Created by Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas
Interval: The amount of time between two specified instants or events.
You teach indoor cycling, so you know intervals. If you asked another instructor for the workout he/she used in class that morning, odds are you’d get a response something like, “The main climbing set was 4 X 5/1:30 min at 85%,” indicating four five-minute climbs at 85% max effort, with 90 seconds of recovery between efforts.
Intervals are standard practice in indoor cycling and all types of CV training because of how effective they are. Interval training dates back to the 1930s, when German coach Dr. Woldemar Gerschler pioneered training methods based on sound physiological principles. He teamed up with cardiologist Dr. Herbert Reindel to develop a training protocol that would maximize the heart’s fitness.
The study involved some 3000 subjects completing three weeks of precise, heart rate-controlled training. The participants were track athletes who ran a relatively short distance at a very fast pace. Average stroke volume increased 20%, with significant improvements in performance. Gerschler and Reindel dubbed the repetitions “interval training” and considered the recovery period between the runs the most important part of the training.
When I first read this, I was amazed. To the founders of interval training, “interval” meant the recovery interval. When managed correctly, that period of time had the greatest physiological impact. The descriptive “formula” I used above would have made no sense to them because the rest interval should be the primary concern and dictate the repetition of the work effort.
For Gerschler and Reindel, if my heart rate did not recover properly in 90 seconds, I wouldn’t be allowed to do the next interval. Improved fitness would have occurred when my heart rate actually achieved the desired recovery in 90 seconds.
If that heart rate reduction didn’t occur, the workout was too difficult. Unless it was adjusted, the heart would be overworked, leading to fatigue and exhaustion, rather than to the desired training effect. So, the reduction of the recovery interval is the most important aspect of the training, not the degree of effort or duration of the work interval.
Consider the state of training within indoor cycling today in light of that information. Rigid interval formats form the core of most classes, with limited (or no) attention paid to what the founders of interval training actually meant by interval training. And not just in indoor cycling. Consider the prevalence of high intensity interval training (HIIT), such as the Tabata Protocol, in the fitness industry in general. Tabata intervals are often max efforts with extremely short recovery – less than half the duration of the work interval. Consider Gerschler and Reindel rolling over in their graves.
Is respect for recovery even possible with current class schedules, equipment or perceptions? My guess is no, except in selected, controlled situations. Is it even desired by the average class member? Most of them would not feel they were getting a good enough workout because we gave them too much recovery.
As indoor cycling instructors, we’ve all heard, “It’s not how hard you work but how fast you recover.” Yet it’s difficult to implement, given what we have to work with, and that includes the mindset of our members.
Maybe the question becomes whether or not we should really be doing intervals at all. When an interval is considered as described in the first sentence – the amount of time between two specified instants – then it’s a valuable tool for us as instructors. It allows us to develop patterns and give participants an understanding of the training we have planned for them. It also enables us to implement music more effectively by selecting songs by length to fit the patterns that we create.
As soon as “interval” becomes “interval training”, however, I think it’s wise to take a step back and consider where this kind of training came from and what the founders of interval training discovered about the work/recovery relationship.
Make that the recovery/work relationship.