Interval training for team sports: fire up your metabolism, fire up your performance

by | June 26, 2018 | Diet and Nutrition, Fitness, Health

Even if you didn’t know it, you used to do intervals all the time. 
Every practice, 
every game, 
every training opportunity was likely an example of high-intensity interval training. 
High-intensity interval training is a form of training that alternates periods of high- and low intensity. 
It is this intermittent nature of the activity that allows intensity to be much higher than if you were to just go for a jog and maintain a consistent pace the whole time. 
This increase in intensity not only elevates your metabolism much beyond your baseline, but this effect lasts for hours after your training session. 
And not only that, the high-intensity nature of interval training can closely mimic the demands of your sport. 
Many team sports like baseball, hockey, ringette, volleyball, basketball, tennis, badminton, you name it….involve periods of high intensity and periods of low intensity. 
So essentially every time you stepped on the court, 
every time you went into a rally, 
or every shift on the ice
was a high-intensity interval. 
This was essentially your work period. 
And the time between points, 
between plays,
and on the bench between shifts, 
all acted as your rest period. 
So, what you have here is a classic example of high-intensity interval training. 
No wonder why you were in such great shape! 
Your metabolism was so fired up you could eat an entire pizza, 
a 2-litre, 
and half a birthday cake and the scale wouldn’t even budge. 
So, why not use this now, 
albeit in a shortened version, 
to get back in shape, 
to lose some fat, 
and return your body to high-level performance? 
We know you’re strapped for time, 
with kids to chase around, 
jobs to do around the house, 
and business to tend to at work…
No problem!
All you need is 15-20 minutes. 

Energy systems

We talked extensively about this here.
For now, just understand that the three primary energy systems are the aerobic system, 
the anaerobic lactic system, 
and the anaerobic alactic system. 
These systems produce energy needed to drive movements in life, training and sport. 
The movement’s duration, intensity, number of reps and rest between reps will determine which energy system is favoured. 
The aerobic energy system is favoured right now as you read this article. 
It is also favoured during sports like marathon running, long-distance swimming, cross-country skiing and cycling. 
So, basically, for activities of longer duration with lower absolute intensity. 
(Note: Just because an activity isn’t as high in absolute intensity doesn’t mean it’s not “hard”. There is an inverse relationship between time and intensity. So, if you can do something for longer than 2-3 minutes, the absolute intensity is not as high as something you can only do for 10 seconds). 
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article where we will talk more in-depth about the aerobic energy system. 
The anaerobic energy systems are favoured in most team sports.
For example, the pitcher pitches the ball to you, 
you crank it out over the left-fielder’s head,   
It’s far but they can chase it down,  
so you sprint to first, 
your base coach waves you to second so you keep running, 
then you hold up at second. 
Now you wait on second for the ball to be thrown back to the pitcher,
for the next batter to walk up to the plate, 
for the pitcher to get set up, 
and for the ball to be thrown. 
The period when you are hitting and sprinting would be your high-intensity work period, 
and the period before you start to lead off would be your rest period. 
The work period lasted about 10 seconds. 
The rest period may be 20, 30, 40, 50, 60s seconds or even longer if you go back to the dugout after the inning ends. 

Breaking it down

To make the process of setting up intervals that are appropriate for your team sports, 
we’ve broken them down into 2 categories:
1-Quick burst sports
2-Shift and rally sports 
These two types of sports will require slightly different work to rest ratios
and slightly different energy systems in order to optimize your performance and in turn, 
rev up your metabolism. 

