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Interval vs. Resistance Training: Which Is Right for You?

January 29, 2014

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Many fitness lovers throw different training techniques into their weekly workout routines, either as a personal challenge or  as a boredom buster to liven things up. Whether you’re taking classes at a gym, streaming live workouts, or downloading routines, there are countless ways to train that keep you looking and feeling great. But how do you know which approach is right for you and your personal fitness goals? It really depends on what you’re looking to achieve! In this workout showdown, we put two popular workout types—interval and resistance training-- head-to-head to see how they truly stack up in the exercise arena. Which one will you use next time you’re looking to slim down, tone up, or to train like a pro?   

Energy

Winner: Interval Training

If you want more quick fuel or usable energy to get you through your day, then go with interval training. This fitness approach produces glycogen, or short-term energy stores, in your cells that you can call on for later use, say when you’re running to catch the train for work or to rescue dinner before it burns. Resistance training falls short here since it is anaerobic exercise, which means it uses muscle movements that do not require oxygen. Instead, carbohydrates are used by your body to produce energy. The glycolytic energy produced by resistance training is a comparatively small amount, so it doesn’t produce sustainable energy the way interval training does.

Interval training focuses on bursts of high-energy exercise, interspersed with lighter activity or rest periods. If you’re okay with soaking through your shirt with sweat after only eight minutes of your workout, then you may love interval training—but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you do try interval training, be sure to ease into it and gradually increase the speed and intensity of your intervals to reduce the possibility of injury.

Check out some interval training options, from classes like CrossFit, SoulCycle, and Tabata, to hitting the track or sprinting on the treadmill. These heart-healthy workouts have a host of health benefits such as improving aerobic capacity and burning fat and calories like crazy. If you feel winded yet completely energized after you’re through with a session, then you’ve done interval training right.

Strength and Toning 

Winner: Resistance Training

There’s a good reason that resistance training is also called strength training. This exercise approach is all about targeting important muscle groups, such as your abs, arms, legs, back, and chest, through strength-building moves that may challenge your balance (and your willpower!), with the goal of toning up your body. Sure, an interval sprint may sculpt and condition lean muscle, but resistance training still comes out way ahead in the toning department.  Interval training does not increase muscle mass as effectively as resistance does, since the strength-training technique actually triggers lactic acid formation by the body, which fuels muscle development. In fact, some research has found performing cardio too often may even interfere with your ability to gain muscle from resistance-training workouts, especially if your muscles haven’t had time to recover and your energy wasn’t well replenished in between workouts. In other words, if you want to really build up your strength, focus on resistance and back off on doing interval and other forms of cardio for a bit.

Resistance often uses weight-bearing exercise techniques and tools such as hand weights, resistance bands and tubes, kettlebells, and medicine balls, as well as wedges and benches to challenge your stability. It can also include bodyweight exercises like push-ups, planks, pull-ups, and chest presses, and even Pilates and yoga-style poses. The key to a good resistance training workout is the ability to pace yourself and choose the type and weight of your resistance according to your fitness level. This way, you’ll reduce risk of muscle injury and soreness, and won’t feel depleted early. Proper breathing through strength training is essential, as inhaling on the release of a move and exhaling while you hold a challenging position will ease the activity. Add more strength training to your regular routine if you want to increase muscle definition, increase your strength, or reshape your trouble spots.

Endurance

Winner: Interval

Unless you’re doing circuit training as a form of resistance training, the real winner for building up a solid endurance level is interval. Interval can be a grunt-inducing, heart-pounding workout, and here’s why: A solid interval routine is a full-body cardio workout for the heart, lungs, and muscles. How your quick-moving, sweat-breaking workout impacts your heart rate, blood flow, and heart muscle challenges and builds your endurance. Your total stamina is also measured by just how much oxygen is being sent to your lungs and the muscles that are supporting your movement, speed, and overall performance. Resistance training may build up your endurance when it comes to lifting a set of heavy weights, holding a plank, or being able to crank out a few more push-ups, but it’s not in the same league when it’s stacked against the cardio-rates and oxygen-expenditures that come with interval. Performing intervals more regularly, or teaming up with a friend or trainer for help and support, will ultimately rev up your speed, power, and metabolism, as well as improve your respiratory rate. As long as you’re up for the challenge, you’ll feel alive and more energized!

Do you prefer interval or resistance training? Tell us why in the comments below!