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The most effective way to exercise according to BYU grad student

Jessica Collins Training
Photo by Jessica Collins

If you’ve spent a lot of time on BYU’s campus, you’ll know the daunting hike up the Richards Building stairs. The trek never seems to get easier despite the number of times it is walked

BYU graduate student Jessica Collins gives a reason for this. She says that it’s not repetition that matters, but rather workout intensity.

Working in the BYU Cardiovascular Research Lab, Collins developed her thesis on High Intensity Interval Training vs. Traditional Moderate Intensity Training. Her research, which won second place in this year’s college Three-Minute-Thesis (3MT) competition, focuses on whether a high-intensity workout or a moderately intense workout would be more effective in terms of endurance.

“My research looks at the training effects of two different endurance exercise training programs on your critical power threshold, or your threshold for maintaining energy homeostasis within the body,” she explains.

Her two tested programs consisted of 1) training at a moderate intensity during one whole workout, and 2) alternating between high-intensity exercises and low-intensity recovery exercises.

Jessica Research
Photo by Jessica Collins

Collins’ results may seem surprising.

“High intensity interval training improves your critical speed threshold more than moderate-intensity continuous training, and the more your critical power threshold improves, the higher the intensity you can maintain-- and the longer you can last.”

According to Collins’ research, performing high-intensity exercise doubles the increase in a critical power threshold compared to a continuous moderate intensity program. This means that faster speeds become easier to maintain, and commonplace tasks-- like walking up the Richards Building stairs-- suddenly become doable.

Collins also discovered that an effective workout doesn’t always mean exercising at max capacity.

“Most likely, you’ve increased your critical power threshold, which means that you have increased your abilities, including your endurance,” she says. In other words, every time you force yourself to go to the gym-- even if it’s just a short exercise-- you've made some progress, even if it’s just building your endurance.

While Collins doesn’t know yet where her research will lead, she is interested in learning more about cardiovascular training. Currently, she wants to develop an endurance exercise program based on a critical power threshold rather than a max power threshold. She feels exercise programs should focus on maintaining good energy homeostasis in the body rather than workouts that push you to your limits every time.

“This would answer the question, for example,” she said, “is it a linear response—that the higher you train above your critical power, the greater the adaptations will be, or is it gradual? Is there a ceiling, meaning that training as high as possible above our critical power won’t necessarily give us the greatest adaptations or benefits?”

Collins is also interested in exploring the contrasts between men and women to see if the intensities required to improve endurance is different between genders.

Her thesis will be submitted for peer -review soon, and eventual publication.