While I haven’t been blogging much, I’ve still been working. Below is an excerpt from a very basic, but somewhat detailed, article I wrote for the Beachbody blog. It’s worth reading if you don’t know the basics of why interval training is the best way to change your body composition quickly. Let’s pick up where it left off, looking at the basics of all aspects of training.
Beachbody workouts use a number of different styles of intervals. As an example of why, let’s look at Insanity’s MAX intervals. In general, the longer the interval, the easier the workout (technically, it often doesn’t feel that way). Some interval sessions have long and moderate intervals with short aerobic breaks. Others have short, difficult intervals with long aerobic breaks. What makes Insanity’s MAX Interval Training unique is that it combines long, hard intervals with short breaks. The MAX Interval system is based on HIIT, though it’s not HIIT as it was thought of traditionally. HIIT includes very short maximal intervals, followed by short breaks, which you’ll see in many of our programs, like Turbo Fire, Les Mills Combat, and others. It’s very intense and also effective. Its downside is that it’s so intense that your body can’t do it for very long. You can generally only see good progress for 2 to 3 weeks at a time using HIIT workouts until you need to transition to a different type of training.
Interval training isn’t just effective for body composition training. All athletes, at some point in their training, use anaerobic intervals to improve some aspect of fitness. You likely know this whether you’ve thought of it or not, given that most sports happen in intervals. Those that don’t–look at power lifting and ultra running at the extremes–still must incorporate them into their training somewhat because they improve systems that lead to improvements in pure power or pure endurance. Those systems are:
Max recruitment. This is pure power training for things that happen in 1.26… seconds (the amount of ATP that can create force) or less. For explosive sports, like power lifting, football linemen, baseball, etc, where the ability to exert maximal forces in an instant are paramount.
Phosphagen system (aka creatine phosphate), defines anaerobic endurance, or the ability of your body to sustain high recruitment (the term refers to the recruitment of high threshold muscle cell motor units) anaerobically. While the process of phosphocreatine recharging ATP lasts less than 10 seconds, any relaxation in your system can prolong it (creatine recovers starts to recover instantly), so this system is paramount from activities lasting under about a minute. The business end of most “athletic” sports happens in this realm (basketball, soccer, tennis, most of football, etc). This is also the focus of the interval article above.
Glycolytic system is where oxygen gets involved to prolong the above forces through a process known as glycolosis. Athletic events that focus on this system are thought to be painful, such as 400 and 800 meter races, because you’re pushing your anaerobic endurance system to its absolutely limits.
Aerobic system is the point where your body can no longer remain in the glycolytic system and uses oxygen for all recovery processes in your cells. It’s a broad area (think of the difference in speed between running a mile and a hundred miles) that, if you’ve competed in an aerobic sport, you know very well from the way your training changes. There are many styles of intervals that target certain functions within your aerobic system that are vital for endurance athletes but that’s a separate topic. For today’s purposes we’ll leave it alone.
It’s important to discuss the term cardio because all it means is heart. Your heart is stressed training in all areas above. In all anaerobic sets, it’s beating as fast as it can because you don’t have enough oxygen. Therefore, you get a cardiovascular training effect from all forms of training. Only doing pure max recruitment training can lead to your heart becoming deconditioned but that’s even unlikely if you’re training correctly, because for all out efforts you should warm-up up, cool-down, and are usually doing some kind interval sets to ready yourself a max push. If you’re training your phosphagen and gycolytic systems regularly, you’re getting all the cardio you’ll ever need for a healthy heart. The idea that you need to train aerobically for your heart is only true if you don’t do any other exercise.
Training “Broad Domains”
Crossfit has made it popular to think that you need to train all areas in order to be truly fit. And while it is admittedly kind of cool to make yourself pretty good at a lot of different stuff, the entire concept is nonsensical unless your sport is Crossfit. Your body has only so much energy to put into its training and it should be focused on your priorities. For example, a powerlifter or 100m sprinter using their energy to train glycolytically is not only wasting their time, they are ensuring failure in their sport. If you have a goal, you should train for that purpose. Fitness is defined only by being good at what you want to do. If that is something specific, it should define how you train. That’s why athletic bodies all look different.
One of the better examples of this is me. I’ve spent most of my adult life pushing both the boundaries between power and endurance but that’s just my thing. I’d never say it makes me a better athlete than anyone. It’s mainly just makes me worse at the sports I do. However, it’s not only fun for me to do a lot of varying sports, I really like to experiment with training different systems. If I were being paid to be good at only one sport, I would train differently.
The “best” training
The best training is what’s most effective for what you want to do. Usain Bolt, Lindsey Vonn, and Haile Gebrselassie don’t train remotely alike. Is one of them better than the others? At skiing, or distance running, or sprinting, sure. There is no superior method. Train for what you do.
Body composition change is like a sport, too, and years of trial and error has shown us that, by far, the quickest changes happen when training is focused on the phosphagen system. The HIIT training studies in the early 90s kicked off the trend that now shows just about any kind of repetitive interval system beats anything else for body composition change unless–and this is important–you are not physically fit enough to handle it. In that case, a gentler approach using prehab and aerobics would be prescribed. Therefore, if all you’re after is to look good on the beach, there is a best way to train. Just don’t tell that to a power lifter or ultra marathoner.