10-20-30 High Intensity Interval Training

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Interval training is now a part of our exercise lexicon, becoming one of the most popular ways to work out. Not only can you burn more calories in a shorter period of time, you can also increase your endurance more quickly with interval training than with other types of cardio.

We've seen all kinds of interval workouts: Aerobic intervals, which may be more appropriate for beginners; anaerobic intervals, which take you to your limit; and Tabata training, which involves four minutes of killer intervals.

With all these interval workouts available, all with different work-to-rest ratios, the question is: Is there one best interval workout out there? One group of researchers think they've found just such a workout, what they call the 10-20-30 training concept.

The Basics of 10-20-30

The 10-20-30 training concept came about from researchers who wanted to see if they could find one precise high-intensity interval training (HIIT) formula that anyone could use to increase performance.

In the study, researchers took one group of "moderately trained" runners who were jogging about 14 miles a week and put them on a high intensity interval workout consisting of low-speed running for 30 seconds (30% of maximal intensity), moderate-speed running for 20 seconds (60% of maximal intensity) and high-speed running for 10 seconds (90% of maximal intensity).

They repeated this 10-20-30 sequence for 5 minutes, recovering for 2 minutes between intervals. This resulted in a 20 to 30 minute workout, effectively cutting their normal training by about 50%.

At the end of the 7-week study, they compared results with the control group, which continued jogging about 14 miles each week. They found that the interval group boosted their 5K times by up to one minute while also reducing their blood pressure and cholesterol.

Pros of 10-20-30

Experts like this new spin on HIIT because it's efficient. It's an effective, simple technique that can work for people at any fitness level, whether beginners or more experienced exercisers.

The workout is continuous, meaning there's no real rest phase. Exercisers go from high intensity to low intensity, but still keep moving, which may be one reason for that improvement in performance.

Cons of 10-20-30

These researchers only studied runners, so it's not clear if this method would apply to other exercises like strength training or other cardio activities. It would be tough to do this kind of training on a cardio machine, for example, because the intervals are so short, you wouldn't have time to get your speed or resistance up fast enough.

There's also no real proof that this type of HIIT training is better than any other type of training. The real appeal of this kind of study is that it suggests we can get more results in what appears to be half the time and half the workload. Maybe runners can benefit from this, particularly competitive runners, but what about the average exerciser?

How to Use 10-20-30

This kind of training is just one more tool in your exercise toolbox to keep your workouts fresh and to challenge yourself in new ways. To create your own 10-20-30 workout, take an activity or exercise and break it down into 3 different moves: an easy version, a moderate version, and a high-intensity version. Some examples:

  • Fast-paced squat (30 seconds), squat jump (20 seconds), and froggy jump (10 seconds)
  • Low-impact jumping jack (30 seconds), regular jumping jack (20 seconds), and plyo jack (10 seconds)
  • Alternating front lunge (30 seconds), side to side lunge with med ball (20 seconds), plyo lunge (10 seconds)

For the high-intensity version, you want to go all out, as fast and as hard as you can. You can use your target heart rate zones, perceived exertion, a heart rate monitor or a combination of these to monitor your intensity.

Choose your exercises or activity, and repeat each low, moderate and high-intensity segment for a total of 5 minutes, either doing the same exercises or different exercises each time. Rest for 2 minutes and then repeat for a total of 20 to 30 minutes. Don't forget to warm up, cool down, and stretch to make it a safe, complete workout.

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  1. Gunnarsson TP, Bangsbo J. The 10-20-30 training concept improves performance and health profile in moderately trained runners. J Appl Physiol. 2012;113(1):16-24. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00334.2012

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