The steady state cardio program I’ve put myself on while I’m recovering from the shoulder surgery is going well. Except I’ve now lost count of the number of people who keep telling me “you don’t need to do all those hours of cardio, just do a couple of hard interval sessions each week.”
Has the world has gone interval mad?
First off I would say I’m not anti intervals, but some people don’t realise that the two types of workout result in different adaptions. Long duration steady state cardio results in an increase in the size of the left ventricle as it is continually stretched gently by the increase in blood volume passing through the heart. This in turn over time leads to an increase in stroke volume. The most easily observable result of this is a lowing on your resting heart rate.
Intense interval training on the other hand whilst it also increases your aerobic ability achieves it by thickening the walls of the heart. This gives you faster more powerful contractions. The amount of improvement that can be made here however is limited. This is because although it is possible to increase the speed at which the heart can contract, there is a finite limit to how quickly it can fill up again. This is why research shows that this training method get quick results, but that the results level out quickly as well. Top runners do most of there training at the slow long pace, and then ad in the intervals in the build up to a race. This way they get both benefits.
In other words, if you want to truly maximise your aerobic conditioning, the both types of training are needed.
I’m not training for the Tour de France or a marathon, I’m just trying to increase my base cardio fitness to help my recovery and spare my anaerobic energy system a bit when I get back to competing on the mat. In fact to keep the stress purely on the cardio energy pathway and engage the anaerobic system as little as possible, the heart rate needs to be kept in the 130 – 150 range. Yes if this in done on the treadmill you might want to run gently, but you could walk uphill instead. The idea is that the exercise is easy enough that you can carry on a conversation, about the same amount of effort as a good hike in the mountains for an hour or so. Lots of low-level excise is the key here.
I am looking to use my time while I can’t do my normal training productively and so this kind of training fits the bill. a) because it’s something I haven’t really done before and as an experiment I’m interested to see the results. b) because with the injury I have lots of time because I can’t do my normal training. c) I can’t do hard intervals, because large quick movements of the arm (like in a sprint) will aggravate the shoulder recovery.