By now, you’ve probably heard a thing or two (or ten) about interval training. There’s a long list of benefits when it comes to HIIT: It improves athletic performance and cardiovascular health, revs your metabolism for hours, gets you out of the gym fast, and has an endless list of workouts and moves to try. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1997, Feb.;28(10):0195-9131. Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease. Gibala MJ, Little JP, Macdonald MJ. The Journal of physiology, 2012, Jan.;590(Pt 5):1469-7793.
Plus it can be more fun than slogging away at a steady pace. One recent study found that despite the effort, people genuinely enjoyed interval training, likely because they got a great workout in little time. Enjoyment of high-intensity interval training in an overweight/obese cohort: a short report. Smith-Ryan AE. Clinical physiology and functional imaging, 2015, Jun.;():1475-097X.
But there’s a catch: You have to push yourself—hard. You don’t reap the benefits without getting breathless. “Honestly, you should want to throw up after 30 seconds of work,” says Abbie Smith-Ryan, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who studies interval training. (Yikes!)
This idea of exhaustive training (understandably) turns some off. "If you’re not hitting the high intensity you should be, you may not see great results," says Phil Page, Ph.D., an expert in sports rehabilitation. "That might lead someone to say, ‘It doesn’t work, I’m not going to do anything.’" Another study found that overweight individuals have a tough time sticking to interval training—in which case it's not effective at all. High intensity interval training in a real world setting: a randomized controlled feasibility study in overweight inactive adults, measuring change in maximal oxygen uptake. Lunt H, Draper N, Marshall HC. PloS one, 2014, Jan.;9(1):1932-6203. So what's the solution if you're looking for the same benefits—without the super strenuous effort?
Enter: 10-20-30 Interval Training
Researchers in Denmark may have found an answer. They've been testing a ramp-up style of interval training for the last few years, and runners involved in their recent trials have improved endurance performance, lowered blood pressure, and lowered blood cholesterol. The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners. Gunnarsson TP, Bangsbo J. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 2012, May.;113(1):1522-1601. 10-20-30 training increases performance and lowers blood pressure and VEGF in runners. Gliemann L, Gunnarsson TP, Hellsten Y. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 2014, Dec.;():1600-0838.
The plan is called 10-20-30 training, and it's easy enough: You jog (or use the elliptical, row, or spin) for 30 seconds at a comfortable speed. Then you pick up the pace to moderate difficulty for 20 seconds. For the last 10 seconds, you do an all-out gallop. (“The aim is to cover as much distance as possible in those 10 seconds,” Jens Bangsbo, one of the researchers who authored the study, told the The New York Times.)
Repeat that circuit four more times without pause. Then rest for two minutes by walking slowly or standing still, then repeat all five cycles again. Do a cool-down of your choice, and you’re done. The whole thing—minus a warm-up and cool-down—lasts just 12 minutes.
That definitely beats the usual 45-minute treadmill session, right? Bonus: The 10-20-30 style might be a better way to ease your body in and out of speed. “A moderate jog may help to get your heart rate up,” says Smith-Ryan, who was not involved with the study. “But that 10 seconds is really what you’re working on—the time under tension.”
While these studies have been promising, the method hasn’t been widely tested. There’s probably nothing wrong with the style of cardio, though it may not be effective for everyone, Page cautions. “You have to consider motivation, time, physical condition—you really have to individualize interval training.”
Your Action Plan
Bangsbo suggests replacing one or two of your weekly workouts with this plan. Warm up and then ease into the intervals. Don’t do this workout two days consecutively. In fact, the day after, Bangsbo recommends you either rest or do a very light workout. While this shouldn't be your only form of cardio ever, consider it another tool in your workout arsenal.