Interval training is now a part of our exercise lexicon, becoming one of the most popular ways to workout. Not only can you burn more calories in a shorter period of time, you can also increase your endurance more quickly with interval training than with other types of cardio. We've seen all kinds of interval workouts - Aerobic intervals, which may be more appropriate for beginners, anaerobic intervals, which take you to your limit and the latest craze, Tabata training which involves four minutes of killer intervals.
With all these interval workouts available, all with different work-to-rest ratios, the question is: Is there one best interval workout out there? One group of researchers think they've found just such a workout, what they call The 10-20-30 training concept.
The 10-20-30 training concept is essentially for runners and came about from researchers who wanted to see if they could find one precise HIIT formula that anyone could use to increase performance. In the study, researchers took one group of "moderately trained" runners who were jogging about 14 miles a week and put them on a high intensity interval workout consisting of low-speed running for 30 seconds (30% of maximal intensity), moderate-speed running for 20 seconds (60% of maximal intensity) and high-speed running for 10 seconds (90% of maximal intensity). They repeated this 10-20-30 sequence for 5 minutes, recovering for 2 minutes between intervals for about 20-30 minutes, effectively cutting their normal training by about 50%.
At the end of the 7-week study, they compared results with the control group, which continued jogged about 14 miles each week and found that the interval group boosted their 5K times by up to one minute while also reducing their blood pressure and cholesterol.
This study has gotten a lot of play in the exercise world, with the question being: Is this the holy grail of interval training? One study really isn't enough to answer that, but the experts consulted in the article, "Have Researchers Discovered the Ideal HIIT Formula?" like this new spin on HIIT because:
- It's an efficient ways to incorporate high intensity interval training
- It proves that there are a number of ways to improve performance that isn't just one-size-fits-all
- It's an effective, simple technique that can benefit any level of fitness, whether a beginner or a more experienced exerciser
- The workout is continuous, meaning there's no real rest phase. Exercisers go from high intensity to low intensity, but still keep moving, which may be one reason for that improvement in performance.
One expert commenting on the study suggested that this type of training may not be a great idea for beginners and there are some questions that still need to be answered. For one, these researchers only studied runners, so we don't know if this method would apply to other exercises like strength training or other cardio activities. It would be tough to do this kind of training on a cardio machine, for example, because the intervals are so short, you wouldn't have time to get your speed or resistance up fast enough.
There's also no real proof that this type of HIIT training is better than any other type of training. The real appeal of this kind of study is that it suggests we can get more results in what appears to be half the time and half the workload. Maybe runners can benefit from this, particularly competitive runners, but what about the average exerciser?
10-20-30 in the Real World
What does 10-20-30 mean for those of us who are just trying to stay fit? In my view, this is one more tool in your exercise toolbox to keep your workouts fresh and to challenge yourself in new ways. Many of us incorporate Tabata training or other types of interval or circuit workouts, so why not 10-20-30?
To do that, take an activity or exercise and break it down into 3 different moves, an easy version, a moderate version and a high intensity version. For the high intensity version, you want to go all out, as fast and as hard as you can. You can use your target heart rate zones, perceived exertion, a heart rate monitor or a combination of these to monitor your intensity. Some examples:
- A fast-paced squat (30 seconds), a squat jump (20 seconds) and froggy jump (10 seconds)
- A low impact jumping jack (30 seconds), a regular jumping jack (20 seconds) and a plyo jack (10 seconds)
- Alternating front lunge (30 seconds), side to side lunges with a med ball (20 seconds) and a plyo lunge (10 seconds)
Choose your exercises or activity, and repeat each low, moderate and high intensity segment for a total of 5 minutes, either doing the same exercises or different exercises each time. Rest for 2 minutes and then repeat for about 20-30 minutes. Don't forget to warm up, cool down and stretch to make it a safe, complete workout.
Gunnarsson TP, Bangsbo J. The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners. J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jul;113(1):16-24.
Gerard, J. "Have Researchers Discovered the Ideal HIIT Formula?" ACE Certified News. December, 2012.