eat into muscle cells, and trigger spontaneous fat loss. That’s because, when you do the same thing over and over again, it gets easier and progressively LESS challenging. In a short period of time, usually just a couple of months or less, the body has fully adapted to the training and no longer needs to keep changing to meet the demand you are placing on it.
That’s one of the big problems with traditional interval training. When you go for a set number of seconds and then recover for a set number of seconds – and those time periods remain constant, the exercise becomes increasingly less challenging and therefore less effective over time.
This is what makes Al Sears’s PACE program innovative and effective beyond just the initial phase. Still, I find that the PACE program is difficult to grasp. Even Dr. Mercola reported in his Peak 8 interval training video that he didn’t really understand PACE or ever figure out how to implement the idea of it.
Instead, Mercola went the traditional interval training route and had fantastic results in the short-term, but I think he will find that these results taper off and then stall completely over time. In one of the videos he even mentions that his heart rate used to get a lot higher when he was doing the intervals. This is of course a sign that his body has adapted to the intervals, and without new challenges and new hurdles that push his body to its limits, he won’t continue to get the results.
This is what got me sort of re-branding this concept in a side project I’ve been working on and have shared with a handful of people. The concept that needed to be hammered home was that the effort that you give must be one of maximum exertion.
It’s this maximum effort, taking the lungs and heart to the limits of their working potential and stimulating them to get better in order to be better prepared for the next challenge that continues to produce results. When you “push it to the limit” as demonstrated by the Turkish Doug Graham in this training video, you can expect a lot more from doing short bursts of hard exercise than you can from standard interval training.
Plus, going to your own personal threshold is precisely that – very personal. Set interval times are anything but personal, offering up a one-size fits all to a broad array of people of all shapes, sizes, ages, and fitness levels. For some, doing a 30 second sprint on a bike might necessitate 7 minutes of recovery before attempting another round. For others just walking on a flat surface for a minute may require 7 minutes of recovery. For a professional athlete, a 30 second sprint on a bike might not even get them totally winded, and a recovery period of 90 seconds may be way too long to challenge their capacity for exertion and recovery.
But if you ditch the set times and go to your threshold with a maximum effort – reaching that threshold in as little time as possible (close to sprint intensity), then you have “interval” training that is custom fit to your fitness level at that very moment – and it always progresses along with you, as hard each time you do it as it was the first time when you were totally out of shape. Frequently switching to new exercises helps prevent adaptation and keeps you growing even more.
Of course it’s this continual progression that creates continual adaptation. And the metabolic adaptations to exercise are what have the possibility to yield fat loss and health improvements without willpower, calorie restriction or even thinking about your diet, or rebound weight gain. In fact, take a month off from this type of exercise and you’ll likely find yourself getting even leaner – not gaining 10 pounds with the snap of your fingers as happens when you stop doing “cardio.”
So no, I’m not recommending interval training. I’m saying that if you are trying to lose fat and wondering if exercise can assist you, the type to do is one that causes metabolic adaptations that favor fat loss. We’re not talking burning calories or glycogen depletion or mechanically burning fat by being in some “fat-burning zone.” That stuff is beyond useless long-term in my experience. Instead it’s about providing a stimulus to the body that makes it view fat storage as a liability – activating all its “programs” to prevent body fat from accumulating. Not everyone has a dramatic response to this type of training, but many do. Very dramatic. And personally, I think the health and fitness benefits of expanding lung and heart capacity make this form of exercise worth doing even if it doesn’t do squat for your body composition.
Metabolic Adaptation Exercise is done by performing a burst of maximum intensity exertion.
MAX effort + Metabolic Adaption Xercise (MAX) = MAXercise
Yeah, I know it’s cheesier than the macaroni and cheese I’ll be eating for dinner, but it has meaning and that meaning is important. I think the concept can be loosely applied to just about any type of exercise. And what’s most remarkable about it is how much some people’s fitness, energy levels, and body composition can change with as little as 2-3 minutes of total exertion time each week.
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