Interval training

When a friend recently asked about my swim workouts,  I told him about interval training.  A swim champ taught me interval training in the 1980s.  It works.  It develops both speed and endurance while allowing you to concentrate on technique.  I use interval training for my swim workouts.  You can use interval training for your favorite sport.

Wikipedia has a simple definition.  About.com has a more complete explanation.

Here’s what I do1:
swimmer 150w blended

I use “fixed” intervals — intervals of a fixed duration.  I swim ten 50-yard laps on one minute thirty second (1:30) intervals.  If I swim hard I can come in on less than 0:55, but then I’m knackered and can’t recover in time for the next interval.  If I swim slowly, and come in on 1:15, I won’t have enough time to rest.  If I swim at about a 1:00 to 1:03 pace (that’s about 70 to 80 percent of full throttle), I can do ten intervals, maybe even 15.  Mind you, I’m gasping for breath by the last few intervals, but that’s a good thing.  Supposedly that’s when your body really benefits.  This ordeal requires about fifteen minutes.

stopwatchI like using a clock for intervals because it gives me an objective measurement of my performance on each lap.  When a 1:30 interval becomes easy, I’ll decrease it to 1:25, then 1:20, and so forth.  Or, I could increase the length of each lap to 75 or 100 yards (which would require me to increase the number of seconds in each interval).

I round out my workout by using a kickboard for alternating hard and easy kicking laps, and a pull buoy for freestyle pulls that strengthen the upper body and allow me to concentrate on breathing.  I don’t swim these against the clock.  I finish with some easy slow laps.

To get started in your sport — any sport — you can monitor your pulse after each interval.  You might see your pulse climb to 140 or more2.  (The younger you are, the higher you can push your pulse.)  Let it drop to 100 or less before beginning the next interval.  This will provide an idea of what sort of fixed interval works for you, for any particular exercise.

(I suppose that variable duration intervals — that is, always resting for thirty seconds regardless of how slowly or fast you swam/ran/whatever — a “fixed rest period”  — would be better than nothing.  I think, though, that fixed duration intervals, when adjusted to suit you, ensure that you always work hard on each lap.)

During the exercise portion of each interval, aim for an effort of about 60 to 80 percent of full throttle.

Once you’ve arrived at an interval that works for you, start with just a few repetitions.  Continue this routine for a few weeks until you can do these pretty easily.  Slowly — very slowly, in small steps — bump the number of repetitions up to ten.  Stick with it for months.  Try this routine at least three or four times a week.  Don’t give up.  You will see results.


  1. My times are pathetic compared to a competitive college swimmer.  He or she might swim ten 50 yard laps on a fifty or sixty second interval.
  2. An easy way to roughly measure your pulse is to feel your heart beats on the inside of your wrist or on your carotid artery on your neck.  Count the number of heart beats in ten seconds.  Multiply by six.  Easier (but less accurate): count number of heart beats in six seconds; multiply by ten.Measuring pulse

 

Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695

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