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Step Up the Intensity of Your Classes
--by Karen Asp
With Cardio Interval Training
Variety isn't only the spice of life; it's also the lifeline of fitness classes.
Yet for instructors, adding variety can be challenging, especially with step
Since step's creation over 10 years ago, you've two-stepped. You've taught
funky step, maybe even country step. Challenging? Perhaps. But probably not
what your students want - or need - to increase their fitness levels. To increase the intensity of your step classes, add interval training. You'll not only add variety, you'll also give your students a killer workout.
"Interval training revs up your idling speed," says Gin Miller, creator of step training. "When you do that, you burn more calories," she adds.
"We're seeing a diffusion of a sport-specific training technique into the recreational market," says Dr. Len Kravitz, graduate coordinator of wellness at the University of Mississippi. Swimmers, runners and cyclists have trained with intervals for years. Now
the general public is catching on and using interval training in their fitness classes.
Interval or Circuit?
Interval training has often been confused with circuit training.
That may continue, Kravitz says, because the terms are loosely defined. Interval training alternates periods of work and rest. Or as Kravitz says, "Interval training simply means variation of intensity."
Circuit training, which is a form of interval training, involves a consecutive series of exercise stations with little or no rest between stations. If aerobic stations are included, it then becomes aerobic circuit training.
During the work phase of interval training, activity is performed at a high
intensity. Lower intensity movements occur during the rest phase. One interval of work followed by one interval of rest constitutes a cycle.
In addition, the work/rest ratio defines the amount of time spent in work and
rest. For example, in a one to three (1:3) ratio, the rest period lasts three times as long as the work period. A 30-second work interval would thus require a 90-second rest period.
Variety and Effectiveness
Kravitz believes interval training will continue to grow in popularity for two reasons: its variety and its potential effectiveness as a weight loss aid.
"Someone who performs intervals should be able to do more work in a given
period of time and thus burn more calories," says Kravitz. He also cites the following benefits of interval training:
Certainly then, combining interval training with step will add variety, motivate students, and challenge them to achieve more. However, step interval training requires some specific teaching methods.
- Enhanced usage of fats and carbohydrates
- Opportunity to accomplish more total work in a shorter time period
- Improved aerobic and anaerobic power and capacity
- Stimulation of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibers
- Decreased chance of injury
- Decreased chance of overtraining
- Increased enjoyment of exercise
- Increased adherence to an exercise program
- Enhanced performance in sports
Step Interval Technique
First, students' technique must be watched more closely. "Because they're
working harder," Miller says, "they're going to tire faster." When that happens, technique deteriorates. An instructor needs to issue constant reminders about proper form. Also, choose choreography that doesn't use complex combinations.
"You don't want students to think about their foot patterns," Miller says.
To increase intensity during work periods, incorporate movements that are
closer to the ground: traveling movements, power, or plyometrics. Miller defines power as airborne movements like hopping or jumping. "Power is mostly driven by momentum," she says.
Plyometrics, however, are explosive movements that originate from stagnant
positions. These moves can be performed on the bench, the floor or a combination of
Be wary of pitching the music too high. "Go slowly but move intensely," Miller says, cautioning instructors to use traditional step beats of 118 to 126 beats per minute.
The length of time students spend in the intensity phase depends on the work/rest
ratio. Miller recommends using a 1:3 ratio (30 to 90 seconds of effort and
90 to 270 seconds of rest) for up to 10 cycles.
As you teach, encourage students to perform at their own fitness levels. Assure them it's okay if they don't increase the intensity during the work intervals; they can stay with a low intensity move. They may also choose to work hard for only part of the work interval. "With intervals, everybody works at their own pace," Miller says.
Always show modifications in movements. For example, take a rear lunge that starts from the top of the bench. The first intensity level involves touchbacks with little flexion in the knees. To add intensity, Miller leaps from foot to foot. Next she adds a knee lift between the leaps. And lastly, she introduces plyometrics, turning the move into a plunging, side-to-side squat. At that point, the work interval would begin for the set length of time.
During the work intervals, Miller encourages students to start with the highest intensity level. "Begin with the hardest version since that's going to take most of your quick energy," she says. "If you need to lower the intensity, work down to the easiest intensity level."
As students perform work intervals, cue the amount of time remaining. In a
work interval of one minute, for example, tell students every 15 seconds how
much time is left.
A typical step interval training class starts with a warm-up of eight to ten minutes. For the next five minutes, students participate in what Miller calls "steady state stepping," where students learn the first step pattern. For the next 30 minutes, they perform seven to 10 cycles of work followed by rest, followed by a cool down and stretch.
Thanks to occasional bouts of intervals, Miller's students have changed their
physiques, something that doesn't often happen to students who participate solely in traditional step training.
"If students don't change some element of their workout," Miller says, "eventually their workout won't do them any good."
Kravitz agrees, saying, "Too much of one thing won't be beneficial if you
don't vary it."
Although research has yet to conclude how often interval training should be performed, Miller proposes a two-day break between interval training sessions. During those two days, students can exercise with moderate intensity.
While step interval training will help your students get the results they're seeking, it certainly shouldn't become their main activity. After all, change does a body good.
--Karen Asp, is a freelance writer who specializes in health and fitness issues. Karen is an ACE certified personal trainer and fitness instructor and her writing has most recently appeared in American Fitness magazine.
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