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Why Interval Training Works For Dogs
Early this morning an article appeared in the New York Times, extolling the benefits of high-intensity interval training in light of new scientific findings suggesting that short, high-intensity interval workouts may boost cardiovascular fitness just as effectively as longer, more traditional cardio workouts. The studies upon which the NYT commentary is based can be found here and here.
Interval training is a form of cardiovascular training in which short bursts of extremely strenuous activity are interspersed with longer rest periods. Virtually all competitive athletes incorporate some kind of interval workouts into their training plans. CrossFit -- the popular, evidence-based, and often contrarian fitness philosophy endorsed and practiced by the author of this blog -- relies heavily on interval workouts to develop aerobic fitness.
For the non-expert, the primary benefit of interval training is that it requires a smaller time investment than most moderate-intensity cardiovascular workouts. In the studies discussed in the NYT piece, the interval training subjects performed workouts lasting 15-30 minutes (30 second "all-out" intervals, interspersed with 4.5 minutes of rest, repeated 4-6 times) and 20 minutes (60 second intervals at 90% of maximum heart rate, interspersed with 60 seconds of rest, repeated 10 times), respectively. Both studies suggest that these short, intense workouts are likely to improve cardiovascular health and fitness just as effectively as longer (60+ minute) bouts of moderately-intense activity, like brisk walking.
The "downside" of interval workouts is that, for a short period of time, they hurt. To make the short bouts of high-intensity exercise work for you, your efforts need to be, well, highly intense. Working interval sessions generally are performed at near maximal effort (think all-out sprinting). You work your tail off for a short period of time. But then, very quickly, it's over and you move on with your day.
As the benefits of human interval training become more and more well-recognized, one has to wonder if they carry over into the canine world. Is "I'm just too busy" your excuse for why your dog is unhappy, unhealthy, and overweight? If so, interval training would seem to be an ideal fit for your pup.
Well, the effects of interval training on canine athletes have been studied and we're happy to report that the benefits found in the human-based studies do seem likely to carry over into the canine world:
In a 1984 study, researchers from the University of Manitoba subjected siberian huskies to a 12-week interval training regime featuring 2-3 workouts per week, each including multiple bouts of high intensity treadmill running at a 1:1 or 2:1 work-to-rest ratio (resulting in 24-36 minutes of total work per workout). The researchers found that 90 second sprints induced physiological changes to blood chemistry similar to those induced by lower intensity, steady-state 7.5 km treadmill runs.
While the Manitoba researchers also noted that more research was necessary to fully understand the benefits of canine interval training (and while such research does not appear yet to have been conducted), the widespread scientific acceptance of human interval training as a highly effective weight-loss vehicle and as a means of improving cardiovascular fitness further bolsters the case for using interval training in connection with your dog's fitness training regime.
In other words, if you can squeeze 15-20 minutes out of your busy schedule, you have the time necessary to give your dog a top-class cardiovascular workout. And you don't have grounds for using the "I'm just too busy" excuse.
Have a great Wednesday.
- Coach Dan