Interval training; best thing since sliced bread

When working out the temptation is to focus on burning fat to lose weight! We are wanting to work out in the often quoted fat-burning-zone, which is zone 2. In zone 2 or the aerobic zone we mainly using ‘body fat’ to fuel our exercise / activity.

(see  ‘Interval Training: Levels of Intensity’ for information on training zones and intensity levels)

In many ways this is true, we burn twice as much fat in moderate & vigorous activity as when at rest or doing light activity (zone 1). In fact we burn just the same amount of fat whether we are working-out hard, very hard or even maximally. So if you are trying to lose weight what is the point in increasing intensity if we burn the same amount of fat?

The point is we burn up to three times as much glycogen in hard to intense exercise, and when this glycogen is used our body  replaces it to maintain homeostasis. Our muscles and liver store glycogen as quick energy we use when working-out really hard (zones 3-5). By burning glycogen we burn a lot more calories than we would by just working out moderately. In order to replace glycogen after the exercise session our bodies mainly use our bodies’ fat stores. This glycogen replacement is often know as the afterburn effect and is one of the main benefits of high intensity exercise, especially if you are wanting to lose body fat.

Another benefit is that high intensity exercise stresses our muscles and cardiovascular system which strengthens both. High intensity exercise combined with proper rest and nutrition leads to muscle growth and cardiovascular efficiency.  Great results if we are trying to lose body fat, because the more muscles we have the more calories we consume at rest. If we only exercise moderately then our muscles are not stressed and in the main do not develop. So, high intensity exercise can benefit in so many ways.

I’ve found from experience that doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) helps with muscle growth and increasing performance. Since incorporating HIIT exercise into my workouts I have seen my running mile per min rate dropping, where I had plateaued for months before using HIIT.

What do you do to incorporate high intensity into your exercise routine?

Interval Training: Levels of Intensity

level of intensityWorkouts can become ‘the same ol’ same ol’. One way to avoid staleness and spice things up is interval training. Not only are intervals a way to make exercise more interesting they can play an important part in improving performance or moving out of plateaued performance.

We’ll be exploring interval training through the next few posts. There are many different types of interval training, but in the main it means varying how hard you exercise (intensity) in a session or workout. So, how can we measure intensity?

The Feeling: The most obvious measure is how you feel. The most simple is: easy to hard to maxed-out. If you are just starting out this might be the best way to measure your intensity levels.

Ratings of Perceived Exertion: Borg G.A.V. in 1998 developed  the ‘Borg 6-20′ - Ratings of Perceived Exertion scale which starts at 6 for being at rest to 20 which mean maximal effort. This measure of intensity is often used in sports research and by athletes. This odd scale actually has to do with heart rate (HR): 6 being a HR of 60-beats-per-min (bpm); 20 a HR of 200 bpm. An adapted scale called Borg CR10 has the same verbal / ratings of RPE but zero is nothing-at-all and ten is maxed-out-wanting-to-vomit! This is the scale I use myself and with clients during training sessions.

Heart Rate: Another good indicator of how hard you are working out is pulse rate, obviously the faster your pulse the harder the workout. One important indicator in this area is a persons Maximum HR, intensity is a measure of percentage of MaxHR. MaxHR will vary from person-to-person and lower as a person gets older and can change with fitness levels. The best way to measure HR is with a heart rate monitor (HRM).  HRMs usually record calories burnt and some with GPS can measure HR throughout your workout which can later be useful to analyse performance, but more about these at another time.

Training Zones: One more holistic approach is looking at training in terms of zones, usually the zones are zone 1 to zone 6. There’s no zone 0 as with ‘Borg CR10′, the zones start from when a person is just plodding along in zone 1 or vomiting their guts up in zone 6.

Performance Level: The last main way (or as far as I know) is to look at your performance or output, this will depend on the sport but could be your pace in running (min per mile/km), or speed such as cycling or rowing (miles / kilometers per hour).

Each way of measuring intensity has its own pros and cons. The measure of intensity used will depend on experience levels, even a proficient athlete in one sport transferring to another sport may need to ‘re-learn’ intensity in the new discipline. Previously as a proficient cyclist I started running, at that time I found I only had two intensities when running, either maxed-out-vein-popping-200-bpm or stopped, it was some time before I could choose to run in different training ‘zones’ or intensity levels. When starting out sticking to a very simple measure of intensity may be necessary, later progressing to more advanced measures as capacity and technique improve over-time. The measure of intensity will also vary depending on personal goals, such as, someone preparing for a short distance running race (1000m / 5 km) may want to focus on intensity related to pace or speed, whereas someone training for general fitness might be more interested in their MaxHR% or RPE.

