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Interval Training: Short Workouts That Really Pay Off

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Interval Training: Short Workouts That Really Pay Off
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Less time in the gym doesn't mean you have to sacrifice fitness if you know this secret: Interval training. Research shows that interval training—workouts in which you alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods—increases fitness and burns more calories over a short period of time than steady-state cardio (you know: just doing the same thing for your whole workout time).

So how do you get the most out of interval training, and how long should each push and recovery be? One of the many great things about intervals is that there's no single hard-and-fast rule. Different lengths of work and recovery bring different benefits—and they're all good.

Start with these three interval training plans. Just know this: Interval training is tough, so if you're just starting to work out, spend a few weeks to a month building your stamina with cardio workouts before adding interval training to your routine. Add these interval training plans to your gym routine once a week to burn more calories, build more fitness, and get out of the gym faster.

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1. Cardio Blaster
This is one of the best interval training workouts you can do to improve fitness. It burns lots of calories in a short amount of time.
How to do it:
•Warm up for 15 minutes.
•Then run, bike, or row for 3 minutes at 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate (should feel like 8.5 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10). Take 3 minutes active recovery (you're still moving, but at an easy pace) and repeat the 3 on/3 off pattern 3 to 4 more times.
•Finish with a 10-minute cooldown.
Bonus benefit: This workout is like weight training for your heart—it strengthens your cardiovascular system, which improves your overall health.

2. Speedplay
Sprinting is great for tightening and toning your legs, glutes, and core. It increases your muscle power, which helps you push harder and makes your non-interval training workouts feel easier so you can challenge yourself and burn even more calories.
How to do it:
•Warm up for 15 minutes, adding a few 20-second bursts at the end to prepare for the workout.
•Run, bike, or row for 30 seconds at a nearly all-out effort. Take 3 minutes active recovery and repeat the 30 on/3 off pattern 5 or 6 more times.
•Finish with a 10-minute cooldown.
Bonus benefit: Because of its very high intensity, this workout is very short.

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3. Cardio-Sprint Pyramid
This adds sprint interval training for a fast and fun workout. Here, after each burst of hard work, you'll recover for the same amount of time.
How to do it:
•Warm up for 15 minutes, adding a few 20-second bursts at the end to prepare for the workout.
•Run, bike, or row: During the work periods, you should have a rate of perceived exertion (RPE of 8 to 10, followed by 30 seconds of active recovery.

Build and taper the workout like this:
30 seconds sprint/30 seconds recover
1 minute sprint/1 minute recover
2 minutes sprint/2 minutes recover
4 minutes sprint/4 minutes recover
2 minutes sprint/2 minutes recover
1 minute sprint/1 minute recover
30 seconds sprint/30 seconds recover

•Finish with a 10-minute cooldown.
Bonus benefit: This major calorie-burning interval training plan gives you the best of both worlds—high-octane cardio and muscle-sculpting sprints.

Jason Karp, Ph.D., is an exercise physiologist, a nationally-recognized running coach and founder of Dr. Karp's Run-Fit Boot Camp in San Diego. He is the author of 101 Developmental Concepts and Workouts for Cross Country Runners and the forthcoming Women's Running Bible.

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