Interval training applies the concept of using varied intensity by alternating work and rest periods into a given exercise session. The “work” phase can be moderately to very intense. The “rest” period can be low-intensity exercise or even involve taking a complete break altogether. This type of training has many benefits and has gained quite a bit of attention over the last several years, largely because it works. It is extremely effective for achieving many desired outcomes.
When designing interval training workouts there should be some thought and consideration into the actual format of the workout. A few things to think about:
- How intense should the “work” part of the interval be? Is it an all-out effort or should it be just moderately intense?
- How long should the “work” part of the interval last?
- How long should the recovery or “rest” part last?
- How many total repetitions of intervals should I do over the course of the workout?
The first thing you have to consider when designing the actual workout is the desired outcome. There are many reasons for doing interval training, some of which are:
- Improved performance by training various energy systems.
- Improved cardiovascular fitness.
- Increased calorie burn from the workout
- Increased calorie burn after the workout.
- Time efficiency.
- Decreased boredom.
Once you know what your desired training goal is, you can then determine how to set up your intervals. Some safety issues to consider for anyone who is new to interval training:
- Start with a shorter “work” segment and a longer “rest” or recovery segment until you can develop the stamina to work up to a minute long interval. Many walk-to-run training programs start walkers doing running intervals as short as 20 seconds with recovery up to several minutes if necessary.
- Start with moderate intensity intervals. Don’t go all-out and wind up hurt or too sore to come back to your next workout.
- Start with total interval workouts that are shorter in length. An interval workout that is 12 minutes in length may leave you doing 6-8 interval repetitions (depending on how long your work segment is) and can still have huge benefits.
- Don’t do high intensity intervals for more than 30 minutes.
- Don’t do high intensity intervals more than 3 times per week.
For non-athletes, the most common reasons for doing interval training are weight loss or the desire to decrease body fat so that is what I am limiting my discussion to here. The best interval workout design to achieve these goals is to set up a work to recovery ratio of 1:1 with work intervals being at least 1 minute long. This approach trains your long-term energy system to become more efficient at mobilizing and using fat as a fuel source. This won’t happen immediately. It is a chronic adaptation to this type of training and will occur slowly over time. The intensity of the interval must be at least moderately intense. You can visit my article on how to gauge exercise intensity. Intensity does not have to be extreme. It can be moderately intense to still gain benefits. Keep in mind, however, that the higher the intensity, the more calories you will burn during the workout and after the workout.
As far as the mode or type of activity, that should be specific to the sport. For non-athletes, the activity should be something they are good at and can enjoy doing. Overall, interval training can be a very effective tool for gaining fitness, managing weight, decreasing boredom and improving overall health.