The Death of Intervals


Today I have a guest post from my friends Mike Roussell and Alwyn Cosgrove who just launched Warp Speed Fat Loss 2.0.

Mike: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First so we all have some perspective, how long have you been a trainer?

Alwyn Cosgrove: I started training people in 1989. Actually 1987 if you count teaching martial arts classes. In 1995 (after college) I went full time. Since day one I’ve been very particular about what I do. I track and tweak everything. When we opened Results Fitness in 2000, we really started to gather a lot of data. We currently have 250 members and we track all their workouts and body comp changes week in and week out.

Mike: So it is like you run your own fat loss studies at your gym?

Alwyn: Exactly. We had read all the studies showing interval training to be superior for fat loss than steady state training. This confirmed what we were seeing with our clients. But I am a big belier in that there is no physiological limit to the amount of weight a person can lose in a week, month, or year so I kept tweaking and tracking the results.

Mike: What has been one of your biggest breakthroughs lately?

Alwyn: One day it hit me — cardiovascular programming is an ass-backwards concept.

I don’t know when I first thought this – but it was confirmed to me when viewing Lance Armstrong’s performance in the New York Marathon.

I’d been taught through my college education and countless training certifications and seminars that cardio vascular exercise was necessary to improve the cardio vascular system and subsequently aerobic performance.

But there seemed an inherent flaw in that argument….

Why didn’t Lance Armstrong – with perhaps one of the highest recorded VO2 max levels in history – win the New York Marathon? Or beat people with lesser aerobic levels than himself?

The greatest endurance cyclist (and possibly endurance athlete) of all time – the seven time Tour De France winner – finished 868th and described the event as the “hardest physical thing” he had ever done.

Runner’s World Magazine actually examined Lance’s physiology (and VO2 max which was tested at 83) and compared them to the numbers of Paul Tergat (the World Record holder and defending NYC Marathon Champion at the time).

They concluded:

“This figure wouldn’t mean much if it weren’t for the pioneering research of famed running coach Jack Daniels, Ph.D., who first published his Oxygen Power tables in 1979– According to Daniels, who’s rarely off by more than a smidgen or two, a max VO2 of 83 is roughly equivalent to a 2:06 marathon”

Based on his other physical qualities the magazine suggested that Lance was capable of running 2:01:11.

The world record at the time was 2:04:55

Lance ran 2:59:36 (and don’t misinterpret me – that’s still a great time). But it’s clear that the physiology didn’t transfer the way event he running community expected.

The flaw in this thinking was looking solely at aerobic capacity — VO2 max – the “engine” as it were. And it’s fair to say that Lance had a “Formula One” engine.

But he didn’t have the structural development for running. Lance was a cyclist – his body had adapted to the demands of cycling. But NOT to the specific demands of running (in fact Lance had only ran 16 miles at once EVER prior to running the marathon). Lance had developed strength, postural endurance and flexibility in the correct “cycling muscles” – but it didn’t transfer to running the way his VO2 max did.

From this example we know that cardio training doesn’t transfer well from one activity to another – and it only ‘kicks’ in because of muscular demand – why don’t we program muscular activity first – in order to create a cardiovascular response. Makes total sense.

So how does this relate to fat loss? We have found that our most successful fat loss programs center around stimulating the muscles to burn more calories not ramping up and down the cardiovascular system. What matters is total calories burn and how much you can increase the person’s metabolism. It is a total shift in thinking.

Mike: Wow. So it is this the death of intervals and cardio? How to you put this into action with clients?

Alwyn: What we have found is so great about this approach is that you burn more calories, lose more weight, while putting a lot less stress on your joints.

Here’s how I like to think about it. Let’s look at traditional interval training which uses running.

Depending on stride length – walking a mile takes about 2000 repetitions and running takes 1000-1500 and will burn on average 100 calories or so.
So if we use an interval training model of running and walking – we’re looking at around 1500 reps to burn 100 calories.

If we take traditional models of caloric burn – this means we’d need to do 35 miles to lose one pound of fat from our interval training efforts discounting the metabolic afterburn for now).

So we have a problem. It’s a very poor “rate of return” on our “rep investment”.

Additionally – running applies a vertical force of 2x bodyweight on the joints of the lower body.

So now we have a dilemma.

Let’s choose a 180lb deconditioned overweight client.
1500 reps x 360lbs = 540,000lbs of force to burn 100 calories. (The 360lbs is 2x 180lbs)

That’s a lot of stress on the joints. Now no one was getting injured, but it seemed like there had to be a better way.

So — we started to think of how we could use different interval training methods other than running to get the same metabolic effect without stressing the joints so much.

We used the airdyne bike, other bikes in order to create a training effect with less load. But whenever you take the bodyweight out of the equation in cardio – you have to work harder to burn the same calories. So this usually needs more reps. So that didn’t seem like a much better idea.

