The Interval Training Guide: Interval Training for Beginners

Interval Training Guide

What Is Interval Training?

You've probably heard of interval training by now. Interval training consists of short intervals of intense exercise interspersed with slower-paced recovery periods. The recovery periods are either rest periods, in which no exercise is done, or active rest periods, in which slower-paced cardio exercises are done.

Who's It For?

Interval training isn't for everyone. If you've lived a sedentary lifestyle up to this point, interval training may not be the best place to start. It's an incredibly effective training routine, but it can put a lot of stress on the body. It's recommended you workout using other less-intense routines for a while before you start interval training.

Check with your physician and get a clean bill of health prior to starting an interval training routine. Let your doctor know exactly what you have planned and ask him to make sure you're healthy enough to do it. There may be underlying health concerns that preclude you from interval training.


Why Is Interval Training Better?

Numerous studies have shown interval training to be more effective than steady-state cardio when it comes to burning fat and getting in shape:

The Afterburn Effect

Interval training causes you to burn more calories than steady-state cardio in a shorter amount of time, due to an effect known as the afterburn effect. The afterburn effect is experienced as the body continues to burn calories long after interval training is complete in an effort to heal itself and return itself to normal. The afterburn effect after interval training can often last a couple days.

Interval Training Sessions

Interval training sessions are short and to the point. Most interval training sessions last 30 minutes or less, so you don't have to spend long hours at the track or in the gym.

Here's a typical interval training session:

  1. 5-minute light cardio warm-up period.
  2. 30-second intense cardio interval.
  3. 1-minute active rest period.
  4. Repeat intense cardio and active rest intervals until 20 minutes have passed.
  5. 5-minute light cardio cool-down period.

The cardio exercises can be anything you prefer. You can do intervals of sprinting and jogging. You can do intervals of intensely-paced body weight exercises and slower-paced bodyweight exercises. Intervals can be done on cardio machines like treadmills and stair climbers. You can even do heavy weight lifting combined with light lifting. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you get your heart rate up during the intense intervals and give it a chance to recover a bit during the active rest or rest periods.

Sprint Interval Training

Sprint Interval Training, or SIT, consists of intervals of full-speed sprinting and light jogging. You run as fast as you can for a short period of time and then jog for a longer period of time to allow your heart rate to drop back down to a lower level.

Here's a sample SIT session:

  1. 5 minutes light jogging for warm-up.
  2. 30-seconds full-speed sprinting.
  3. 1 minutes light jogging (or walking).
  4. Repeat full-speed sprinting and light jogging intervals until 20 minutes have passed.
  5. 5 minutes light jogging for cool down.

SIT sessions can be done anywhere you have room to run. You can do them in a park, at your local high school track or even on a treadmill. The key to getting the most out of a SIT session is to push hard during the full-speed intervals. The active rest intervals are designed to allow you to recover a bit, but you won't fully recover before you have to push hard again.

The 4-Minute Tabata Session

A 4-minute workout session that torches fat and improves your cardiovascular health sounds almost too good to be true. Tabata sessions are exactly that. They're 4-minute cardio sessions that have been shown in scientific studies to be highly effective.

Tabata sessions consist of eight rounds of 20-second high-intensity intervals interspersed with 10-second breaks. Here is a template you can use to create a Tabata routine:

  • 20-second intense cardio interval.
  • 10-second rest period.
  • Repeat intervals 8 times.

That's it. 4 minutes of work and you've completed your Tabata session for the day. Not having enough time in the day is no longer a valid excuse for not working out.

Here's a link to a Tabata timer you can use during your 4-minutes sessions:

Why Do Anything Else?

When you first start interval training, even a 4-minute session will leave you exhausted and dripping sweat. While 4 minutes sounds like the perfect workout now, once you've mastered the shorter sessions, you're going to want more. Move on to longer and more intense sessions. Try increasing the length of the intense intervals and shortening the duration of the rest periods.

The goal is to push your body hard during the intense sessions. As your health and cardiovascular ability improves, 4 minutes won't feel like enough. Adjust the length of the intervals accordingly.