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For Adamson Nicholls, a 36-year-old Londoner and martial arts enthusiast, interval training is a way to boost his endurance so he can outlast sparring opponents. "It's a shortcut to explosive fitness," he said, adding the training results in snappier and heavier punches.
Using interval training, Nicholls got into top shape last year in about six weeks, using weekly 45-minute sessions. He estimates the same level would have taken about three months via regular training.
Experts say that's because intense bursts of activity are precisely what the body needs to build stronger muscles. Traditional workouts lasting an hour or more simply don't push the body enough.
"A lot of the (benefits) from exercise are due to a stress response," said Stephen Bailey, a sports sciences expert at the University of Exeter. "If you disturb your muscles, there's an imbalance created and your body will start signaling pathways that result in adjustments."
Bailey said intense bursts of exercise help the body to convert one type of muscle fiber into another type that uses oxygen more efficiently and is capable of exercising a lot longer. Even though interval training only takes a few minutes, its effects last for hours.
"You've exercised at such a high intensity that you're going to create a massive disturbance in your muscles," Bailey said. That creates a higher metabolism for several hours afterward, which the body will bring down by burning fat and carbohydrates.
Helgerud and others predicted that as further studies confirm interval training is safe for wider populations, authorities will include it in their exercise guidelines.
"This is definitely the way forward to save time on your exercise," Nicholls said. "The results are worth it."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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