At this point we started using metabolic training with weight training implements/kettlebells and bodyweight in the same interval format.

So a circuit of five exercises, performed three times round (15 total sets) would actually burn more calories than the same time spent doing traditional cardio. That was a plus.
But we could also do sets of 10-15 reps. So we’re looking at 225 total reps (with a force LESS than your bodyweight) as opposed to 1500+ reps at double bodyweight.

We gave it a try. Clients loved it (which was a plus), and actually started to get better results than we were getting with intervals.

So we get more fat loss, less stress on the body, and happier clients. It is a win-win-win. Currently we don’t program traditional interval training our regular fat loss clients anymore.

So, yeah…it is the death of traditional intervals.

Check out the brand new Warp Speed Fat Loss 2.0 HERE.

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15 Responses to The Death of Intervals

  1. Matty Holmes November 9, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    I read this the other day when Alwyn sent it out, great stuff.

    This also shows why I think doing the tabata protocol with say bodyweight squats is better than if you did the same time intervals with sprinting or jump roping.

    If I totally understand what Alwyn is meaning by this.

  2. shaun November 9, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    Great interview, it’s good to hear from those continuously testing and evaluating methods. I’m a fan of Alwyn’s work. There is less stress from the weight-training but what of the overall caloric effect – including the “after-burn”. Is weight-training still greater than intervals?

  3. Andrew November 9, 2009 at 1:10 pm #

    So the obvious question that comes next (for me) is what “weight training/kettlebell” exercises has Alwyn found to be the most beneficial? i’m gonna assume compound movement/big muscle group exercises but I’d be curious what main exercises he uses and how he rotates them. Great interview!!

  4. steven jones November 9, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    how do i get myself those workouts???

  5. Dave November 10, 2009 at 7:36 am #

    @Matty: I read a recent article by Dan John (I think) about tabatas. He basically says that you should be almost dead after 4 minutes of tabatas. And that the only exercise to do tabatas with is the front squat. Food for thought.

  6. Gord November 10, 2009 at 8:17 am #

    If you perform these every other day (between weight training), doesn’t it have a detrimental effect on your muscle strength gain? For example, wouldn’t your shoulders be bagged for presses the day after you had done a bunch of intervals with pushups thrown in?

    This article seems to contradict what J. Ferruggia touts ( Interval training with sprints) in Muscle Gaining Secrets.

    Clarity from Jason is due here I think.

  7. Tony November 10, 2009 at 8:27 am #

    When will the member’s section be up and running?

  8. Ray Sumler November 10, 2009 at 9:01 am #

    That is a heck of an article!!!!! Information broken down like a true professional. The style of training talked about in this interview has been a staple of my programs for years. Alywn makes perfect sense with his analysis. Great info!!!

  9. Matty Holmes November 10, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    @Dave yeah I have used it for various exercises, from jumpropes, squats, squats with shoulder presses etc. Yeah after 4 minutes you should be dead if not your not performing it how it should be. As far as using it only for a front squat i think it depends on the person.

  10. Matty Holmes November 10, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    @Gord I could be wrong but I think they are talking purely about ultimate fat loss, not a programmed geared for builking up and keeping minimal fat on. But it can be modified to fit Jason’s program. I am sure he will agree. But you are right you would not want to do it on all your off days as it can cause over training the muscle groups.

  11. Brian November 10, 2009 at 3:15 pm #

    This sounds like a really great idea and a lot more fun than doing another set of sprint drills and interval training but wont there be a huge problem if you train muscles, and then the next day you go in and try do do your regular weight training? wont it lead to over training?

  12. Dave November 11, 2009 at 4:40 am #

    I think the idea is that you keep the reps low enough so that you don’t work your muscles too hard.

    A circuit I do often (that I got from Jon Alvino’s how to get ripped abs, http://www.howtogetrippedabs.com/, a great product btw) is:

    Split seal jumps x 30
    Mountain climbers x 40
    Squat thrusts x 10
    Rocket jumps x 5

    Do as a circuit, repeat as many times as possible with as little rest as possible.

    This has me breathing very heavily after each set, and after 4 circuits I am done (at the moment, I am always trying to beat my time and/or increase the number of circuits). However, I am not sore the next day.

    HTH,
    Dave.

  13. Chris November 11, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    Jason,

    What kind of HIT workouts do you do when you are traveling?

    -Chris

  14. KennyWarrix November 16, 2009 at 6:28 pm #

    Who does intervals? lol

  15. George April 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    I don’t think this is news, though having a respected coach with a lot of influence promoting weights lifting over cardio for fat loss is a great thing.

    I’m already an advanced recreational weight lifter, natural weight lifter. Thus, besides the number one criteria for fat loss, the diet, I have just low intensity cardio left if I want to burn more calories.

    Anything more intense and my body won’t be able to recover from workout to workout.