Which one of the measures of intensity fit with your fitness goals?

Training: Distance and Intensity

blurred legsThe sun was out and it was time for a training session. So I kitted up and ran some ‘Yasso 800s’. This involved running 800 meters at a high intensity then 400 meters at a recovery pace, I ran 5 sets and timed the last three 800s and clocked these times, first 3:36, second 3:34 , and lastly 3:40. For each set my pace was fairly consistent, or at least a 4 second difference is good enough for me. For each  set my feeling of intensity rose, I had to push through a little harder each time, and the 400 meter recovery felt a little sweeter after each 800 meter run. I warmed-up for the Yassos by running 2.5 miles to Bedford athletic stadium and followed them with a 2.5 mile return home cool down. Over the session I clocked up around 9.5 miles, although it felt like less because of the variety in the workout.

What did I learn from this training session? In the main for me training has two faces, firstly perseverance and secondly intensity. Obviously when training we also address skill, form or technical ability as a part of the process, but the saying “quitters aren’t winners” is important. An athlete has to stay the course to win the race, hit a personal best or complete an event. To finish we have to endure and to reach a personal best we need push to a new level of intensity. Winners are not applauded for a one-off victory,  but for the 100s of miles and hours spend moulding their body and mind.

Primarily the ability to stay the course comes from a disciplined mind, and the body follows. It is the ability to push through when our mind is telling us to quit that makes all the difference. Some of us are not talented or gifted élite record breakers on the field, but we can always better ourselves, and this is often because of not quitting when no one is looking. Pushing the boundaries of our own limitations which are often bounded by invisible boundary stones we have placed in our own minds, markers we can move to build our own self-esteem.

Weight Loss and the Unforgiving Scales

The Unforgiving Scales

Weight loss is on most people’s minds this time of year. The indulgence of the Christmas holidays has left most of us a few pounds heavier. So, the knee jerk response is a new regime of dieting and exercise. The scales become our master, calories our enemy and thankless workout schedule a punishment for too many yuletide luxuries.

It is too obvious to say that we are trying to lose fat, we know we are trying to lose fat, but our body weight in the main is made up of water and the best way to retain lots of water is body fat – which holds more fluid than most other organs. Also too much fat in our bodies causes us to retain water in other tissues. But are the bathroom scales the best way to measure of our success in reducing our body fat percentage?

In the New Year the diet & exercise regime starts well, the scales drop in the first week or so, we ease off and feel we need not be too hard on ourselves.  In latter weeks we slack off, miss a session at the gym, and the scales punish us, we are disheartened and still 4 pounds heavier than last year. The problem is we started the process with a full stomach and are tempted to end the process hungry and longing for the emotional rewards of eating whatever we want. We end our new regime beaten by the unforgiving scales, again!

The problem is we have given up too soon! We’ve probably gained some muscle mass and reduced our body fat percentage. Our body has probably started to manufacture glycogen rather than lipids (fat) in expectation of tomorrow’s workout. But we don’t give our body a chance to make the adjustments needed for sustainable weight loss. The pangs we feel are a combination of true hunger and the detoxification process our body is going through. Again we bow to the judgement of the unforgiving scales. Don’t be disheartened you’re at the start of an exciting journey of change and learning, trust the scales loosely, but also take note of other signs of fat loss, such as loosening belts, increased strength, feelings of well being and best of all the rewarding comments of others of how great you’re looking!


Excellent quick and tasty recipe.

Originally posted on en quête de saveur:


My last Brussel Sprouts recipe got 80 likes –thank you all!!!  So, I decided to share another recipe.  This is another variation on the roasted brussel sprouts.  Mushrooms pair up with the sprouts to give it a woodier, heartier taste!  I used frozen and canned ingredients but if possible please use the fresh ingredients (when in season) and it will taste really good.


16oz bag of frozen, thawed, dried and sliced in half.


1 shallot sliced

1, 6 oz can of Dutch mushrooms


1 tbsp of olive oil

2 sprigs of thyme.

Salt and pepper for seasoning


Toss all the ingredients in a bowl and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet.


Roast in a 400F oven for about 20-30 min till golden brown.


Serve hot or at room temperature !


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