Interval Workout Basics

Interval Workout BasicsInterval training is one of the most effective ways to get fitter and burn more calories. The concept is simple and works for any piece of home fitness equipment. Constantly varying the intensity and anticipating your next recovery or push makes these workouts fly by. Increasing post workout demands for recovery, burns calories even after your training session ends. If you’d like to break out from preprogrammed settings and create your own customized workout, here are a few basic ways to include intervals in your workout routine.

Hills/Resistance: Whether you’re running or walking on your treadmill or elliptical, you can increase the incline to up the intensity without increasing the impact on your joints. Increasing resistance also works well for indoor cycles, mimicking the challenges of outdoor terrain. Increase your incline for one to two minutes, followed by recovery periods of approximately two minutes. This simple workout will get your heart pounding and improve your core strength while also training your quads and glutes to meet the demands of your summer activities.

Speed: Using your home fitness equipment for steady cardio sessions results in training your slow twitch (i.e. endurance) potential. Adding speed to train your fast twitch muscle fibers has a lot of benefits, including power for short periods of demanding exercise (like moving furniture or a round of summer softball) and increased calorie burn to maintain these metabolically hungry muscle fibers. You can build in brief periods of sprinting on your treadmill, elliptical or indoor bike to give you some of the benefits of a speed workout, without the wear and tear on your joints.

Heart Rate: With Polar Heart Rate monitors integrated into consoles of treadmills, ellipticals and exercise bikes, this is a remarkably easy way to gauge the intensity of your workouts. Design your own intervals on the fly by using speed and resistance to increase your effort, bringing your heart rate to at least 85% of your maximum. Alternate these pushes with recovery periods, returning your heart rate to below 70% of your maximum. Using heart rate rather than time ensures that your body is fully recovering during the easier periods of your workout and that you are pushing sufficiently during the hard periods, making your workouts more effective and keeping you strong to the finish.

Just one session per week will let you gain the benefits of interval training. As you adapt, shoot for two to four sessions per week. It’s easy to over train, so keep a recovery day between interval sessions to avoid injury and exhaustion. Enjoy your next workout and the benefits of interval workouts in your training plan!


Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor, and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin. To find out more, visit the Meet Our Writers page.

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