By Ralph LaForge, MSc, CLS, FNLA
Last December, Lasse Gliemann and coworkers at the University of Copenhagen`s Department of Exercise, Nutrition, and Sports, published a very interesting study that caught the eye of many exercise physiologists and coaches. It was an exercise training study (the subjects were adult recreational runners with a mean age of 49 years) that aimed to test a “new” training method: Five one-minute exercise sessions where the subject exercises for 30 seconds at 30 percent effort, 20 seconds at 60 percent effort, and 10 seconds at 90 to100 percent effort. These five-minute sessions were repeated four to five times but with a two-minute rest between each of the five-minute sessions. The researchers found that after eight weeks of training, and compared to a group running for 30 to 40 minutes at a constant pace, the 30-20-10 group improved their aerobic exercise capacity and five-kilometer run time, and lowered their systolic blood pressure.
How does this study translate to individual adult fitness programs? Without question, graduated intensity exercise like this Danish program will improve aerobic performance. In addition, this technique can be applied to walking, cycling, swimming, rowing, or stepping — or just about any other dynamic aerobic activity. This technique has actually been employed by track and swimming coaches for many years, but always after a 10- to 15-minute low-level warm up.
For those who have cardiovascular disease risk factors or who are sedentary and perhaps overweight, it would be advisable to begin slow and perhaps moderate the 10-second high-intensity, fast paced segment until you have had time to adapt over several weeks. The principle caution I would make is to begin conservatively. There may be increased risk of a lower limb injury or strain during the 10-second intensive segment, particularly if you are engaging in weight-bearing activities such as running or walking fast. Still, this training method can be tremendously invigorating and add interest and stamina to an otherwise mediocre exercise program.
Will such a program reduce cholesterol compared to a steady-paced program of walking, cycling, or running? Not likely, as your cholesterol is more tied to the total calorie value of your exercise program and not so much how hard or intensively you exercise. Your cholesterol is as responsive, if not more responsive, to your diet and dietary behavior. That said, if you are healthy and sufficiently fit to add some spice (intensity) to your daily exercise routine and improve your aerobic capacity, this program will not disappoint!
Example programs for apparently healthy adults:
- Walking: Without the necessity of a stopwatch, walk at a slow-moderate pace for a count of 30, walk at a moderate-fast pace for a count of 20, and walk nearly as fast as you can for 10 seconds.
Repeat this session sequence four to five times and then rest for two minutes and do three to four more sequences depending on your fitness level.
- Cycling: Use low resistance on the flywheel-pedal at an easy pace (e.g. 60 rpm pedal speed) for 30 seconds, then at a moderate speed for 80 rpm, then 10 seconds at 100 to 120 rpm.
Repeat this session sequence four to five times.
Another cycling option would be to keep the rpm constant (e.g. 80 rpm) and apply low resistance for 30 seconds, moderate resistance for 20 seconds, and high resistance for 10 seconds. Then repeat the sequence.
Rpm is measured per leg. For example: 60 rpm is equal to either leg completing a full revolution around the pedal crank 60 times per minute.
Gliemann, L, Gunnarsson, TP, Hellsten, Y, Bangsbo, J. 10-20-30 training increases performance and lowers blood pressure and VEGF in runners. Scand J Med Sci Sports Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. 2014.