Quick burst sports

Quick burst team sports include baseball,
cricket, etc. 
Basically, sports that require quick bursts of activity that typically last for a short period of time. 
Let’s say 6-10 seconds. 
These high intensity efforts are typically offset with a longer rest period. 
Say 30, 40, 50 seconds or even longer. 
So, you want your interval training to match that. 
Appropriate work to rest ratios for these types of sports are 1:12-15. 
Which may seem like a lot, but keep this in mind…
This training works the anaerobic alactic energy system, 
and this system has a short supply of readily-available energy in the muscles. 
That stored form of energy takes lots of time to replenish itself. 
So, if you just say “screw it” and start your high-intensity work interval before your energy has been recovered, you will not be training specifically to your sport. 
You will be training at a guaranteed lower intensity. 
And again, even if you feel you are training “hard” that does not mean you are training at a high “absolute” intensity. 
Your intensity will drop off if you do not rest enough. 
So, with that 1:12-15 work to rest ratio in place, 
a 6-10s work interval will require a 1-2 minute rest interval to fully replenish your alactic energy stores. 
And don’t worry, 
you can walk around, 
do some mobility
or even toss the ball around between intervals (just don’t lose track of time). 
Just understand that your high-intensity intervals should be quick, snappy and faaaast!
Do this for 15-20 mins and you’re good! 
Now, from a fat loss perspective, you may think that your total amount of work is low and that it won’t be enough to burn off your fat.
For example, 15 minutes of 10s on and 60 seconds off is only 2 minutes of total work…
Fear not, young grasshopper. 
The intensity associated with that 2 minutes of work will be so high that it will elevate your metabolism long after the workout is over. 
So, even though you will not be burning as much in the workout, you will be stoking up your metabolic fires for when you go home, eat breakfast, go to work and maybe even into the evening….possibly into the next day as well! 

Shift and rally sports

Shift and rally sports like volleyball, 
and badminton target a slightly different energy system: 
The anaerobic lactic system.
This is the system that produces lactate. 
When lactate builds up too high during exercise, 
this creates the lactic acid that you’ve heard all about. 
It is at this point, that you may feel some burning, 
nausea and slight discomfort, 
but fear not, 
effective training of this system (and actually the aerobic system as well) helps remedy that. 
Shift and rally sports can have work periods that may last a little longer. 
Say…20-60 seconds. 
The rest periods aren’t quite as long for these sports and for the anaerobic lactic energy system. 
Typical work to rest ratios for these sports would be 1:3-4. 
So, for a 20-60 second work bout, you would rest for 1-4 minutes depending on your sport. 
Here’s an example. 
The average shift length in hockey is 30-45 seconds. 
This is followed up by a rest period of 60, 90 even 120 seconds depending on the flow of the game. 
So, you would want to match your work to rest ratios with that of your sport.  
In this case, your work period would be 30 seconds and your rest period would be 90s to 2 minutes. 
Now, recognize that your absolute intensity in this scenario is going to be lower than the quick burst sports discussed above, but this will “feel” pretty hard! 
Especially if you’ve never done this before. 
So, proceed with caution, 
be safe, 
but, of course, have fun!
Again, keep it simple and do this for 15-20 minutes. In the example above, that would equal out to 4-5 minutes of “work”.  
Oh, and feel free to walk/skate around in your rest periods. It will actually aid in the process of getting you ready for your next interval.


The mode of activity you use for your intervals will certainly aid in the transfer to your sport performance. 
The most ideal situation would be to perform drills on the surface that you play on. 
So, running on an ultimate field, 
Skating on the ice,
Running on the diamond, 
But that isn’t always possible. 
If you can’t get on your sport surface,
any turf, 
gym floor
or even treadmill will suffice. 
Even a spin bike or airdyne will work.
And if you can’t run or use a bike,
or medicine ball slams are all awesome ways to fire up your metabolism and transfer some fitness onto the field. 
And if you have no equipment and hate to run??


Interval training is one of the most effective methods for not only burning more fat long after you leave the workout, 
But also for becoming more awesome at your sport. 
And becoming more awesome at your sport, 
makes you want to go more often, 
makes you have more fun, 
and makes you work harder. 
All of these effects, over time, lead to more fat loss.  
So, not only do high-intensity intervals directly enhance your fat loss, 
they indirectly increase fat loss by making you a rock-star athlete. 
Put these intervals to work, 
and they’ll go to work for you 🙂

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