Why To Exercise Today: Study Says You Can Trust Yourself On Intervals

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Men tend to go faster but women tend to try harder. That's one takeaway from a new study on high-intensity interval training, the efficient practice — backed by ever more research — of shifting back and forth during a workout between pushing hard and easing up.

Does it matter how gender tends to break down on interval training? Well,  being aware of these findings might suggest ways to adjust your workout. But the study also offers some valuable general reassurance for interval trainers: Chances are, you're reading your own signals well as you ramp your effort up and down.

The press release on the upcoming paper, which is titled "Sex-specific Responses to Interval Training" and slated to be published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning:

New research shows that when it comes to running, women may get more out of high intensity interval training (HIIT) than their male counterparts.


Researchers put eight men and eight women between the ages of 19 and 30 through self-paced, high intensity interval training using different recovery periods. All of them reported at least a moderate fitness level and participation in at least one session of interval training a week.

Participants hit the treadmill for six, four-minute intervals performed at the highest intensity they felt they could maintain. Recovery between intervals consisted of one minute, two minutes or four minutes.

Throughout the intervals, their maximum oxygen consumption and heart rates were measured. Results revealed a significant effect of gender on both percentages. Across the trials, men self-selected a faster relative pace, but the women worked at a higher percentage of their maximum heart rate than the men and a higher percentage of their maximum oxygen consumption.

"I think what our data show is that there appear to be meaningful differences in how men and women self-regulate their workouts," Laurent said. "Specifically, in our case, men and women tend to work at the same level of perceived exertion and feel similarly recovered between each interval, however, as they perform the interval runs women tended to work 'harder' from a relative cardiovascular (%HRmax and %VO2max) standpoint than men."

Results also confirmed previous findings suggesting that a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio is optimal during HIIT for both men and women.

"I really think one of the 'take home' points from our study was, despite the gender differences that we found, individuals performing high-intensity interval training should listen to and trust their body and pay attention to how they are feeling," said Laurent

"Without having any feedback about their data, all the participants had to use to set their pace was how they felt during the run and how recovered they felt. In that sense when runners perform high-intensity intervals, trust that if you push yourself to run what you consider hard, you are probably at the correct intensity, and if you maintain recommended work-to-rest ratios you most likely will recover appropriately to get the most out of your workout, independent of gender."

Readers? I know it's hard without the actual study in hand, but any other thoughts?

This program aired on August 28, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.




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