Workout: Burst Intervals

Intervals are a common enough workout strategy: go hard for some length of time, and then rest or recover for another length of time, and then repeat. Depending on the parameters, intervals can build endurance, they can make you stronger, and they can improve your ability to work at the highest possible levels of output.

But the problem is that not everyone is starting at the same point. If we take two 40 year old men, who from the outside look somewhat similar, those similarities don’t mean that they’ll have the same experience (or get the same benefits) from the same workout.

Burst intervals are one way of ensuring that each athlete gets what they need. Burst intervals have another great benefit: on days when you’re performing well, the workout gets harder; if you’re not fully recovered from an earlier workout, you’ll do less work. This is what we mean by auto-regulating.

One note: to perform burst intervals, you’ll need a heart rate monitor. I suggest the Polar H10; this is a Bluetooth transmitter worn around the chest, which will transmit to your phone. Having your heart rate displayed on your phone makes it easier to see, even when you’re breathing heavy and have sweat in your eyes.

How to perform burst intervals

The idea is really simple: you’ll set a timer for some duration. The first time, start with just 10 minutes. Then, as you get more experienced, take this up to 30 or even 45 minutes. You’ll pick a full-body exercise you enjoy (or love to hate). This could be running, cycling, running, burpees, kettlebell swings, etc. The only two rules: it has to be something that can get your heart rate up high, and something you can continue to do safely when you’re fatigued. The indoor rowing machine is my preferred tool. When the clock starts, you’ll work until your heart rate gets to your upper threshold; once it’s there, you stop and rest until it comes back down to the lower threshold. And then, you go again.

And again and again.

The fresher you are, the faster your heart rate will come back down, and the more cycles you’ll complete. If you’re fatigued or under-recovered, your heart rate will move more slowly, and you’ll complete fewer cycles. That’s auto-regulation.

Determining your thresholds

For your high threshold: [220 – Age] x .9

For your low threshold: High threshold – 25bpm

Example: for a 35 year old:

220 – 35 = 185

185 x .9 = 167 [This person’s high threshold is 167bpm]

167 – 25 = 142 [This person’s low threshold is 142bpm]

Note: Burst interval training isn’t for everyone. If you haven’t been training regularly in ways that get your heart rate up, start with something easier, and get the advice of a professional before starting. 

Putting it into practice

Start with burst intervals once a week for two weeks, and then three times a week. Then start increasing the duration of your sessions. Choose exercises you enjoy, and keep track of the number of cycles you complete. That’s a simple way to track your progress over time.

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