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Interval Sprints Can Reverse Some of the Muscle-Sapping Effects of Aging in Women

New research suggests it doesn’t take much time to change your body composition.

  • In a study out of Brazil, researchers discovered that 20-minute interval sessions can help increase fitness levels, decrease body fat, and increase lean muscle mass in postmenopausal women.
  • The magnitude in muscle gain was similar to what you would see in a strength-training program, according to the researchers.
  • Steady-state exercise has not been shown to give the same effects

Thanks to plummeting estrogen production, menopause is usually accompanied by a trio of not-so-great changes: a decrease in lean muscle mass, an increase in body fat, particularly around the abdomen, and a reduction in aerobic fitness activities.

As a result, postmenopausal women carrying extra weight are at higher risk for developing insulin resistance—a condition where your cells can’t absorb sugar in the blood as readily, leading to higher blood sugar levels and raising your risk of diabetes—and cardiovascular disease.

But the good news is that these shifts don’t need to be inevitable: Even a seemingly modest amount of interval training can have a major effect, according to a new study published in the journal Menopause.


The very word triggers groans of dread from even the most training-obsessed cyclists. But these short, misery-inducing efforts offer a huge fitness return for a comparatively small time investment. Even 20- to 30-second micro-intervals have been shown to increase V02 max, burn fat, and improve endurance. And they work fast. “Just two weeks of interval training can enhance your performance,” says Paul Laursen, Ph.D., an endurance coach and sport scientist.

Here, we collected five cycling workouts that all improve your speed and power on the bike. Choose one of the following interval workouts and add it to a ride no more than twice a week. For each, warm up with easy pedaling for 10 to 15 minutes and cool down as needed after. Stick with it for (at least) four weeks, and you’ll be dropping your friends by next month.


Build power and train your body to recover quickly between efforts for events that demand repeated surges. In a medium to large gear, push hard for 40 seconds, then recover for 20 seconds. Repeat 10 times. That’s one set. Do up to 4, resting 5 minutes between sets.


These lightning-fast efforts help you develop a fluid and efficient pedal stroke and cadence. Pedal as hard as you can for 10 seconds in a gear you can push 90 to 110 rpm with effort, then spin easy for 20 seconds. Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes. Rest 5 minutes. Do another set.


On a moderate incline, stand out of the saddle and charge up the hill as fast as possible for 30 seconds. Coast back to your starting point. Repeat, this time seated. Alternate between standing and sitting for 6 climbs. Recover 10 minutes. Do another set.


Developed by Japanese exercise scientist Izumi Tabata, these intense efforts train your body to use more muscle, as well as increase the intensity you can sustain over a 60-minute time trial, which corresponds to your lactate threshold. Sprint as hard as possible for 20 seconds. Coast for 10 seconds. Repeat six to eight times.


Raising your threshold pace will help you sustain attacks. During your next ride, ride as hard as you can for 2 to 3 minutes (you will be flagging by the end). Recover at an easy pace for 2 minutes. Do up to three sets.

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