Monday 14 August 2017

3 applications of Interval Training for health

                Before I get started I want to congratulate all the great athletes competing at the Fergus Highland Games this past weekend. It was a real pleasure to watch a great group of athletes compete and see some national records get broken.

But now to the point of this article….
Since the turn of the century interval training, specifically high intensity interval training (HIIT) has become a popular mode of exercise particularly in the fat loss industry as research (and anecdotes) have shown HIIT to be far more time efficient for fat loss than steady state cardio.
While HIIT training for fat loss is the most commonly known application of interval training for improved health in this article I will go over 3 other methods of interval training that can be used to improve the health of certain populations you may work with.

1) Interval Training for Cardiovascular Disease prevention

A 2012 review showed that HIIT training was shown to improve various cardiovascular health indicators such as
-          HDL-cholesterol
-          Blood pressure
-          Improved insulin sensitivity
-          Improved cardiovascular fitness and
-          Fasting plasma glucose1

More importantly these results were obtained in a fraction of the time spent doing steady state cardio.

Side note: If you are someone new to the gym I don’t recommend using HIIT training right away, particularly if you are obese, sedentary, or have any health issues. Every exercise program needs to be fit to the individual to maximize results while minimizing risk of harm.  

2) Interval Training for people with COPD

Now many of you reading this are thinking “you must be crazy recommending interval training for people with COPD.” If I was recommending HIIT training then you may be right but interval training can take many forms.

In COPD populations interval training has been shown to produce equal improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness in comparison to steady state, continuous cardio but interval training has been associated with fewer reported incidences of dyspnea (shortness of breath), respiratory muscle discomfort, and peripheral muscle discomfort.

Evidence based guidelines suggest using interval training methods of 20-30s of exercise coupled with 30-40s of rest to a total of 15 minutes and progressing from there. The guidelines suggest that the exercise intervals should be performed at a 4-6 RPE on a 10 point scale2.

Anecdote alert: As someone who’s worked in ICU and in homecare during my physiotherapy school placements I’ve found that some people with COPD don’t always tolerate these volumes and intensities and I have started people at far lower volumes/intensities than those in the literature.

3) Interval Training to improve walking tolerance in Low Back Pain (LBP)  

Another anecdote alert!!!

I credit world renowned back researcher Stuart McGill for teaching me the technique of interval walking3,4. Interval walking is (in my anecdotal experience) helpful for people with LBP who have decreased walking tolerance and want to return to walking. The goal is to have the individual walk in short sessions that don’t increase their pain, rest for a bit, and repeat through the day. Over time the duration of the walking intervals should increase in most cases.

For a couple of examples ….

If you have a client who has pain walking for 20 minutes but needs to walk 30 minutes you can have them walk for 15 minutes; rest by leaning against a tree, wall, or bench; than have them walk for another 15 minutes.

If you have a client who an only walk 20 steps before their pain increases they should walk in bursts of 15 steps and do these frequently throughout the day.

I hope this article gives you some out of the box ways to apply different methods of interval training to the people you may be working with.


1.          Kessler HS, Sisson SB, Short KR. The Potential for High-Intensity Interval Training to Reduce Cardiometabolic Disease Risk. Sport Med. 2012;42(6):489-509. doi:10.2165/11630910-000000000-00000.
2.          Gloeckl R, Marinov B, Pitta F. Practical recommendations for exercise training in patients with COPD. Eur Respir Rev. 2013;22(128):178-186. doi:10.1183/09059180.00000513.
3.          McGill S. The Ultimate Back: Enhancing Performance.; 2009. Accessed July 21, 2017.
4.          McGill S. Back Mechanic: The Step-by-Step McGill Method to Fix Back Pain. BackFitPro Inc; 2015. Accessed July 21, 2017.

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