Why You are doing Intervals All Wrong

In training intervals 20 seconds work, 40 seconds rest is a common example frequently used in sports. While this is a highly effective interval in creating a stimulus, the important question no one seems to ask is… is it the correct stimulus?

We very often are doing things we read or see and are simply copying it in hopes of duplicating the results. However, we lack the technical background to understand the why. Why are you doing that specific training and what stimulus and what outcome do you expect to get out of it.

Let’s take for example a 400m sprint workout. I would hope that your intention is to get faster or increase speed endurance. What might this workout look like within the CrossFit community. Very often we might have a 1:1 , 1:2 or even 1:4 work: rest ratio for this type of interval.

We’ll use a hypothetical workout (but I have tested this) using a 1:4 work: rest ratio meant to “increase” speed. I put increase in quotations for a very important reason I’ll mention at the end.

10x150m Sprints. With times as below:

:26, :25, :26, :28, :29, :31 etc.

The athlete taking roughly 4 times the amount of ‘work’ is resting close to 2 minutes between bouts of work. However, we can clearly see the intended stimulus is not what we are getting out of this training session. In fact, the athlete is getting SLOWER. The fact that the athlete is not properly rested is resulting in slower 150m sprint times each interval. Rather than making your athlete FASTER, you are actually creating the opposite stimulus and making them SLOWER.

Within the CrossFit community you see training programmed like this all the time and it is not only wrong but it has the unintended consequence of making athletes slower not faster when using intervals. So, how should we be using intervals correctly to create the intended stimulus? Next time you do interval training check your results, did your times stay the same, get faster or slower? Did your work output go up, down or remain the same? Once you’ve checked this, did the results match your intended stimulus? You might be surprised by your findings.  Stay tuned, I’ll share more in the next blog as to how to properly train intervals.