Go, go, go exercise; get fit now! Sure, a big poster at my health club advertises exercising via interval training: “GET SUPER FIT SUPER FAST”! Sounds super, but does it work?
Today, most people know that exercise is important for a healthy heart, to manage body weight, and for a healthy well being. But most important, it is good to know what method is the best way to exercise: interval or pace training? In other words, what burns more calories per unit of time?
The Colorado Medical and Sports Research Center has been doing a research study on this trend in exercising. (For an introduction, see my Examiner article, “Interval training research happening at Colorado Medical and Sports Research Center.”) The lead researcher and medical program director, Neil Wolkodoff, Ph.D. states, “The results were quite amazing compared to the popular notions of what works.” He noted that all the results were statistically significant despite the small number of subjects. Perhaps, this is the first scientific study to ever look at three intensities of exercise. And a technical report entitled “A Comparison of a New Exercise Device in Energy Expenditure during three Different Intensities of Exercise: An Investigational Study,” was written by N.E. Wolkodoff, A. Lepe and F. Stanek.
One point the research finds is that interval training does not burn lots of calories per time unit. In this research comparison, a pace workout seems better if time is short, say 20 minutes to exercise.
Dr. Wolkodoff discusses his study: “The first part of the study had the six volunteers getting a VO2 max test to scientifically measure their endurance. This was also used to give them numbers such as 6/10 to use to set exercise intensity of the various machines. Each exercise was hooked up to an Oxycon Mobile to measure their O2 intake, which tells kcal (how many calories) per hour. “The exercisers were asked to go at this 6/10 level and set the intensity or level on the machine to this level, which we can term cardio training” Wolkodoff noted. Each person performed 10 minutes on the machine wearing the gear, and then the results were tallied. The new rower, the CR2 averaged 435 kcal per hour while the treadmill and elliptical were 362 kcal per hour (kcal means how many calories) and the recumbent bike was 329 kcal per hour.
“The rower was definitely a better aerobic workout if you were setting your effort by intensity because of the push/pull motion,” Wolkodoff added. This part of the study also showed that effort level, often called “Rate of Perceived Exertion,” can be tied to a VO2 max test to get people to what the American College of Sports Medicine considers a good level to gain fitness.
To find out if interval training is more effective at burning calories, Wolkodoff had the subjects perform intervals on the CR2 compared with the indoor cycling bike. “We had each person alternate 30 seconds of high intensity with 60 seconds of recovery for the 10-minute measurement,” Wolkodoff added. Here, the results were very different than common perception. Interval training was only marginally better than working aerobically on the treadmill or elliptical. Interval training on the rower burned 422 kcal per hour while the indoor cycling bike was 408. “So, it’s not as much energy as people think, but if you had to choose between these two forms of exercise for intervals, the CR2 had a statistically significant edge,” Wolkodoff concluded.
A new form of training is gaining steam: “Pace training.” With pace training one exercises until mildly above one’s comfort level, essentially sprinting—feeling a mild level of muscular burn. According to Wolkodoff, “Pace training has shown some good results improving aerobic fitness in well-trained runners, so it might be useful for people trying to loose weight or get fit in a short period of time.” Rather than perform this with all the equipment, Wolkodoff chose to perform this with the CR2 rower so there were energy numbers from the three different intensities.
What he found was that “the Pace workout burned the most number of kcal on the CR2 per hour, 465 kcal, a significantly greater number than the cardio or interval workouts.” Ok! “This translates into almost 50% better energy burn per minute than the recumbent bike at a cardio level,” he explained.
“If you only had 20 minutes to exercise, and the amount of calories for weight loss or maintenance was a concern, then the CR2 at this Pace level is a significant workout and worth your time, more so than interval training for the same amount of time,” Wolkodoff concluded.
Dr. Wolkodoff cautioned that while the results passed statistical tests, translating these intensity variations into other forms of exercise is probably inappropriate. “Our study looked at the CR2 and then the other common exercise modes, so comparing this to an exercise class or cross-fit workout is not warranted,” he noted.
Finally, Reacher Director Dr. Wolkodoff encourages using the device like the CR2 in a PACE workout which is time-efficient as most people don’t have endless hours to exercise.