Fitness Articles

Get Results with Interval Training

Add Fun and Variety to Your Workouts

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I used to be a competitive long distance runner. Day in and day out I’d run mile upon mile, training for the next big race. Some days it meant running a six or seven mile loop that included several (seemingly endless) hills. Other days, I warmed up for a few miles then hit the track for sprints. Run 400 meters. Walk 100 meters. Run another 400 meters. Walk get the idea. This interval training on the track, although not representative of any race I would run, primed my body and helped me stay in shape—and boy was it a tough workout!

Runners and cyclists have utilized interval training for decades. However, exercisers at many different fitness levels can benefit from this type of workout—just adjust it to fit your specific workout needs. Since interval training can be demanding, you don’t need to do it every day. My track and cross country teams trained with intervals twice a week, and focused on other cardio (longer distances) on the remaining days.

Why do an interval workout?
If you’re stuck in a workout rut, intervals can be a new and interesting way to get motivated and in shape. You’ll strengthen your heart, and future workouts will feel easier. Like any workout, it will help burn fat and calories, while also building endurance.

Plus, with interval training the possibilities are endless! No matter what mode of exercise you choose (treadmill, outdoor walking or running, swimming, elliptical, cycling), every workout can be different and the variety within each session keeps things fresh and fun. If you are sick of walking on the treadmill for an hour each day, adding intervals can jumpstart your body out of its low-intensity cardio rut.

The premise of interval training is simple: When you vary your effort by mixing periods of high and low intensities during your workout, your fitness will improve faster and more dramatically—and your workouts will be less boring. During your session, you’ll alternate between shorter, high-intensity intervals and longer, lower-intensity recovery periods. The high-intensity intervals can be "anaerobic" (where you are working as hard as you can, and your heart rate is usually over 85% of your estimated maximum), or simply more intense, like in the 75-85% range, which is still “aerobic.”

You'll know when you’ve reach an anaerobic intensity because you'll start feeling a burn in your working muscles. Adding some anaerobic intervals to your workouts will usually give you better results. But since they are more demanding, anaerobic intervals should be shorter and accompanied by longer recovery intervals. As your fitness level improves, both the length of the high-intensity intervals, and the amount of work you can handle during them, will increase.
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About The Author

Liz Noelcke Liz Noelcke
Liz is a journalist who often writes about health and fitness topics.

Member Comments

  • I absolutely LOVE interval training! It gets my heart pumping, my muscles toned, and the workouts just seem to fly by! Great article, thank you! - 6/10/2014 7:08:32 AM
    I just turned 70, and am in good health and would like to keep it up. Is HIIT safe for this
    age? - 6/7/2014 8:13:28 PM
  • Wow, without realizing it (and knowing I needed to do something) I added jogging into my daily walks to raise my heart rate. Gee, am I finally realizing I want to exercise, rather than I have to exercise. - 1/23/2014 11:22:13 AM
    Good info that I can begin to incorporate immediately - 1/4/2014 10:56:30 PM
  • Great article. - 9/14/2013 9:58:12 AM
  • At my aerobics class the instructor sometimes does what she calls interval. We do warm up, cardio for 10 minutes then pick up our weights and do 4-5 different strength exercises without restine, then back to 10 minutes of cardio, second set of strength, back to 10 minutes cardio, third set of stength, then cool down and stretch. The class lasts 60 minutes. Always feel like I've gotten a good workout. - 7/9/2013 10:13:48 AM
  • Martial art and other self defense practice are natural forms of interval training, because the rule of specificity makes high intensity the right way to do it. Once you learn basic technique, like blocking, striking with the hands and feet, changing position, and so on, the exercise can be done about anywhere, and takes no special equipment.

    These movements tend to involve the entire body, and concentrate on the midsection (if they're done right). Also if they are done right they are good meditation, since focus is on relaxation and concentration. And since you are also increasing your ability to defend yourself, you get more bang for the buck, as the saying goes.

    One of the best self defense techniques is running as fast as you can, over all sorts of terrain (even in your own house), mixed with walking when you are too tired to run. This is also good interval training. - 4/14/2013 12:11:49 PM
    CJT 183
    how are you doing on your interval training ? - 4/13/2013 9:14:56 AM
  • I love, love, love interval training! It is TOUGH, but I love it. Usually I do interval training on the elliptical, stationary bike, treadmill and with DVDs. On the elliptical, I'll push myself to the limit during the chorus part of a song and then level off during the verse of a song and if on the treadmill, I'll jog for a entire song, then rest one minute, walk at a steep incline for an entire song, then rest for one minute, then repeat. - 4/13/2013 8:34:04 AM
    good article. Interval training definitely helps get into better shape, BUT, where is the weight training?? That can be done in intervals as well and is an important part of any fitness program.
    To answer the question "Can Intervals be done IN THE POOL"
    YES! Basically interval training means that you vary the intensity of your workout, so swim at "sprint speed " for a short period of time until you heart rate in up, then at a slower pace while you recover, repeat this cycle just like the article recommends for running! - 4/13/2013 6:01:02 AM
    It seems to be a good work out. I too do the same. Run for 200 to 300 m and walk for 1 km and again run for 200 m and walk. This way I can maintain the energy level. - 4/13/2013 5:04:24 AM
  • ANDYI1950
    I like the interval type...still trying to figure out what controls it ..heartbeat? Time? OR?
    I am 62 , 198... - 3/3/2013 9:48:43 AM
  • is there a way to do intervals in the pool? - 11/8/2012 8:13:29 AM
  • is there any way to do intervals in the pool? - 11/8/2012 8:11:14 AM
    Oh, one other point: one reason that interval training helps burn more fat overall is because of the AFTERBURN. It all comes down to elevated metabolism after your workout is completed – the afterburn, a.k.a. POST EXERCISE OXYGEN CONSUMPTION.

    Let’s put this in perspective: Say that you worked out at 8AM on Saturday. By way of metabolic resistance training or interval training, you’d still be burning calories from that workout while out at the TV on Sunday.

    You want to burn calories while watching Sunday football? Now you can.

    - 8/27/2012 12:11:27 PM

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