7 Good Reasons to Try Interval Training


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  73 comments   :  169,944 Views

What if I told you there was an exercise technique that could burn more calories—and fat—in less time that was also fun? You may think that I was hawking some fitness gadget in an infomercial, or simply lying to you, but neither of those theories hold true. The amazing workout is called interval training. During interval training, exercisers alternate between high-intensity efforts and low-intensity recovery efforts during a single cardio (aerobic) workout session. It can be as simple as sprinting between two telephone poles and then walking for the next two, or a regimented plan using a stopwatch and specific training schedule. Either way, adding just a couple sessions of interval training to your workouts each week is sure to boost your fitness level, accelerate your fat loss and help you beat boredom.

Here are 7 reasons to try interval training yourself, plus tips and workouts to get you started.

Interval training burn more calories. Most of us exercise at a continuous intensity during our cardio workouts. This is called "continuous training." While continuous training is the most common way to exercise and still offers ample benefits, such as burning calories, "Interval training burns calories quicker," Kerri O'Brien of Life Fitness recently told Reuters. "If you're doing interval training for 20 minutes it can burn as many calories you would in 40 minutes," of steady-state training, she explained.

Interval training burns more fat. Doing short bursts of higher-intensity exercise encourages your body to burn body fat as fuel. A small study from 2007 had eight women in their 20s cycle for 10 sets of intervals (four minutes higher intensity, followed by two minutes of rest). After the interval training, the women burned 36% more fat during an hour of continuous training (moderate cycling). The results were published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Other studies have found that even when the workout is over, exercisers have a higher post-workout calorie burn (their metabolism remains elevated) after interval training than after continuous training.

Interval training works for all fitness levels. According to the American Council on Exercise, everyone from beginner exercisers to elite athletes can perform (and benefit from) interval training. Beginners, for example, can use interval training to slowly work their way up to higher intensity exercise, such as walk-jog intervals, which can help one work up to running continuously. Advanced exercisers can use high intensity intervals to improve speed, power and performance.

Interval training can boost your fitness level. The same study mentioned above also found that subjects who performed interval training improved their cardiovascular fitness by 13%. Another study, also published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (in 2005), found that college-age men and women doubled their exercise endurance after just two weeks of interval training. The control group who did not perform interval training, showed no improvements in their endurance.

Interval training works for the tortoise and the hare. Sometimes you feel like doing a hard workout. Sometimes, you feel like taking it easy. Interval training is a great alternative to both scenarios, and perfect for people who need to force themselves to change up their programs. I tend to turn to interval training on days that I'm feeling a little lazy since I know I won't have to force myself to do a tough workout, and that I'll get to enjoy the low-intensity exercise I'm craving. In this sense, interval training is a great way to cross train, too. If your usual routine is to run at a steady pace, or pick one level on the elliptical and stick it out for 30 minutes, you'll be doing your body a favor by changing up the speed and intensity of your workouts. You don't even have to change what you do to work out. Interval training can be applied to almost any type of exercise: walking, running, biking, cardio machines, indoor cycling, swimming, dancing—even strength training.

Interval training can combat boredom. Probably one of the greatest benefits of interval training is that it really passes the time, which can make your workouts seem more fun. Rather than drudging away at the same boring intensity, interval training keeps your mind engaged and helps your workouts go by faster by breaking down one long workout into smaller, more manageable chunks of time. Each interval you complete is another notch closer to your cool down.

Interval training means less time in the gym. Since you're working harder (for a short period), you can get away with shorter workouts when you perform interval training—and the benefits are essentially the same in terms of endurance and calorie burn. This is a great option when you're short on time but want to squeeze in an effective workout, or when you have a hard time committing to exercise in general. The shorter your workouts are, the more likely you'll be to stick with them.

Ready to try interval training? The following resources will help you get started on the right foot:

Introduction to Interval Training
Interval Training Workouts: Elliptical
Interval Training Workouts: Running
Interval Training Workouts: Stationary Bike
Interval Training Workouts: Walking

Is interval training part of your workout plan? If not, are you ready to give it a try?

