With the flurry of holiday parties and shopping, it can be easy to slack off on exercise this time of year. Instead, make your workouts more efficient with interval training. These are short bouts of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of recovery. If you were, say, working out on the treadmill instead of jogging at a steady pace for 20 or 30 minutes, you’d alternate 30 seconds of speed-jogging with one minute of recovery at a brisk walk. You’d keep increasing the speed and duration of the intense intervals and shortening the recovery periods.
Ellen Miller, the first American woman to summit Mount Everest from both the north and south sides, offers mountainside internal training classes at the Vail Athletic Club in Vail, Colo. She admits that while the workouts are highly effective, they’re far from easy. The goal is to work at 70 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate, so you’re going beyond aerobic into anaerobic. At this level, your body is working so hard that it can’t meet the demands for oxygen and goes into oxygen debt, releasing lactic acid and producing the feel-the-burn sensation. It’s as painful as it sounds — and that’s the point. “If you want to get stronger, fitter, faster, you need to stress your body,” says Miller, “and that’s uncomfortable.”
Persevering packs a payoff that goes beyond the physical. “Interval training is really a body/mind/sprit workout,” says Miller. “When you know you can stick with the intense bouts and tolerate being uncomfortable for a while, it strengthens your mental and emotional tenacity too.” Best of all, the tough part is blessedly brief. “In an hour of interval training, the hard effort is only 15 to 20 minutes,” says Miller. “The rest is warm-up, recovery and cooldown. And unless you’re an elite athlete, you should do interval training only once a week, working at a lower intensity the other days. Thankfully, that leaves lots of time for celebrating!