Fitness Tips & Tricks

Interval Training: A Beginner’s Guide

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By Lauren Rao, M.Ed., AT, ATC, CSCS

Want to amp up your workout or torch more calories without increasing your gym time? Interval training could be your best ally. This style of workout involves interspersing short bursts of activity with periods of rest – and it comes with numerous benefits.

Interval Training Explained

Whether you’re lifting weights or training for a marathon, interval training offers your body a chance to recover so it can perform at maximum capacity again.

The gist: Alternate 30 to 60 seconds of maximum effort with 2 to 3 minutes of low-intensity activity. If you’ve been sedentary, you can alternate between a brisk walk and a more leisurely stroll. More fit? Intersperse slow jogging with fast sprints. Try to keep the low-intensity intervals very low and then really turn up your effort on the high-intensity intervals.

You can use a stopwatch to switch between bursts or simply pinpoint landmarks to signify a change of pace (lampposts, street signs and park benches all work great).

The Perks of Intervals

Whether you’re new to exercise or a fitness buff with years of experience, incorporating interval training into your workout can lead to a variety of benefits, including these:

  1. Push your limits. By switching between high- and low-intensity activity, you’ll teach your body to perform at max capacity.
  1. Torch more calories. Since interval training requires you to push yourself until you tire out, you’ll burn more calories in less time.
  1. Work your heart. Interval training helps build endurance. As your heart health improves, you’ll notice you can work out longer and harder. So if you’ve been running an 8-minute mile at a steady pace, you may begin running a 7-minute mile with interval training.
  1. Stave off boredom. Intervals help keep your workouts interesting. Instead of doing the same thing at the same pace for 30 minutes at a stretch, you’re able to mix up your exercise routine and even rest a bit.
  1. Increase Accountability. Since intervals require you reach a certain milestone (20 pushups, 1 mile or 1 minute of hard work), they’re designed to help you best yourself. Let’s say you’re trying to complete as many shoulder presses as you can in 30 seconds. If you hit 20 in the first round, you’ll probably push yourself to hit at least 20 at every interval.

Intervals Drilled Down

Most people view intervals in seconds or minutes, but you can customize your workout to suit your desires. Maybe you want to vary your exercise routine with circuits that alternate cardiovascular activity and weights. Or maybe you want to switch between high-intensity stair climbing and walking at a moderate pace. Whatever your preference, you can come up with a way to work intervals into it.

Related Topic: The Benefits of Setting Fitness Goals

Striving to achieve a specific goal? A personal trainer can help you determine a set schedule, including specific intensity and durations for your intervals. And a trainer will teach you how to modify those time intervals as you become more fit.

No matter what your goals are, if you have physical limitations or injuries, talk to your doctor before you begin interval training.

Visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936) to schedule an appointment with a doctor or one of our athletic trainers.

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