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  • 73
    Thanks for the wonderful article. - 1/6/2018   12:00:13 PM
  • 72
    Thank you! - 12/14/2017   2:06:01 AM
  • 71
    Interval training is a very good way to build up your endurance. - 12/10/2017   3:11:33 PM
  • 70
    Great article! - 12/4/2017   11:51:28 AM
  • 69
    Going to get back to interval training too .... thanks - 12/2/2017   1:34:20 PM
  • 68
    I need to try this. - 10/29/2017   9:38:44 AM
    I enjoy interval training, it's a great boost to your workout! - 10/11/2017   4:29:24 AM
  • 66
    I enjoy interval training technique. - 9/12/2017   1:24:58 AM
  • 65
    I am going to try this today - 7/11/2017   2:06:55 AM
  • 64
    I really enjoy the results from HIIT but when it's too intense, I do something else like jumping jacks and jump rope... It's all physical just in a different form. - 5/9/2017   1:46:09 PM
  • 63
    something to try - 3/19/2017   7:23:08 AM
  • 62
    Who knew how effective interval cardio training is in managing Type 2 diabetes? And how you do more in less time.

    It is a little tough getting used to; I've been an old-school, bell-curve kind of sequencer all this time ... - 7/15/2014   12:02:16 AM
  • --LENA--
    i gave it a try this morning and it was really cool. time passed by real quick and i had fun. - 4/21/2014   9:24:47 AM
  • 60
    Guess I didn't realize that I was doing interval training on my treadmill, alternating between running and a fast walk....awesome! - 10/10/2013   10:48:21 PM
  • 59
    I do interval training on my treadmill. It is good to know that as I recover from my high intensity run to a light jog, I am increasing my caloric burn. Toggling back and forth from high intensity to med-low and then back to high is a good thing. I thought I was just too out of shape to keep a continuous workout on high intensity. - 1/26/2013   12:09:35 PM
  • MALGAL1215
    Interval training is kick butt and you feel so great after - 1/21/2013   9:32:50 AM
  • 57
  • 56
    Interval training has really worked well for me, someone who used to dread cardio, now I can't wait to get in a great workout! - 11/17/2010   3:39:54 PM
  • 55
    Tried this last night and got through the beginner level for the treatmill pretty good, but not sure i can do the intermediate level yet. I've been doing 30 minutes on the treadmill at 5 mph for awhile, but sweat more doing the interval training than I had ever before. - 11/17/2010   2:40:58 PM
    Have never tried interval training but I am fairly new to any form of exercise! Interesting article will give it some thought. - 11/17/2010   12:15:33 PM
  • 53
    I swear by interval and circuit training. Loves them both! - 11/17/2010   10:23:10 AM
  • 52
    Great article to learn from - will start doing this! - 11/17/2010   9:34:53 AM
  • 51
    I would definetly love to give interval training a try. Unfortunately, I have to wait until I get over my burcitis. thanks for the websites on programs. Definetly going to save those away for when I can start up interval training. :) - 11/17/2010   8:57:33 AM
    Thanks, going to give the treadmill a workout - 11/16/2010   4:54:27 PM
  • 49
    I plan to try next week! I am working on a challenge that finishes this week. Thanks for the blog! - 11/16/2010   3:51:08 PM
    Just started doing interval training the past few days. Thanks for the motivation to continue with it. Makes sense to me! - 11/16/2010   3:45:37 PM
  • 47
    Great points, Coach Nicole! - 11/16/2010   2:57:34 PM
  • 46
    Wow, what are you a calorie cop? The article mentions "burning calories". We all don't need a lesson on what a calorie is and what is actually "burned". Thank you though, I found your comment comical, and although it wasn't your intent, I got a chuckle out of it. - 11/16/2010   1:36:20 PM
  • 45
    I like this... but how do you enter it in the fitness page (cardio) on Spark?
    I am ready to try this! - 11/16/2010   1:24:11 PM
    Wow.. really? A whee bit on the picky side.

    In that same vein, you realize that "Politics" doesn't have a job, Politicians do.
    Please use the language properly. - 11/16/2010   12:40:16 PM
  • 43
    I regularly do interval training. Just wish there was a way to track this kind of workout on my SP fitness tracker! - 11/16/2010   12:30:00 PM
    You can not burn calories. Calories are units of measure. What they measure is energy produced by burning matter such as fat or protean or natural gas. You do not burn calories. What you want to do is burn glucose that your body produces by converting fat. Please use the language properly. Changing the meaning of words is the job of politics. - 11/16/2010   11:47:21 AM
  • 41
    Fartleks and hills are my least favorite part of marathon training.... but I can appreciate them better knowing that they're not just good for building speed, they burn more calories too.

