The 10-20-30 Workout
The 10-20-30 workout, a type of interval training routine, can torch fat and improve performance. It also saves you time.
Are you singing the “no time to exercise” blues? If so, an interval training protocol may be just the routine you’ve been waiting for. Although interval training has been around for a long time, it seems to be gaining popularity as people become aware of its benefits — an effective workout in a short amount of time.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a technique that alternates short bursts of intense effort with moderate-effort recovery periods of the same duration or longer. These bursts of concentrated effort make HIIT workouts effective at burning fat and improving endurance and overall fitness. They can also provide a complete workout in a short amount of time.
HIIT workouts can be difficult. In some routines, the all-out portion can last anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 minutes — a long time to sustain your maximum effort. When a workout routine is too hard or unpleasant, people tend to abandon their efforts before seeing results.
It’s important to first develop a base level of fitness. Do some kind of aerobic activity three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes. Once your heart is pumping more, it will be easier to implement HIIT a few times a week.
In the 10-20-30 protocol, you spend 30 seconds at low effort, 20 seconds at medium effort, and 10 seconds at maximum effort. You can get a complete cardio workout in 20 to 30 minutes.
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Evidence that supports the 10-20-30 workout
It is well-established that any physical activity has a health benefit for people who are untrained or sedentary, but a group of researchers in Denmark wanted to find out whether interval training could benefit endurance performance, cardiovascular fitness, and the overall health of people who were already fit and active.
For the study, researchers recruited people who regularly ran two to four times per week and an average of 17 miles. Members of the control group were instructed to continue their regular weekly running schedule. Members of the study group were told to train according to the 10-20-30 protocol three days a week.
After a low-intensity warmup of approximately three quarters of a mile, the study group completed three to four rounds of five-minute running periods, with a two-minute rest after each. Each five-minute period was built with one-minute blocks divided into 30, 20, and 10 second intervals at an intensity of 30, 60, and 90 to 100 percent, respectively.
The study was conducted over seven weeks. During the first four weeks, the interval runners repeated the five-minute sequence three times. During the last three weeks, the sequence was repeated four times. The average weekly distance was 8.5 miles, including the warmup.
After cutting their weekly workout by half, the 10-20-30 runners saw improvements in their endurance and performance, by an average of 21 and 48 seconds for 1 and 3 miles, respectively. They also saw reductions in their resting blood pressure.
“It is well established that a period of endurance and other types of training . . . lowers systolic blood pressure of untrained subjects, but to our knowledge this is the first study to show that intense training had this effect on systolic blood pressure in trained subjects,” the authors wrote.
Another benefit for the 10-20-30 group: A “significant decrease” in total and LDL cholesterol.
What you can do
The great thing about this training concept is that anyone can use it. The definition of 30, 60, and 90 percent of your effort will be unique to you, but you don’t have to be a seasoned runner, or even in particularly good shape, to benefit from this training technique.
In fact, you’ll probably see more dramatic results if you’re new to exercise. If you’ve been inactive, talk to your doctor before starting this or any exercise routine.
If the weather is good and you have a place to walk and run, you can do 10-20-30 anywhere with no equipment except a good pair of shoes. If you have to take your workout inside, treadmills aren’t the best for this workout because the transition from one speed to another is slow. But you could do a 10-20-30 protocol on a stationary bike, a rowing machine, or an elliptical.
Consider starting out with just two five-minute rounds, especially if you have been sedentary. You may also want to reduce your all-out effort to about 75 or 80 percent for the first three 10-second sprints, and then go all out for the last two.
Sample beginning 10-20-30 workout
|Walking warm up||Easy||2 minutes|
|Repeat entire sequence 1 to 3 times.|
A different approach involves stepping up intensity as you reach target heart rates. Determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, if you’re 60 your max is 160.
After your warm-up, the first interval is for 30 seconds at half of the maximum heart rate, or 80 for a 60-year-old, followed by 60 to 90 seconds of recovery at a comfortable pace.
Do the same circuit at 60 percent of the max heart rate, then 70 percent, then 80 percent, and finally 90 percent.
Do this two to three times a week. After a month you can start adding intervals at 95 percent.
Ready to give 10-20-30 a try? Keep in mind the improvements seen during this study were in people who were already fit. Imagine what it could do for you. The best part? The hard part only lasts 10 seconds. Anyone can do anything for 10 seconds.
February 08, 2023
Janet O’Dell, RN