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Interval Fitness & Weight Loss Training Program

interval training

An interval training program is an exercise technique in which the speed and intensity level of the exercise varies throughout the workout session. The overall intent of regularly implementing an interval training approach into your exercise routine is to "shock" the body into developing health and fitness gains at a quicker rate.

For example, an individual that typically performs a running routine where they run at 6 miles per hour would modify portions of their running routine to include periods of running at 8 or 10 miles per hour followed by returning to their original 6 mile per hour pace. In other words, the individual may run the first mile at a 6 mile per hour pace, then increase their speed to 8 to 10 miles per hour for a quarter of a mile, then return to their original 6 mile per hour pace.

Depending on how far the individual is going to run, they may add several intervals of the faster running pace to their overall running session for that day. It is not unusual for an individual to add 3 to 5 periods where they run at the faster pace and then return to their typical pace.

Often times, interval training is performed by individuals that perform some form of long-distance training. For instance, swimmers, long-distance runners, cyclists, sprinters, rowers and football players participate in this form of training.

Interval training is a favorite training technique for coaches as it provides an intense cardiovascular workout, allowing athletes to not only improve their endurance and explosiveness, but also increase their overall stamina, effectiveness and performance. There are four primary variables that can be modified when incorporating interval training techniques into an exercise routine:

  1. Intensity or speed of the interval portions of the exercise routine

  2. Duration of the actual interval in terms of distance or time

  3. Duration of rest or recovery period after the interval

  4. Number of repetitions performed during each interval portion

Types of Movements

Interval training is intended to improve cardiovascular endurance and strength. A good example of interval training would be to sprint 200 meters and then jog for 400 meters, then sprint 200 meters and then jog 400 meters and so on. This approach provides intervals of higher intensity and effort followed by intervals of low intensity and effort.

This approach to training can be added to several exercise types including running, swimming, cycling and many sport exercise drills. Another example of interval training would be for a boxer to include high-intensity, high-speed portions to the rope jumping portion of their exercise routine.

This being said, the types of movements associated with interval training will vary depending on the exercise type that is being performed. The important concept to remember is that any exercise that is typically performed with a pace or cadence can be modified to include interval training.

Performing interval training does not have to be extreme from the beginning. For example, each individual can choose the speed, length and number of interval repetitions that they will perform throughout their workout. If you are just beginning an interval training program, it is best to take a moderate approach at first to ensure that your body has time to adjust to the additional requirements that are being placed on it and to reduce the probability of injury. For example, after performing the warm-up portion of your exercise routine, you may want to increase the intensity level for 30 seconds and then return to your normal pace. You can repeat this process several times throughout your exercise routine.

You may want to consider modifying the length of the high-intensity portions of your workouts as well. For instance, if you are going to perform four high-intensity portions during your entire exercise routine, your first high-intensity portion may be performed for 30 seconds; your second for 2 minutes; your third for 4 minutes; and your last for 30 seconds. You can also change the pace of your high intensity portions (i.e. first interval pace increases to 75% of your max, second and third interval increase to 100% of your max, etc.), the resistance level (i.e. when cycling or rowing), and the angle of the terrain (i.e. running up a hill).

Targeted Muscles

interval training

In general, virtually all major muscle groups can be exercised using the interval training technique. For runners, the legs, core area and arms will be targeted during an interval training routine. For rowers, a greater level of intensity and conditioning will be placed on the legs, back, shoulders and arms. All in all, the muscles that are targeted by interval training will depend on the specific exercise type that is performed.

However, one muscle that will be targeted regardless of the exercise type is the heart. All interval training will involve aggressively exercising the heart and the entire cardiovascular system.

For this reason, interval training is an outstanding technique for individuals that are seeking to improve their endurance and explosiveness, and take their performance to the next level.

