Less Pain, Same Gain

I love going running. Outside when it’s warm, inside on the treadmill when it’s cold or rainy. I love hearing my breath getting into a regular rhythm, my arms and legs flowing smoothly, knowing that every step takes me further along on my journey.

Lately, I’ve incorporated more interval runs, short periods of very fast sprints followed by longer periods of slow running or walking. I’m trying to build power in my legs so that I can eventually run faster, but also the interval runs are harder on the body so the interval runs don’t last as long. But of course you need both kinds of workouts to get better and healthier.

Or do you? According to the New York TimesGretchen Reynolds, research seems to be showing that interval training is just as beneficial as long workouts. McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario recently did a study with three groups of men who were not currently exercising. The first group was a control group. The second was put on an exercise regimen of 45 minutes of steady biking, and the third had a 10-minute interval program, of which only one minute was intense cycling, the rest being very slow cycling. Both groups did three workouts a week for twelve weeks. After the twelve weeks, the control group, unsurprisingly, showed no improvement.

But when the scientists retested the men’s aerobic fitness, muscles and blood-sugar control now, they found that the exercisers showed virtually identical gains, whether they had completed the long endurance workouts or the short, gruelling intervals.

So the two workout groups showed the same improvements in fitness, except that one group had worked out for 27 hours, the other for only six.

The results are still in the early stages (for example, there were no women in the study), but it is great news for those (like me) who thought that real workouts were long workouts. If I can get the same results for less than a quarter of the time, bring on the intervals!