Training like an Olympian

Training like an Olympian

June 23, 2010

High-intensity interval training (HIT) is an approach many hard-core athletes, from Olympians to weekend warriors, use to get fit fast.

But Darren Warburton, director of the cardiovascular physiology and rehabilitation laboratory at the University of British Columbia, has shown that HIT — alternating brief periods of low- and high-intensity exercise — can also do wonders for patients with cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.

In the past, survivors of heart attacks and strokes were often advised to be sedentary to avoid recurrences. Now, exercise is a key element of recovery and rehabilitation. But, like everyone else, people with heart trouble are pressed for time, so short, intense sessions suit them too. And research has shown the health benefits are as great as or better than traditional long and slow training programs.

This new approach to cardiac rehab is just one of the practical applications that has emerged from Warburton’s investigations into the relationship between cardiac function, human performance and health status.

Warburton was also a lead investigator for the Own the Podium program for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, where his research findings from patients with chronic disease were used to optimize the performance of Canadian athletes. In addition, he was given the task of getting the 25,000 volunteers at the Olympic and Paralympic Games into tip-top shape. (A little known fact is that at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, more volunteers than athletes needed medical treatment.)

Warburton, who regularly runs, cycles and rollerblades himself, developed a 12-week interactive program, called Getting Games Fit, to reduce the most common woes in the volunteer army: heart attacks, sprains and exhaustion. Early indications are that it worked — and that provides important clues to how large-scale fitness programs can be implemented.