By now most of us have heard that interval training is one of the best (meaning most doable and most metabolically effective), forms of cardio exercise out there. Not only does it have the power to make us all feel like superheroes (who doesn’t love the feeling of having accomplished something truly tough – even if just for thirty seconds at a time?!!), but it also helps to boost our metabolic rates. Talk about a winning combo! And while HIIT (high intensity interval training), has gained a cult-like following, other forms of interval training are less well-known and still worth a look, especially if you’re just getting back into the gym scene or you’re wanting to mix things up! Not sure which is right for you? Read on to learn more about each type and find your perfect workout fit!
Introduction to Interval Training (IT)
Let’s start with the basics! All types of interval training consist of brief periods of exertion followed by either short rest periods or low effort movements (think sprint to jog, or run to walk). The concept behind IT is that by challenging your body to work hard for bursts you get the same heart and metabolic benefits of strenuous exercise, with time to recover. This typically taps into different energy sources within your body (I’ll skip the science lesson for now!), raises your metabolic rate and gives your heart a healthy workout as well. Perhaps just as importantly, IT allows us to accomplish feats that wouldn’t be sustainable for more than burst at a time. Think about it: if someone tells you to do burpees (groan), for five minutes, what’s going to happen? Most likely you’re going to either flat-out say “that’s impossible” and not try, and if you try you’ll probably find that by the end of thirty seconds or a minute you’ve used all the energy you can muster, which means that whatever movements you make for the remainder of the five minutes are going to look a lot less like burpees and a lot more like crawling/floor hugging/poor form… you get the picture! Now imagine someone tells you to do burpees for 45 seconds. Sounds hard, but not impossible! That’s the great thing about IT. The work is challenging, but with a short time frame, it’s doable.
Now let’s dive into the types:
I wrote more about HIIT here, but at a glance HIIT challenges you to give your absolute maximum effort for a short period of time, followed by either complete rest or a low intensity activity. This is not an introductory style workout! Yes it can seriously set your metabolism on fire (wooo!!), but everything else is going to burn too! And while that might be a good thing for gym rats, newbies should steer clear until they know how to do the moves effectively, before adding the speed factor in.
Also known as the four minute workout, Tabata’s format is 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, for eight reps, totaling four minutes of work at a time. For example: 20 seconds of pushups, 10 seconds of rest or plank (active rest), x 8. Phew! I’m tired just thinking about it! While this original style of tabata (one exercise over and over), is seriously wearying, many classes now use the timing format but mix up the exercises. That way you’re not just working the same muscle(s) over and over, which can make it too hard for a lot of folks! If you take a class or use an app with this format, don’t be surprised to see something along the lines of “20 seconds push ups / 10 second rest, alternating with 20 seconds crunches / 10 second rest”. Mixing it up makes it more accessible, while keeping the benefits! If you’re up for trying the standard method out, try something along the lines of:
- Push ups (4 minutes of alternating 20 seconds on/10 seconds on)
- Crunches (4 minutes of alternating 20 seconds on/10 seconds on)
- Jumping Jacks (4 minutes of alternating 20 seconds on/10 seconds on)
- Mountain climbers (4 minutes of alternating 20 seconds on/10 seconds on)
Circuit training is another popular method of IT. Many gyms have circuit training classes, however you can also make your own. Circuit training consists of workstations where you do a set activity for a set period of time (30, 45 and 60 seconds are all common), followed by a brief rest (10-30 seconds between reps and one to three minutes between sets, depending on how intense your reps/sets are). Typical circuit training activities include medicine ball throws, rops, modified pull ups, planks and burpees. Depending on the number of stations you do, 2-3 rounds is typically enough to get a serious sweat on!
Basic Interval Training
If you’re just looking to dip a toe into the IT world, start by doing walking/running intervals. It’s the easiest way to get your body use to ramping up quickly and then slowing down sharply. A good balance for a beginner is: one minute of walking/45 seconds of jogging/30 seconds of fast running or sprinting, repeated for 20-30 minutes.
Still not exactly sure where to start? Try my 10 Minute Beginner Interval Workout at home – no equipment needed!
If you have any favorite interval moves – or if you try the workout! – I’d love to hear about them and about your experiences!