The Official eNewsletter of TODAY! Fitness

vol. 2007 issue 2



Interval Training

Lack of time is the number one reason people give for not exercising. And lack of results once they do start exercising isn't far behind. Interval training is a great solution for both of these common problems.

Interval training involves alternating short bursts of intense activity with what is called active recovery, which is typically a less-intense form of the original activity.

The Swedes came up with a term for this type of training: fartlek, which means speed play. Not only is it an efficient training method, fartlek training can help you avoid injuries that often accompany non-stop, repetitive activity, and provides the opportunity to increase your intensity without burning yourself out in a matter of minutes.

Unlike traditional interval training, fartlek training does not involve specifically or accurately measured intervals. Instead, intervals are based according to the needs and perceptions of the participant. In other words, how you feel determines the length and speed of each interval.

The advantages of intervals

Interval training utilizes the body's two energy-producing systems: the aerobic and the anaerobic. The aerobic system is the one that allows you to walk or run for several miles, that uses oxygen to convert carbohydrates from various sources throughout the body into energy.

The anaerobic system, on the other hand, draws energy from carbohydrates (in the form of glycogen) stored in the muscles for short bursts of activity such as sprinting, jumping or lifting heavy objects. This system does not require oxygen, nor does it provide enough energy for more than the briefest of activities. And its byproduct, lactic acid, is responsible for that achy, burning sensation in your muscles that you feel after, say, running up several flights of stairs.

Interval basics

Interval training allows you to enjoy the benefits of anaerobic activities without having to endure those burning muscles. In its most basic form, interval or fartlek training might involve walking for two minutes, running for two, and alternating this pattern throughout the duration of a workout.

The intensity (or lack thereof) of each interval is up to how you feel and what you are trying to achieve. The same is true for the length of each interval. For example, if it is your habit to walk two miles per day in 30 minutes, you can easily increase the intensity of your walk (as well as up its calorie-burning potential) by picking up the pace every few minutes and then returning to your usual speed.

A great trick is to tell yourself that you'll run a particular distance, from the blue car to the green house on the corner, for example, and then walk from the green house to the next telephone pole.

When you first start fartlek training, each interval can be a negotiation with yourself depending on how strong or energetic you happen to feel during that particular workout. This helps to break up the boredom and drudgery that often comes from doing the same thing day after day.

A more advanced approach

Despite its simplicity, it also is possible to take a very scientific approach to interval training, timing both the work and recovery intervals according to specific goals. The box, lists the four variables to keep in mind when designing an interval training program.

A personal trainer can help you design an interval training program based on your particular goals.  Consider the following four variables when designing an interval training program:

  • Intensity (speed) of work interval
  • Duration (distance or time) of work interval
  • Duration of rest or recovery interval
  • Number of repetitions of each interval

Fat Loss is Hard Work

I have mentioned the importance of intensity before.  Sure, you can realize benefits from moderate exercise, but you can make greater strides in less time by kicking it up a notch (within reason).  This recent article does a good job of qualifying this statement:

Most people trying to lose weight cut calories and sometimes exercise moderately.  Unfortunately, in most weight-loss studies, people lose about 15 pounds in a year and gain it back quickly after that.  Losing fat and looking good requires intense training.  Research has found that adults who combined intense weight training and aerobics with increased dietary protein (40 percent of total calories) lost more body fat than subjects on a standard "food pyramid" diet who did moderate aerobic exercise.  Intense exercisers lost twice as much body fat and abdominal fat as people who exercised moderately.  The high-intensity groups also had greater decreases in cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol) and blood pressure.  Intense weight training and aerobic exercise, combined with increased protein intake, improves body composition and reduces the risk of heart attack. 

(International Journal Sports Nutrition Exercise Metabolism 16:373-392, 2006)

(for more information see monitoring intensity)

Elite Bodyweight Exercise of the Month!

Inverted Row

Rowing exercises are great to work those back muscles as well as your biceps.  There are a variety of exercises that target these muscles, but this is one of my favorite.  Although this one is best done off of a smith machine or power rack, you can pretty much do the exercise from any stable horizontal bar or surface.  In the past, working with a partner, I've taken turns doing this on a chin-up bar with my ankles on my partner's shoulders.  Here's another good one to add to your "hotel room workout" providing there is a sturdy table in the room.  (please don't tell my wife I was hanging on my dining room table!).

Back and arms (rhomboids, latisimus dorsi, biceps brachii)

Count:  2 count

Description:  Grasp a bar or any stable, horizontal surface that you can get your body under.  Support your legs on a bench, a chair, or the ground.  The closer you get to horizontal, the more difficult the exercise becomes.  Maintain a straight, planked body-line, and pull your chest up as far as possible using only your arms.  Lower yourself back to starting position and repeat for the target number of repetitions.  Beginners can start with the bar relatively high (4 foot) with feet on the ground until strength is increased.

A Coke and A Smile

This was an interesting article that my father found circulating around the internet.  It was just published last month by  Although there have been documented benefits of caffeine in relation to sport performance, I thought it was worth some air time. 

What Happens If You Drink A Coke Right Now?
Have you ever wondered why Coke comes with a smile? Itís because it gets you high. They took the cocaine out almost a hundred years ago. You know why? It was redundant.

  • In The First 10 minutes: 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. (100% of your recommended daily intake.) You donít immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor allowing you to keep it down.

  • 20 minutes: Your blood sugar spikes, causing an insulin burst. Your liver responds to this by turning any sugar it can get its hands on into fat. (Thereís plenty of that at this particular moment)

  • 40 minutes: Caffeine absorption is complete. Your pupils dialate, your blood pressure rises, as a response your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream. The adenosine receptors in your brain are now blocked preventing drowsiness.

  • 45 minutes: Your body ups your dopamine production stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. This is physically the same way heroin works, by the way.

  • >60 minutes: The phosphoric acid binds calcium, magnesium and zinc in your lower intestine, providing a further boost in metabolism. This is compounded by high doses of sugar and artificial sweeteners also increasing the urinary excretion of calcium.

  • >60 Minutes: The caffeineís diuretic properties come into play. (It makes you have to pee.) It is now assured that youíll evacuate the bonded calcium, magnesium and zinc that was headed to your bones as well as sodium, electrolyte and water.

  • >60 minutes: As the rave inside of you dies down youíll start to have a sugar crash. You may become irritable and/or sluggish. Youíve also now, literally, pissed away all the water that was in the Coke. But not before infusing it with valuable nutrients your body could have used for things like even having the ability to hydrate your system or build strong bones and teeth.

This will all be followed by a caffeine crash in the next few hours. (As little as two if youíre a smoker.) But, hey, have another Coke, itíll make you feel better.

It's Go Time!

OK... you've had enough time to finish those Christmas cookies, chocolates, and leftovers.  Whatever's left should be donated to a worthy neighbor or thrown away!  Unless you plan on eating a lot of Valentine's day chocolates, you should be in the clear until at least Easter!  So we are going to limit the amount of temptation in the house, try to make better food choices, reduce our portion size, and get on a regular workout schedule, right? 

If you started of the new year right with a solid workout program, you should be starting to get addicted to it right about now!  That's the point where you feel bad for missing a workout and cheating yourself.  This is a good thing as long as you use it for motivation rather than to add stress to yourself.  As with other addictions, exercise makes you feel good, which makes you want to keep doing it.  Unlike other addictions, exercise has the benefit of making you healthier and having a positive impact on your body and quality of life.  It's a new year... time to get addicted!

For prior issues of this newsletter go to  

Good Luck!

Pete Mazzeo, CPT

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