Man running on road
Weight Loss

Interval Training

We all know adding exercise to your weight loss program is essential. Too often I hear one reason or another why it can’t be done-I don’t have the equipment. I don’t have the time. I don’t know how.

Every Tuesday we share an exercise– all examples of how to easily resolve these obstacles. The exercises require hardly any space or equipment and can be done in just a few minutes throughout the day. 

But now research shows another amazing way to get the benefits in less time, through interval training. These are workouts in which high intensity activities are intermingled with low intensity periods of recovery. Studies show this form of exercise burns more calories and promotes overall fitness in a shorter period of time than doing the same thing over and over again.

In one study, just two weeks of interval training increased fat oxidation and led to a 28.5% greater reduction in total absolute fat mass than a routine, moderate exercise routine. It also was an effective way to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease by improving glucose control, decreasing abdominal fat and increasing lower body muscle mass.

And the best part? It doesn’t require huge investments of time. Most exercise advocates stress duration. The CDC recommends at least 180 to 300 minutes (3-5 hours) a week of moderate intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 1/2 hours) a week of high intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of the two. But few actually meet these guidelines.

Interval training alternates short periods of high intensity, with longer periods of lower intensity activities. This cycle of work and rest is repeated several times. The intervals can be adjusted as desired, with the rule of thumb being the shorter the interval time, the more intense it should be. Duration isn’t the key, intensity is. Get your heart rate up and sustain it for 15 seconds or more. 

Training using this method is effective because the short bursts of high intensity exercises decrease oxygen levels within the muscles, forcing them to get energy from alternative resources. That’s when they start burning the stored sugar within fat to get the energy required to sustain the workout. As those stores are depleted, muscles will seek out additional energy by utilizing glucose anywhere it can be found. This requires insulin, and over time forces the body to become more insulin efficient. When insulin levels are high, burning fat is much more difficult. By increasing sensitivity to lower insulin levels we are able to jump start our own fat burning processes. The benefits actually outlast the workout because the body continues to burn calories in order to make up for the resulting oxygen debt.

Interval training is easy and effective because it can be done anytime, anywhere, with no additional equipment. It is important to note that because interval training is tougher on the body, it carries a risk of injury and greater cardiovascular risk so always clear with your provider before beginning.

Apply the concept to any type of activity such as hiking, walking, running, bicycling, or swimming. The goal is to raise the heart rate to at least 70% of the maximum heart rate recommended, followed by periods of rest ranging from a few seconds to eight minutes. To figure this out just subtract your age from 220 – for example, if you’re 50 years old your maximum recommended heart rate would be 170 beats per minute (bpm). So 70% would be 119 bpm. Recovery periods should then last as long as is needed to allow a person’s heart rate return to 50% maximum or less, in this case 85 bpm.

In order to maximize workout periods, aim for a 1:4 ratio: If your high intensity interval is one minute, then allow a full four minutes for recovery because it takes that long for the body to prepare for the next push, otherwise the next interval won’t be as effective.
Studies show performance starts to diminish 15 to 30 seconds into a high intensity interval because muscles don’t get enough oxygen, and lactic starts to builds up. This is what makes your muscles ache after a workout. In order to train your body to use oxygen more efficiently, start with 15-second intervals and add 15 seconds every week or month until you hit one minute.

The benefits continue well after the workout has ended because our bodies are still consuming extra oxygen, rebuilding muscles, and replenishing fuel stores-all of which burn calories. Facilitate the recovery process by continuing to move after the workout is finished. Walk for a few minutes, gently stretch muscle groups, and move around every 30 to 60 minutes for the next several hours.

Easy exercise examples

Try Tabata training. The goal is to push as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds and repeat 8 times. Tabata training is a great time saver that can improve both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.

Run hard, do burpees, push ups, squat thrusts, for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of walking are examples of interval exercises that can be performed at home.

Interval training such as running sprints is more effective for weight loss than continuous, moderate exercise like brisk walking or biking under 10 miles per hour over long distances. Alternating four minutes of jogging with 30 seconds of all-out sprints.

Other workouts can incorporate hill climbing and varying the length of sprinting and running intervals as well as the number of sets performed. 

If you’re lifting weights, perform several exercises one after the other, without a break, before resting or slowing the pace. Do this in four to five intervals.

Whatever program you choose adding a few stops and starts can increase the value and improve results. 


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