What Is Interval Training? Examples and Tips for Success

Updated June 16, 2022
Woman exercising with agility ladder

Interval training is any kind of exercise that involves short bursts of work followed by a short segment of rest. Each work or rest segment is called an interval. Intervals are usually timed or involve a specific distance and are repeated several times for the duration of the workout. The goal of interval training is to improve athletic performance by challenging yourself in short manageable bursts.

Interval training can involve physical activity at any intensity level, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has become very popular because of its ability to provide an effective workout in a short period of time. It is a form of exercise that combines periods of intense work with periods of lower level activity or rest to improve your endurance, speed, and ability to burn fat.

Interval Training Examples

Almost any type of exercise can be made into high intensity interval training by choosing the distance or amount of time to "work" along with the distance and time for recovery. Then, you alternate between work and rest several times. Remember to start each workout with a short 3-5 minute warm up and conclude with a five-minute cooldown.

Walking/Jogging Intervals

Transform your typical steady state walk or run by incorporating sprints on a treadmill or outdoors.

  • Jog or walk at a more comfortable pace for three minutes.
  • Sprint for 60 seconds.
  • Perform five to ten cycles or continue until you've completed two or three miles. Total workout time will depend on your fitness level and running speed.

Hill Repeats

Running up a hill is an activity that is almost always high intensity. Hills require an uptick in speed and quad engagement to make it to the top. Downhill and flat areas are great for recovery because they put less strain on your muscles. Each time you climb up and run back down equals one "hill repeat." You can do hill repeats on one hill (up and down the same hill for the duration of the workout) or on a series of hills.

  • Complete eight to ten repeats. (Do more if the hill is short and fewer if the hill is long.)
  • Rest for two to three minutes, then go for one or two more rounds.

Swimming

Swimming is perfect for those who want a lower impact interval workout. There are two ways to get a good interval workout in the pool.

  • Swim a length of the pool at top speed, followed by a lap at a more leisurely pace.
  • Alternate between swimming hard for 60 seconds and resting for 60. This is a better option for beginners and for those swimming in larger pools.

Running Stairs

Dominate the stairs at home or at your local high school stadium. This workout is simple.

  1. Run up the stairs as fast as you can.
  2. Run down the stairs at a moderate pace.
  3. Complete ten to fifteen rounds.

Tip: At the stadium, make this workout more interesting by jogging one lap around the track between rounds.

Jumping Rope

The jump rope is a lightweight piece of equipment you can take anywhere. That, along with its record of being a great cross-discipline conditioning exercise, make it an ideal tool for interval training. Use it as a full workout or as a warmup.

  • Jump rope for one to three minutes, depending on your level of fitness.
  • Rest for 60 seconds.
  • Repeat this cycle for five to ten minutes.

Weight Training Circuits

This interval training example builds muscle rather than improving speed or aerobic endurace. A weight training circuit is also a great way to get in shape.

  • Choose a set of three to five of your favorite muscular strength exercises.
  • Complete each one back to back for a total of 45 to 60 seconds.
  • Once you've completed all the exercises, rest for a full minute.

Tip: Beginners should rest for fifteen seconds between each exercise to avoid overexertion.

Plyometric Interval Exercises

Plyometrics are exercises that involve jumping or propulsion. Box jumps, for example, are a plyometric exercise. Plyometrics are often used to train for sports, such as basketball, volleyball, or soccer. Sports like these naturally lend themselves to interval work, with periods of sprinting across a court or down the field alongside moments of slower-paced play. Because of this, plyometric intervals can be a key component of a player's workout regimen.

Ladder Drills

Ladder drills incorporate an agility ladder to increase foot speed. A common technique is to move your feet to the outside of the rungs then to the inside of the rungs in each box as quickly as possible while moving down the ladder. This is called "Two in, two out." You have two options.

  • Run down the ladder 10 times, then rest for a minute.
  • Complete your ladder run for 60 seconds, then rest for a minute.
  • Repeat the cycle three times.

Mountain Climbers

Mountain climbers combine core work , specifically the chest and abdominals, with cardio. It's a simple move to perform. All you have to do is lower into a high plank position and draw your knees toward your chest as fast as you can.

  • Climb for 30 seconds or complete a total of 50 climbers, 25 on the right and 25 on the left.
  • Rest for 15 seconds.
  • Repeat five times for a comprehensive workout.

Tips to Start Interval Training

With a few simple tweaks, it's easy to incorporate interval training into your fitness routine. Start by swapping one of your typical workouts with a modified routine that includes one of the options listed. Doing so will challenge your body so you burn more fat, increase your cardio endurance, and gain more speed and agility. If you like it, make interval training a regular part of your workout regimen, two or three times a week.

Keep in mind, however, that interval training challenges your body and you'll need time to rebuild and recover. Try not to do interval training on back to back days. Try to schedule a rest day or an easy to moderate workout on the day following your interval workout. Giving your body a chance to recover and rebuild will help you to avoid burnout and stay on track with your fitness goals.

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