Common sense and scientific research often agree with each other, and pretty much everyone agrees that you're more likely to stick to an exercise program if you're doing something you consider easy or fun.
This way of thinking has buoyed the popularity of exercise programs that people find enjoyable. People who are interested in general maintenance of health and fitness are substituting the marathon cardio sessions and feats of endurance on the treadmill that were previously seen as best practice with less tedious forms of exercise that deliver similar results. Aerobic dance classes like Zumba are touted as being fun, Crossfit is competitive and changes every day, and weight training is less tedious than cardio, with recent studies showing it offers similar fat loss benefit.
One type of exercise that is experiencing a big surge in popularity is interval training, in which bouts of strenuous activity are alternated with lower intensity rest intervals.
But how does interval training stack up to regular cardio? A group of researchers decided to take a look at the perceived exertion by participants in each type of exercise, or how hard they felt they worked.
12 men and 12 women rated their feelings of exertion after each of four different types of cycle-based exercise – continuous cycling at moderate and vigorous levels, and vigorous and severe interval training. Intervals alternated one minute work and rest segments, and all trials lasted 20 minutes.
At the top of the list for effort was vigorous, continuous cycling. Surprisingly, participants rated both vigorous and severe interval protocols as requiring similar effort to moderate continuous cycling, demonstrating that this experimental group found interval based exercise significantly easier than continuous exercise.
The authors concluded that the lower perceived exertion of interval based exercise is likely to encourage greater exercise participation.
So you dread slogging it out in the gym, changing from continuous exercise to an interval based protocol might start to make things feel a bit easier, and workouts easier to stick to.
On top of that, intervals deliver a lot of benefits over continuous training, like increased power and muscular endurance, and both types of training support cardio fitness, endurance and fat loss. If you want to make sure you're supporting muscle building and speeding up your recovery, try post workout BCAAs or a recovery protein to get maximum benefits out of your training.
Why not make things easier for yourself?
Kilpatrick MW, Greeley SJ, Ferron JM. A comparison of the impacts of continuous and interval cycle exercise on perceived exertion. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015 Mar 16:1-8