Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Incline Interval Training – Just One Approach

Many people today are leaning more towards interval training to augment their conditioning programs – and for good reason. Interval training allows for many positive aspects when done safely, efficiently and with a high level of effort or intensity. When done properly, there’s a high output of energy which can enhance the cardiovascular system, help reduce body fat, improve athletic and recreational performance and improve anaerobic/muscular strength. Interval training is generally short in duration (lengthy sessions are impossible, actually) and does not need to be done more than one to two times per week. Interval training can be done in many ways using an assortment of modalities and as much as it is a solid means of training, it can have its pitfalls as well. Too often people abuse interval training – not realizing that such high levels of out put done for too many repetitions or too frequently can lead to overtraining or injury. Obviously, then, a person needs to approach interval training judiciously. For the sake of being somewhat concise, today I will only discuss one running approach that I have found to be beneficial in a number of ways.

This recommendation is nothing new under the sun (like most things aren’t) but a lot of individuals don’t place enough value on the benefits of the activity of incline or hill running. One of THE major advantages that I have found in performing incline/hill sprints is the reduction in compressive forces of the joints and soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments) as opposed to running flat surfaces. There also is a less likely risk of becoming injured (even with a high output of energy) because stride rates (speeds) are reduced. Incline/hill sprints will give the lower extremities (legs/hips/hamstrings/calves/shins) a very good strength workout and will also stimulate the cardiovascular/cardio respiratory systems – and don’t be surprised how much the torso, abdominals and low back come into play as well.

Here’s a little “down and dirty”, quick interval workout that can be done on a treadmill, a hill (or an elliptical if it allows for an incline). Please keep in mind that this is just one of hundreds of ways to utilize incline/hill work. First, do an easy warm-up such as a light, ½ to a mile jog to get the blood flowing. Once you are ready to start your incline/hill work, set the speed and incline so that you can perform a 30 second hard run with a 30 second recovery that allows you to complete 10 solid reps with the last few reps being a good, solid challenge (your running form should not be compromised). For example, if you run a comfortable warm-up for ½ mile at a 10 minute mile pace (MMP) with a zero incline, bump the incline to 7 or 8 and push the speed so that you are running between 8:30 and 8:45 MMP. Once you complete the 10 reps, rest for 60 seconds. Now, using the same incline and speed, perform a 20 second sprint with a 10 second recovery for 3-5 reps. Depending on your warm-up time, this workout can be completed in under 20 minutes.

Should you choose to take this workout to the great outdoors, walk/jog to your destination – which should be a hill or sizeable hill - and perform a 30 second sprint then up the incline and walk brisk back to the start position, turn and do another rep until all 10 are complete. In this manner, you will get more rest due to the walk back but that will simply enable you to go at the hill harder so when it’s all said and done, the difference in the benefits will be nominal. After this segment is done go back to the bottom of the hill and do a 20 second blast up the hill walk for 10 seconds, sprint for 20, walk for 10 seconds etc. until 3-5 reps are completed. Don’t worry about walking back down the hill – just keep moving forward.

Interval training should leave you taxed, but not completely exhausted. Working yourself to a point where you can’t finish the repetitions in good form or you are flat on your back is not, I repeat, not a productive approach to improving your health and fitness. Consider taking one or both of these workouts for a ride as a change of pace to your lower body and conditioning training and remember to use interval training as just another tool in your overall fitness program.