    Link to Fartlek info:
    - 11/16/2010   9:43:53 AM
  • 40
    I run on hills - large hills - every day. This sort of gives me an interval training workout, however, I'm running up a hill from any where between two minutes to 20 minutes. - 11/16/2010   9:23:53 AM
  • BKAPP119
    I just started interval training on the elliptical about 2 weeks ago. I purchased some music online that gives me choices on the length and number of intervals and that's been really helpful. Then I don't have to watch the timer on the machine and figure out when to speed up or slow down. - 11/16/2010   8:53:47 AM
  • 38
    thanks for the inspiration! i had many people suggest this on my last blog entry (where i got piled on!) and i have been incorporating this into my runs, and boy can i feel it! i LOVE that i can get that much more oomph out of the same amount of time spent working out, and that i can tweak it to suit my mood and fitness level on any given day. i didn't even realize i COULD sprint let alone do it regularly. i'm psyched!
    suz - 11/16/2010   8:37:04 AM
  • 37
    I'm going to try it--at the walking level. Sounds really good. Thanks! - 11/16/2010   8:03:47 AM
  • 36
    Sounds sensible. I will read all the links and start it. Thanks - 11/16/2010   4:36:01 AM
  • 35
    Would the couch to 5k program be an interval training? - 11/15/2010   9:46:51 PM
  • 34
    I do a boot camp class once a week that incorporates interval training and I love it, I don't have time to be bored because I have to stay focused to know when we are about to pick it up and when we are about to slow it down a bit. Also I just recently started (for the 2nd time) the Couch to 5K program and I love listening for the cues on when to push it and run and when to slow it down and walk. I sweat much harder when I do intervals. - 11/14/2010   6:55:04 PM
    I do interval training and it really does make a huge difference. I like to do it while out cycling. The first time I did it I was climbing, so the recovery part of the interval wasn't as much of a recovery since I had to keep pushing upwards. However, the results I got were so immediate. My average speed shot upwards after only about a week or two of interval training. I was hooked!

    Now that it's getting snowy outside, I'll switch to indoor interval workouts. - 11/12/2010   9:40:43 AM
  • 32
    In Covert Bailey's "Fit or Fat" book that was so popular in the '90's he introduced this idea. He had a PBS Series on it. - 11/12/2010   2:24:32 AM
  • 31
    I just started doing intervals on the treadmill and you are right, you really do stay engaged with the workout. I believe that is what finally got me past my plateau. - 11/11/2010   10:11:12 PM
    It's on the random buttons at the gym and I really like it much better than just picking a single way of doing the treadmill or recumbant bike. I get a better work out on both that way. - 11/11/2010   4:20:01 PM
  • 29
    My boyfriend calls this burst training and I've been thinking of doing it. I'm going to for sure now. - 11/11/2010   1:29:42 PM
  • 28
    I do interval training when i am lagging in my "to be done" fitness minutes for the week. i burn almost 500 calories in 30min. Thats huge compared to 300 calories in 30min on the elliptical. And it keeps me interested and before I know I am done.

    Good interval training video workouts are
    -Jillian Michaels-last chance workout, Shred, power boost metabolism
    -P90X- cardio X, KenpoX
    -Jackie Wagner- power Burn
    - 11/11/2010   1:01:51 PM
  • 27
    Good tips and will work towards incorporating into my routine and see what the results will be! Think they will be great! - 11/11/2010   12:47:27 PM
    I think my gym offers this so I will check this out. Thanks for the article! - 11/11/2010   12:33:00 PM
  • 25
    I do intervals on the treadmill and when I'm walking outside. I downloaded a program on my ipod that has music with different beats slow, moderate, fast, moderate...etc. That helps me adjust my speed without looking at a watch. - 11/10/2010   8:12:13 PM
  • 24
    I've been doing interval training for a while, but not very regularly. I really need/want to make more of an effort to incorporate high intensity interval training into my weekly workout schedule, especially since I want to improve my running this winter. Fartleks, here I come! - 11/10/2010   7:30:27 PM

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