Interval training—the key to your best workout and physique


It’s How, not What:  Results in less time with less boredom and whining

Researching articles on how to create the most effective workout routine, I found almost 50 million net hits for what it the best workout and 74+ million for best exercises.  The repetitive responses not only came up short as a compelling plan to inspire action but left me feeling dazed and confused, and I’ve coached and competed for 20 years!


The fashionable advice is to do a workout you like and will do consistently.  Wait.  First things first.  Even if I like the activity or sport, what’s going to kick my buns to do it consistently?  How can I face the same workout again?

Wait, pick me!  I know!  NOT doing the same workout again, right?

Sort of.  Just change the what to how, and you are golden.

You can adhere to almost any training modality if you consider how you do the workout.  It gives you a break and can make a difference in both your consistency and fitness.  What are key roadblocks to working out?  Boredom with the same old thing or lack of time.  So how do you switch it up to get the job done?

Insert interval training.  


Quite simply an interval is a period of time between events.  Remember high school PE class where the only folks who cared about fitness were the PE teachers and a few kids with running genes?  If you couldn’t run a straight mile, the minimum effort expected would be to run the straights and walk the curves four times.  Intervals!  You could grudgingly complete this approach as it was a whole lot easier than running the straight mile and it didn’t take forever.  More rest, less whining.  Same distance?  You bet.


Intervals have potentially large effects on exercise capacity with small time requirement.

Intervals are quick, effective, and easy to self-regulate for all fitness levels, goals, and disciplines. YOU drive the time of effort and rest, although you probably don’t want to bring an air mattress and pillow.  YOU determine how strong or energetic you perform the work, or effort, that particular day.  Intervals let you accommodate your life stuff.

Besides motivating you to do the workout, Intervals provide gobs of benefits:

1)   Leaner body—Research shows  significantly increases both aerobic and anaerobic fitness.  The more aerobically trained you become, the more fat you will use during subsequent exercise sessions.  You decrease body fat percentage and improve body composition.


2) Calorie burn—Studies also indicate interval training is significantly more effective than performing the same total work at a steady-state pace (moderate intensity continuous exercise.).   You will burn more calories since the number of calories used per minute is much greater at a moderate to high intensity than at a low intensity.

3) Explore new activities or sports—If you are doing a new activity or a move you have little interest in but think might be good for you, moderate intensity interval training can be more pleasant than long-haul training.  You could get your feet wet without devoting time to lengthy sessions.

4) Longevity—If you add intervals to your distance routine you may be surprised how your form and enjoyment improve, allowing you to better avoid overuse injuries.


Beginning or re-starting running? your intervals may be walk/brisk walk/repeat for any length of time you choose.  Try fartlek, or speed play.  I like to use easy-fresh-good as my triad to play with speed.  I can move up or down the effort ladder depending on my mood.  Stairs and hill repeats?  Great interval training to boost your force, power.

Lifting weights?  Great news.  First you are going to look fabulous and feel invincible.  Second, strength training is innately a series of intervals.  Lift a few reps, rest, and lift again.  I’ll bet you thought muscle heads lacked grey matter.  Debunked. We lifters don’t do anything continuously:  the work may be challenging at times but it is over quickly!


Swimming?  Bring toys and do fast 50’s, switching from a swim to a pull to a kick.  Do a nice easy 50 in between, focusing on your form and the length or power of your kick.

As with any training approach, if you want more results over time your body will change or improve only when you force it to.  We have to trick the boss, the mind.

Intervals make this trick simple.  Just switch up your work/rest times.  For example, if you’re somewhat out of running shape, initially your 90 seconds might be walking and your 30 seconds brisk walking.  Once you get more fit, your 90 seconds might be jogging and your 30 seconds sprinting.  Want to increase the weight you lift?  Make the rest longer.

Note that the above approach increases one thing at a time only to avoid injury.  If you increase speed on the effort, keep rest the same.  Once that feels comfortable, push outside the comfort zone again and cut the rest in half.

YOU are in control, so enjoy that feeling and stay in the game with intervals, the no-whining training antidote.


Research sources