Aerobic Effect

Interval training heavily taxes the entire cardiovascular system. From an aerobic effect perspective, let's say that an individual typically increases their heart rate to 70% of their maximum when performing their typical exercise routine. Adding several iterations of interval training into their exercise routine may increase their heart rate to 85% of the maximum when performing the high intensity portions. This approach will provide an outstanding cardiovascular workout and rapidly improve the individual's overall endurance and stamina.

Due to the intensity level associated with interval training, the total number of calories burned during the exercise routine will increase as well. For individuals that are looking to lose excess body weight, interval training will increase the rate at which body fat is eliminated.

Required Equipment

In general, interval training does not require any additional equipment. This being said, it is assumed that a cyclist already has a bike, a swimmer already has access to a pool, and so on. In addition, it is assumed that the appropriate clothing and gear is already being utilized by each person performing an interval training routine. In other words, a boxer already has a jump rope, a runner already has a good pair of running shoes, and a rower already has a boat or a rowing machine.


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There are several health benefits associated with performing an exercise routine with the inclusion of interval training. Interval training promotes a higher caloric expenditure, and hence a greater reduction in excess body weight.

As previously mentioned, cardiovascular endurance will improve, allowing for longer training routines. For example, you may find that you can now finish your 1-hour running routine in 45 minutes.

In this case, you could continue to run for 15 additional minutes, running a longer distance, burning more calories and further improving your cardiovascular endurance in the process.

Interval training promotes an adaptation response. In other words, the body builds additional capillaries and is better equipped to intake and deliver oxygen to the various muscles that are being exercised. The actual muscle tissue develops a higher tolerance to lactate build-up.

Interval training can also reduce the probability of injury in exercise types that are considered repetitive endurance exercises, allow for increases in training intensity while avoiding over-training or burn-out.

According to a report provided by the American College of Sports Medicine, a higher number of calories are burned when performing short, high-intensity exercises. For individuals that are looking to lose weight at a fairly rapid rate, high-intensity exercises that include interval training are superior to long, slower-paced endurance exercises.

Another benefit of interval training is that it adds variety to your current exercise routine. This alone will assist in maintaining a higher level of motivation, which will improve the regularity with which you perform your exercise routine.

One Potential Drawback - Increased Muscle Soreness

Muscle tissue reacts differently to exercise routines that include interval training when compared to more consistently and even-paced exercise routines. During interval training routines, the muscles will produce a larger amount of waste material. This increase in waste material will lead to a higher level of muscle soreness, which can be quite painful and lead to muscle fatigue. The best approach to adding an interval training portion to your existing exercise routine is to add the intervals slowly and allow your body to adjust to the additional demands that are being placed on it.

If you have a specific health and fitness goal, an instructor or personal trainer can assist you with the more technical aspects associated with interval training, including specific interval portions to perform as well as times, distances and frequency. In addition, a personal trainer or instructor will be able to determine your target heart rate and the ability of your heart and lungs to deliver enough oxygen to your muscles. Furthermore, an instructor or personal trainer will be able to determine which type of interval training is best for your current condition and most applicable to your personal fitness goals.

There can be risks associated with interval training, and you should always consult your medical physician prior to beginning an interval training routine. This is especially important if you have a chronic medical condition. Likewise, you do not want to aggravate a former injury by performing an interval training routine that is too taxing on your body. Always remember that you can slow down if the pace you have set is too fast, or if you're irritating a previous injury.

Increased Difficulty for Increased Results

interval training at gym

Overall, adding an interval training portion to your existing workout will significantly increase the difficulty of your exercise routine. However, the physical results produced through a successful interval training routine are extremely rapid and can quickly transform your body and improve your cardiovascular endurance.

Not only will you increase your overall stamina, but you'll also burn a higher number of calories each and every time you perform your interval training routine.

Finally, while interval training provides outstanding physical results, it does require discipline, persistence, focus and determination. Interval training is not easy and will require that you take your tolerance to pain and level of effort to new levels. This being said, the satisfaction, both physically and mentally, will be well worth the effort.