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You want two extremes: Alternate periods of 30 to 60 seconds of hard work with 30 to 60 seconds of easy pedaling or easy running for six to 10 intervals to complete your session. As this gets easier, increase the intensity of each interval, work longer during the hard portion, shorten your rest periods or add more intervals. If you haven't sprinted since a coach was blasting a whistle in your ear, you're missing out on a natural but extreme form of interval training that can pay dividends for more than just your legs.
They have tremendous arms and shoulders, too," said Nick Tumminello, director of Performance University. A quick caveat, though: If you're not used to bursts like these, Tumminello says, it's easy to pull a hamstring, halting your training -- and your results. He suggests following these tips to start safely.
Sprint on a hill. The impact on your joints is lower, Tumminello says, which can help you avoid injury. Live in a flat area with no hills? Instead of the drag race approach, begin your sprints by speeding up from a jog. At a local track, jog the curve, then sprint 10 to 20 yards of the straightaway. Continue interval sprinting in this way. To maximize benefit and lower injury risk, keep your sprints on the shorter side -- no more than 50 yards per sprint. This will help you maintain a high intensity throughout, says Tumminello, and prevent your form from breaking down, which can lead to injury.
To increase the overall results of your sprint workout, increase the number of sprints instead of going for long distances. When you're starting out, perform a sprint workout just once per week -- you'll be surprised at how sore the workout makes you, even in the abdominals.
Once you're used to the stimulus, Tumminello suggests bumping it up to only two sessions per week, mixed with other gym workouts. Allow at least two days of recovery between sprint workouts. You don't have to run, bike or perform any traditional cardio exercise to get high-intensity, fat-burning training. By pairing strength exercises that work opposing muscles, you can build muscle while keeping your heart rate high, maximizing fat loss.
During the lunges, the arms and back rest, while the legs rest during the pull-ups. Jack uses such exercise pairings to do escalating density training, an interval protocol with a built-in challenge. To try this challenge: Choose two exercises that use opposite movements or work completely different muscles -- pair a pushing exercise with a pulling exercise or a lower body move with an upper body move.
As an example, consider a dumbbell bench press and an inverted row. For each exercise, choose a weight with which you can perform 10 reps. Alternate between the exercises, performing just five reps of each move, with the rep weight, in each set. Rest as needed between sets and pairs so that you can complete each set of five without failing.
As with cardio intervals, strength intervals like these won't work if your reps aren't high-intensity. Continue alternating between the exercises for a set time -- 10 or 15 minutes, for example -- keeping track of how many total sets you can do. In following sessions, try to beat your score by finishing more sets in that time or by finishing the same number of sets but with tougher weights.
Density training sessions are great to add to the end of a traditional strength training workout, Jack says. For a complete density training workout, he suggests performing multiple time blocks in the same session, using new exercise pairings for each. Other pairs he recommends include a goblet squat with a single-arm dumbbell row, a reverse lunge with pushups or pulldowns, deadlifts with dumbbell overhead presses or split squats with a rowing exercise.
Countdown workouts also use exercise pairs and are a motivating way to finish a workout, says Mike Wunsch, performance director at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, California. With each round of the exercise pair, the workout involves one fewer rep of each move -- moving from sets of six to five to four, and so forth, until the count reaches zero.
That finish-line mentality can keep you going. As with density training, Wunsch recommends pairing opposing exercises for countdowns, but also suggests picking moves that have a rhythm. Moves like the kettlebell swing, squat thrusts and pushups work well. Wunsch says stress-busting med ball slams and throws can add to the fun.
Moves like these, he explains, can result in injury if your form falters while performing exercises at a fast pace. For the same reason, he also advises avoiding overhead-pressing moves like dumbbell thrusters. To try your own countdown, choose a pair of exercises from Wunsch's following list. Start by performing six reps of the first exercise, then six of the other move. Return to the first exercise and perform five reps, then do five reps of the second exercise.