Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rev Up Your Workout for Weight Loss

Have you tried interval training?

Interval training sounds like something for elite athletes. And it is. But it’s also for us regular folks who just want to exercise for our health.

Like other forms of exercise, interval training helps with strengthening the heart, toning muscles and losing weight. But it does it with shorter workouts and quicker results.

The reason I share this is not because I’m an expert, but because at this stage of my life this is working for me. I’m gaining muscle, getting stronger, dropping stubborn pounds.

I began interval training in mid-July, when I finally got rid of two plantars warts that had been crippling me since March. Even bicycle riding hurt.

Approaches to interval training vary, but basically it goes like this: warm-up, fast walking interspersed with bursts of really fast walking, repeat 10 to 15 times, cool down. One article may say to a 20-minute workout, another may say 30 or more minutes.

I generally do 30 minutes, but the really cool thing is if you’re pressed for time, you can get a good, hard workout in 20 minutes. That’s the minimum.

Another variable is the length of the intervals. For instance, you can do a 15-second burst or a two-minute burst, or any length of time you choose.

My workout goes like this: moderately fast walk (breathing somewhat hard, but can still talk in full sentences) for one minute, then a burst of fast walking for 30 seconds. The fast walking is a full-out effort; I can only manage maybe yes or no responses.

The difference between the 20 and 30 minute workouts is the warm-up and cool-down. On busy days, those times are only two minutes instead of five. I may have 11-12 intervals instead of 13-14. So the core of the workout is still there.

Another benefit of interval training is injury prevention. In the past, I’ve done long workouts, both running and walking, and have suffered repeated cases of plantar fasciitis. Cross-training (read on) also helps prevent overuse injuries.

The beauty of the 20-minute option is on weekday mornings when I’m getting out of the house to work, I can still get in a good, hard workout. Twenty minutes may become the norm during the winter when the sun delays its rising.

The downside is that the interval walks are not meditative. I’m timing my intervals and concentrating on the effort, not mentally twirling with the cedar trees in their dance along the fence lines. I don’t pray or work out problems. However, there are other days for this.

You can get away from clocking intervals by doing fartlek, which is Swedish for “speed play.” This is where you do it by how you feel. You walk or run moderately, then do a burst until you feel winded, then do moderate until you feel rested enough for another burst. Or you can measure it by telephone poles or mailboxes or street corners. I do this sometimes for variety.

So I do the interval workouts on Monday-Wednesday-Friday. On Tuesday I take a six-mile bicycle ride that takes about 30 minutes. On Saturday I take a long bicycle ride. It would be longer by now if the roads where I live weren’t so hilly. The hills make it an interval workout. I’m up to about 13 miles now, with a goal of doing 20 miles or more.

Then on Sunday I take a long walk at a moderately fast pace for more than an hour. I’m pushing this out each week with a goal of doing two hours. Sometimes — ideally — this is a hike in the mountains.

Of course, all these workouts are flexible. If someone wants to hike on Saturday, I’m there.

My weight loss results have been tangible. Usually, by dieting alone, I lose about a pound every two to three weeks. Since interval training, I’ve lost an average of a pound a week.

However — and this is a big qualifier — I’ve also changed my diet radically. In June, I began eating a mostly-vegetarian diet. I eat no meat, chicken and/or fish about five days a week. And the meat I do eat is in much smaller portions than in the past, about the size of a deck of cards.

So is it the interval training or the mostly-vegetarian diet that’s effecting the weight loss? Or is it both? I don’t know, but I’m not willing to stop either to find out.

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