Interval training works because it maximizes your time, as interval workouts are tough but pretty quick.

By Jason R. Karp, Ph.D. and Colleen Travers
Updated May 29, 2019
Close up of unrecognizable athletic woman having sports training with kettle bell.
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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 interval training workouts is that there's no single hard-and-fast rule. Different lengths of work and recovery bring different benefits-and they're all good. (There are even HIIT apps.)

These workouts and exercise ideas can help you get started with your own interval training. 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 them to your routine. Once you're ready? Add these interval training workouts or exercises to your gym routine once a week to burn more calories, boost your overall fitness level, and get in and out of the gym faster. That's a win-win-win.

Interval Training Workout #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.
  • 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.

Interval Training Workout #2: Sprint Work

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.

Interval Training Workout #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.

Interval Training Exercises to Add to Your Workouts

Figure 8 Lunge

These alternating lunges zone in on your quads and glutes, giving you serious strength and definition.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding handle of kettlebell in left hand, arms by sides.
  • Lunge forward with right leg, bending both knees 90 degrees, and pass kettlebell under right thigh to grab handle with right hand.
  • Pushing off right heel, return to start position.
  • Repeat, lunging forward with left leg and passing kettlebell under thigh to left hand.
  • Continue, alternating sides, for 1 minute.

360-Degree Toe Tap

Trade in trekking along on the treadmill for some soccer drill-inspired cardio that has cardiovascular and circulation benefits, to boot.

How to do it:

  • Place medicine ball on ground in front of you.
  • Alternately tap toes of left and right foot on top of ball, moving around it as fast as you can until you've made a complete circle.
  • Continue for 1 minute (or 30 taps), changing direction with each rotation.

Duck-and-Punch

This move mixes cardio and muscle-shaping strength work in one. Squeeze your glutes to add resistance to each squat, helping you burn calories with controlled movements.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet wide, toes turned out slightly, elbows bent by sides, fists near chin.
  • Lower into a squat and, keeping fists near chin, hinge forward from hips until torso is near parallel to floor; then fluidly sweep torso to the right as you straighten up (as if ducking a punch).
  • Return to center squat and repeat, this time ducking to the left.
  • Continue alternating sides for 45 seconds.

Burpee Box Jump

Combine these two CrossFit cult favorites for killer core and glute work. (BTW, here's how to do a burpee the right way.)

How to do it:

  • Stand behind box and squat, placing palms shoulder-width apart on floor in front of feet.
  • Jump feet back into full plank position.
  • Quickly jump both feet forward near hands.
  • From squat position, jump onto box (step closer to box first if necessary).
  • Jump back down from box and repeat. Do 14 reps.

Single-Leg Mountain Climbers

By isolating each leg in these sets, you'll combine strength training, cardio, and core work.

How to do it:

  • Start in full plank position, balancing on palms and toes, body forming a straight line.
  • Pull left knee in toward chest, keeping right leg extended.
  • Keeping palms planted firmly on ground and left knee tucked into chest, jump right leg forward.
  • Jump right leg back to full plank position.
  • Continue hopping forward and back with right leg for 30 seconds.
  • Switch legs for second set.

X-Jump to X-Plank

Alternate between high and low jumping jacks to fire up your muscles and metabolism in under a minute flat. Make sure to engage your abs as you drop down to your plank for a little bonus burn.

How to do it:

  • Stand, feet together, then squat, crossing wrists in front of knees.
  • Jump up, sweeping arms overhead and bringing legs out wide (body forms an X).
  • Land in squat, place palms on floor in front of you shoulder-width apart and jump feet back so that legs are wide (in a modified plank).
  • Hop both feet forward between hands; repeat, doing X jump. Continue for 30 seconds.

Plié Squat Jump

Use power from your thighs to launch up and land softly in a plié squat to hit your lower-body hard. (And consider some "squat therapy" to get your form down.)

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out.
  • Lower into a deep plié squat with hands clasped in front of chest.
  • Jump as high as you can, tapping heels together in midair. Land with knees soft in plié squat position.
  • Repeat for 45 seconds.

Sidewinder

This move revs your metabolism, sculpts your shoulders, and works the biceps-with your own body weight.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then lower into a squat, placing palms on floor in front of feet.
  • Kick your legs out to the side, as if you're doing a side burpee.
  • Return to the center, stand up, and repeat on the other side.

Double Snap Kick

By pulling your abs in tight, you'll work your core, outer thighs, and glutes all at once.

How to do it:

  • Stand with feet staggered, right foot forward, hands in fists near chin.
  • Bend left knee, bringing heel toward butt as you turn hips to left so that left hip is stacked above right.
  • Leaning your torso back slightly to counterbalance, kick out with left leg, straightening knee with toes pointed.
  • Without lowering leg, bend left knee again (bringing heel toward butt) and do another snap kick, attempting to kick slightly higher than the first kick.
  • Touch floor briefly with left foot and repeat. Do 10 to 15 double kicks. Switch sides and repeat.

Zigzag

Do three sets of one minute each, aiming to beat your last set every single time. Don't have a jump rope? Use a rolled up towel or no equipment at all, jump back and forth from a fixed point to get the same results.

How to do it:

  • Straighten jump rope on floor.
  • Stand with feet together to right of rope at one end, facing opposite end.
  • Jump diagonally to left side of rope, keeping feet together, then quickly jump diagonally to right side of rope.
  • Continue hopping forward in zigzag pattern until you reach other end.
  • Reverse jumps back to start. Continue jumping forward and backward for 1 minute.
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