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High Intensity Interval Training Highly Intensified My Marriage

17/04/2016 6:20 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Exhausted young athletic man and woman

Interval training is awful. It's pretty much the worst thing I've ever done. Also, I HATE IT. But I've been doing it three times a week for the past four months because, like, everyone is doing it. Going to the gym is so two minutes ago and interval training is the new black.

There was a special report about high-intensity exercise on the ABC's Catalyst in September last year. I missed the show, but a fitness-fanatic friend summarised it for me: "You run like crazy for 30 seconds, then stand still for four and a half minutes, then repeat that four times."

I did the maths. "So, the whole thing takes 20 minutes?"

"Yep. Or 15 and a half if you don't count the last break."

It sounded pretty good, in theory. (A bit like Communism and open marriage.)

That evening I told my husband about this magical new exercise concept. He immediately googled Catalyst and found out two useful pieces of information:

  1. The presenter did interval training (and no other exercise) for 15 weeks and increased her jogging distance from less than 3km to 9km.
  2. Elderly people involved in an interval training study had their bottom skin analysed before and after three months of endurance training; they ended up with skin that looked (under a microscope) 20 to 30 years younger.

"Right," I said to my husband. "I don't especially want to jog 9km, but I would like 20-year-old bum skin, so I'm going to do it!"

"I'll do it too," he replied.

My husband is a shearer. He doesn't go to the gym or lift weights or do push-ups; he just works for eight hours a day, five (or six) days a week. And when he gets home, he's not tired, he's buggered.

"What, after work?" I said. "Wouldn't you rather eat three jam doughnuts and go straight to bed?"

"Bloody oath," he said. "But it's only 15 minutes. Piece of piss."

Our first session went like this:

We walked to the local footy oval because a) that would give our legs a bit of a warm-up and b) no-one would see us flailing about like idiots.

"Okay," I said, bouncing from side to side like a pro. "I'll go first and you time me." I stepped my left leg forward, got my arms ready to pump, and took a deep breath. I tried to remember the last time I'd been in this position... Grade 4?

"Go!" shouted my husband.

I ran hard. I think my mouth hung open the whole time. I may have grunted at some point. It felt way longer than 30 seconds. As soon as I stopped, I noticed a sharp pain in both of my quads. I wondered if I was having a heart attack.

My husband (wearing heavy-duty shearing pants and bare feet) then ran while I had a little lie down. When he'd done his 30 seconds he lay down with me. We couldn't speak to one another at first, because of the panting, but when our lungs recovered we agreed that sprinting was a very bad thing and stupid and also basically THE WORST.

"Oh (puff) my (puff) God (puff)," I said. "I think I'm about to die."

"Shit, eh," my husband replied, clutching at his chest.

But guess what? We didn't die. And, after four and a half minutes, we felt fine, and then it seemed like a good idea to go again. (I know, talk about an attitude turnaround!) And then, before we knew it, we'd finished all four sets. Training complete.

We did another session two days later. Then we did a third one three days after that. Pretty soon we were dedicated interval-training enthusiasts. We ran at dusk, we ran in drizzle; heck, we even ran on Christmas day.

And here we are, four months later, still hating high intensity exercise ("Sprints tonight, darling?" "F--k!"), but persisting nonetheless.

So, results?

Well, my cardiovascular fitness increased. A friend recently persuaded me to go jogging with her and I was able to do 6kms before my lungs gave way. Pre-interval training I could barely reach for the top-shelf chocolate at the supermarket without getting puffed out.

My legs are also stronger (I knew that sharp quad pain was going to lead to something good) and I guess, overall, I feel more energetic. Like, if I had to leap over a slowly moving car to save a small child from imminent danger I'd be able to give it a red-hot go.

But something else happened too, something I wasn't expecting at all: my relationship with my husband improved.

I mean, we weren't on the rocks. There was no mutual simmering resentment or secret Tinder use. But we hadn't been hanging out much together. More important: kids, work, chores, sleep. Less important: us. The last actual date we had was... I can't remember.

Interval training meant that we started spending time with each other, and not just in a sitting-on-the-couch-watching-TV way. Each break between sprints was (post panting) a chance to lie together and chat. It sounds insignificant -- four and a half minutes! -- but it's all about quality, not quantity, right? It was nice to be into/hating the same thing. We don't have many shared interests, so exercising together became our chance to bond.

Ultimately, high-intensity training not only enhanced my physical fitness, but also helped to highly intensify my marriage.

And as for my bum skin... well, you'll have to ask my husband.

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