If you hate the idea of intense exercise, try the 30-20-10 Plan developed by Jens Bangsbo at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. Dr. Bangsbo asked 132 middle-aged recreational runners to replace their casual workouts with his 30-20-10 Plan (The Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, December, 2014). Twice a week, they warmed up by jogging slowly for five to 10 minutes. Then they ran at a slow pace for 30 seconds, accelerated to a moderate pace for 20 seconds, and then sprinted as hard as they could for 10 seconds. They rested for full recovery and then repeated this 30-20-10 session, usually five times, or until their legs started to feel heavy. They continued to jog casually for the rest of the week.
Eight weeks later:
• They averaged 38 seconds faster for a 5-kilometer run than before the program
• Their blood pressures had dropped
• They felt better
• They enjoyed their new workouts more
• Their 30-20-10 workouts took only about 12 minutes
• Their weekly total mileage dropped by more than half
• All of the runners were still in the program; none had dropped out.
You can adapt Dr. Bangsbo's program to any activity that uses continuous motion. This is an easy way to introduce yourself to the principle of interval training, which is used by all competitive athletes. Whatever your sport, you can apply the 30-20-10 concept: running, fast-walking, rowing, cycling, an eliptical machine and so forth.
Why All Athletes Use Some Form of Intervals in Workouts
To make muscles larger and stronger, you have to exercise intensely enough to damage them, and to increase endurance and strengthen your heart muscle, you need to exercise hard enough to increase your needs for oxygen. All athletes exercise hard enough to become short of breath some of the time. The limiting factor to how fast you can move over distance is the time it takes to get oxygen into your muscles. The maximum amount of oxygen you can take in and use is called VO2max. A review of the world's literature shows that young to middle–aged adults increased their VO2max far more by doing short bursts of speed rather than by just doing continuous endurance training (Sports Med, Aug 5, 2015 and July, 2014;44(7):1005-17). They also ran faster over distance and markedly increased the time it took to build up lactic acid in their bloodstreams (J Sci Med Sport, Feb, 2007;10(1):27-35).
What This Means for You
All exercise for health and fitness should be based on a stress-and-recover program, where you take a harder workout on one day and then go easy until the soreness in your muscles goes away. You will gain more health benefits and become faster and stronger by following this principle. Whatever your sport, start your warm-up at a slow pace. Your muscles should feel better as you continue to exercise. If your muscles feel fresh after your warm-up, follow the 30-20-10 interval workout described above, stopping the workout when your muscles start to feel tight or tired. On your recovery days, go slow and easy to help your muscles recover from your more intense workouts. Any day that you feel sore after 10 minutes of warming up, go at a very slow pace for your entire workout or take the day off.
Caution: Before you start any new exercise program, realize that exercising intensely is more likely to cause injuries and can cause heart attacks in people with blocked arteries leading to their hearts. You may want to check with your doctor before you start. People who suffer heart attacks during exercise are usually just starting an exercise program or making a sudden increase in the intensity or duration of their exercise. If you have not been exercising regularly, get in shape gradually by exercising at an easy pace three to six days a week for at least six weeks.