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Go Fast, Go Slow, Get Fit: “Interval Training is a Great Fat-Burning Workout.” Fred Harvey Director of Track and Field and Cross-Country at the University of Arizona

August 5, 2008

By Doug Kreutz, The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson

Aug. 5–Elite athletes offer two words of wisdom to those of us who want to rev up our workouts and make big fitness gains:

Interval training.

It’s a technique — suitable for runners, cyclists, swimmers and others — that calls for alternating bursts of high-intensity effort with intervals of lighter activity.

Athletes credit the method with increasing aerobic capacity, building speed, burning fat and reducing boredom.

“Interval training is the bread and butter of elite athletes and can be a great shortcut to fitness for recreational athletes in most any endurance sport,” says Randy Accetta, president of the Southern Arizona Roadrunners group.

“Essentially, the point is to do a bout of effort followed by a bout of recovery . . . and the variations are endless, depending on the goal and the abilities of the athlete,” says Accetta, an elite-class runner who competed in the 1996 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

Greg Wenneborg, head track and cross-country coach at Pima Community College, says interval training is valuable because it takes athletes “out of the monotony of easy running and helps to develop fast-twitch (muscle) fibers.

“Even if you’re not about being speedy, the fast running that you do in interval training will teach your body to be more efficient at covering ground at all paces that you run,” says Wenneborg, a three-time U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier.

Read on to learn more about interval training and ways of using it in your workouts. Information in the breakout sections was provided by Accetta, Wenneborg and Fred Harvey, director of track and field and cross-country at the University of Arizona.

basic intervals

Beginning to intermediate runners might try this “staple interval workout” recommended by Wenneborg.

–Start with a warm-up jog of 10 to 20 minutes.

–Do some light stretches and strides.

–Then do several sets — as many as eight to 12 — of a speeded-up 400-meter run followed by a 200-meter jog recovery period. One lap around a standard running track is 400 meters.

“The pace that beginners should run is about two minutes per mile faster than his or her easy run pace,” Wenneborg notes. “So if you run nine minutes per mile on your easy days, run a seven-minute-mile pace for your 400s . . . A typical recovery period is about half the distance of the fast running you do.”

Experiment with variations

Accetta recommends a variation known as a “ladder.”

“Start at a short distance, increase to a longer distance and then come back down,” he says.

One example would be to run two speeded-up 400-meter segments, one speeded-up 800-meter segment, one speeded-up milelong segment, another speeded-up 800-meters and two more speeded-up 400-meter segments — with a half-distance recovery jog between each of the segments.

Build from walking to jogging

A walker who wants to learn to jog a 5K or 10K distance can practice by doing a one-minute jog followed by walking for two minutes.

“Jog for one minute, then walk for two — and do that for 20 to 30 minutes for a week,” Accetta says. “Then gradually adjust the workout so that the jog becomes longer and the rest interval becomes shorter. Eventually, you’ll be jogging for five minutes and walking for 30 seconds, or some variation.”

Say adios to some fat

“Interval training is a great fat-burning workout,” says Harvey of the UA. “The better muscle-building activities you have (such as running at increased speeds), the better the effect on decreasing body fat.”

Fartlek

The name of this interval-style technique might bring a snicker. But the Swedish term means “speed play” — and it’s a great way to get the benefits of interval training without following a highly structured format.

“Fartlek is a playful and unprescribed version of an interval workout,” says Accetta. “Run fast for a few minutes, then go slow, then speed up again, then slow down.

“There are no rules as to how fast or how far. Make it up as you go along. Do that for 20 to 40 minutes once a week for a month and you’ll get in good shape.”

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–Contact reporter Doug Kreutz at dkreutz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4192.

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