What is interval training?

January 14, 2012

Q: I have read many times that interval training is one of the best ways to burn fat. Can you explain to me exactly what interval training is? Also I would appreciate it if you could give a couple examples of interval training routines that can be done in the gym or possibly outside that you have found to be most effective. Any feedback will be appreciated.

A: Interval training means training at two or more different intensities during a cardiovascular workout. The idea is to start with a level that’s challenging and increase the intensity to a level or levels that are much more challenging for a short period of time. A good example would be jogging at about 65 percent for 2 1/2 minutes and then running at 85 percent for 30 seconds. Interval training can be used with all sorts of exercises and time splits, but for the sake of illustrating a point I’ll use 2 1/2-minute intervals.

Elliptical intervals
Choose the manual program and find a level that’s difficult but can be done for a period of 15-30 minutes. Begin working out at a normal pace for 2 1/2 minutes, then increase the intensity to a more difficult level for 30 seconds, and when the 30 seconds are up, decrease the intensity by bringing it back to the original pace. Repeat the process every 2 1/2 minutes until the session is over.

Treadmill intervals
I use three main treadmill interval routines depending on the client’s level of fitness.

For a beginner I’d suggest starting with a walking incline interval. This means you’ll start walking on an incline at a pace that’s challenging for 2 1/2 minutes and then switch the machine to an incline that’s much more difficult for 30 seconds.

For intermediates I recommend walking/jogging intervals. Start by walking for 2 1/2 minutes and then turn up the speed to a light jog for 30 seconds.

More experienced clients start with a stiff jog for 2 1/2 minutes and then increase the speed to a brisk run for 30 seconds. Repeat the process until all the sessions are finished.

Jump rope intervals are a great way to add some variety to your routine. Most gyms supply ropes, but if not, jump ropes are cheap and easy to cart around. Once you get your hands on one, start by jumping at a normal pace for 2 1/2 minutes and then go 15 percent faster for 30 seconds. Repeat the process as many times as needed to finish the session.

Wind sprints
This one brings me back to my days of football, when my coaches mercilessly lined us up and made us run back and forth till we felt like we were going to drop. What I didn’t realize then was in addition to getting us in shape for the fourth quarter, sprints are an excellent way to burn fat.

To perform sprints, pick a distance between 40 and 100 yards, line up and run as fast as you can until you reach the finish line. Rest approximately 40-60 seconds and sprint back to the starting point. Repeat sprints for the desired amount of reps, and rest assured you’ll get a great workout.

Jogging intervals
To add a little intensity to my running routines, I like to play a game called pole to pole. This basically means jogging at a normal pace until reaching a telephone pole and then sprinting until I reach the next pole. This game obviously works best on straightaways where poles are spread out evenly, but you can use any object as a reference point to make it work.

Stair/hill running
To perform this type of interval training, you will have to find a large hill or staircase. The idea is to run up the incline in controlled, explosive bursts; take your time and walk or jog back down to the starting point and then run back to the top again. Living in Delaware doesn’t provide many opportunities for running up hills, so you may have to search for some type of man-made incline or settle for a large set of stairs.

Interval training is an excellent way to burn fat, because it forces the body to work through a variety of heart rate zones, never allowing it to get used to the pace.

It’s important to remember to start slowly. Don’t start using interval training until you develop a strong foundation and basic cardio workouts become easier.

Once the gloves are off, try one of the above workouts. You’ll be surprised at the results.

  • Chris Antonio is a personal trainer and former world-class weightlifter. He has been lifting for more than 20 years and has trained a wide variety of clients ranging from All-American athletes to the average person trying to get into shape. To send a question to the Ask the Trainer column, email Chris at or check out

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