The Skinny on Interval Training

Ask the Expert

Q:

What's interval training and should I be doing it?


A:

Interval training breaks up your exercise output into sections of less-intense effort alternated with bursts of intense activity—all in the same workout session.

Athletes have long used this training technique to improve performance while reducing muscle soreness. Studies show that interval training also benefits the average person who is looking to lose weight and get fit.

Interval training helps you:

  • Burn calories: You do this by increasing the intensity of your workout, even for just 30 seconds to a few minutes. You will burn more calories and keep your metabolism higher for a longer time after you stop exercising.

  • Boost aerobic capacity: When you get your heart pumping a little faster for short periods, then slow it down for a "recovery phase," you can increase your aerobic capacity. Over time, this lets you sustain a more intense exercise level, which supports your calorie-burning potential.

  • Increase endurance: By changing intensity during your workout, you can exercise for a longer time than if you worked at your maximum intensity throughout.

  • Avoid boredom: Changing intensity adds variety to your workout.

Athletes and serious fitness buffs sometimes use a heart-rate monitor to calculate intensity and interval length. You don't need fancy equipment-just increase your exercise intensity for a bit during your workout and then return to your normal exertion level.

Here's one way to do that:

  • If you usually take a brisk walk around the block for 30 minutes, try a slow jog for one minute followed by two minutes of walking, and repeat.
  • With a five-minute warm-up, you can work up to seven or eight of these cycles within your usual 30-minute session.
  • Cool down with a slower-paced walk afterward.

You can also try picking up your pace between certain physical markers, such as mailboxes or traffic lights, then return to your normal pace.

Interval training can be applied to almost any activity. It works well with walking, running, biking or swimming. If you have existing health problems, such as heart-related conditions or asthma, or have not been exercising regularly, consult your doctor before starting interval training.

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