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Triple Your Fitness Gains—Without Training Harder

Impatience can be a virtue. Performing lots of interval training one week each month improves your fitness more than spacing out the sessions, reports a new study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.
In the study, one group of male cyclists did two high-intensity interval-training sessions per week for 4 weeks. Another group knocked out five sessions in the first week, then one session per week for the rest of the month. Each group also included steady cardio sessions. The key: Everyone did the same number of workouts. “The only difference was the way of organizing the training,” says lead study author Bent Ronnestad, Ph.D.
At the end of the month, the front-loaders increased their VO2 max—a key measure of aerobic fitness—by 8.8 percent, compared to a 2.9 percent increase in the other group. They also saw a bigger improvement in their power output during a 40-minute bike ride.
The researchers suspect that the effects may stem from increased production of human growth hormone, which may indirectly improve VO2 max. Interval training has already been shown to temporarily increase levels of HGH. But the researchers speculate when athletes’ bodies are hit with multiple interval sessions, the body may begin to recognize the elevated levels of HGH as its norm, making lasting impacts on fitness.

Train smarter, not harder: Pack the first week of each month with five interval training sessions. Try 5 minutes of hard effort and 3 minutes of easy effort, repeated four to six times. For rest the month, do one interval workout plus several lower-intensity workouts. If you’re training for a specific event, use this schedule for three months prior to your race.