What is interval training and why you might be doing it?

What is interval training and why you might be doing it
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Interval Training

If you are one of those who think that spending hours and hours running at the same speed on the treadmill is the best way to lose weight, it is time to rethink your training. There is a much more practical (but also much more intense) way to spend less time training and be more effective. We present your interval training.

A sporty woman performing a High Intensity Interval Training

Can a 20-minute routine be as effective as a 45-minute routine? Yes, and it all depends on the intensity with which you work. If you do quick workouts where you put in a short, significant effort followed by a few seconds of rest, yes, you’re already doing interval training. Why does this type of training work, and how is it done?

What is interval training?

As its name suggests, interval training consists of interspersing high intensity (very high intensity) intervals with others to calm you down. Suppose we reach certain values in the work intervals ​​(80% of the maximum VO2, which we can translate into very high pulsations, so we all understand it, and that depends on each person’s physical condition). In that case, we can speak of HIIT or high-intensity interval training.

Interval Training exercises performed by a woman

This type of training is very intense and lasts a short time: we will not maintain it for more than 20 or 30 minutes due to the great effort involved. But it’s as effective or more than a 45-minute relaxed pace cardio workout. Let’s see why.

Why does interval training work?

Interval training works by making us burn calories, lose fat, and maintain our muscle mass due to an effect known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) or high post-exercise oxygen consumption. This effect means that once we have finished our interval training, our body continues to need a lot of energy to recover from the effort: thus, our metabolism remains higher than usual (demanding calories) up to 48 or even 72 hours later.

Compared to a cardio session at a constant speed, we can say that with conventional cardio, we burn calories only while we are training (once we have finished, our body does not need to cover that excess oxygen consumption because we have performed an aerobic activity). In contrast, with interval training, our body continues to burn energy (calories) many hours later, even though we are not doing any physical activity (it needs to cover the oxygen debt that we have generated through anaerobic exercise).

How do you do interval training?

There are different ways to do high-intensity interval training based on different patterns. Perhaps the best known is the Tabata method: it involves very intense workouts lasting 4 minutes divided into intervals of 20 seconds of hard work and 10 seconds of recovery, repeated eight times.

To reach the high intensity required by these workouts, it is best to use exercises involving many muscle groups, increasing our heart rate. Among these exercises, we can include running sprints, jump squats, jump scissors, burpees, box jumps, climbers, or mountain-climbers. These exercises can either be combined, or we can dedicate a Tabata to them. 

Here are a couple of examples of Tabata training that you can do at home or in a park.

Sprint Running Tabata Exercise

  • 00:00 – 00:20: Running sprint at full speed
  • 00:20 – 00:30: Break
  • 00:30 – 00:50: Running sprint at full speed
  • 00:50 – 01:00: Break
  • 01:00 – 01:20: Running sprint at full speed
  • 01:20 – 01:30: Break
  • 01:30 – 01:50: Running sprint at full speed
  • 01:50 – 02:00: Break
  • 02:00 – 02:20: Running sprint at full speed
  • 02:20 – 02:30: Break
  • 02:30 – 02:50: Running sprint at full speed
  • 02:50 – 03:00: Break
  • 03:00 – 03:20: Running sprint at full speed
  • 03:20 – 03:30: Break
  • 03:30 – 03:50: Running sprint at full speed
  • 03:50 – 04:00: Break

Squat and Jump Tabata

  • 00:00 – 00:20: Jump squats
  • 00:20 – 00:30: Break
  • 00:30 – 00:50: Knees to chest
  • 00:50 – 01:00: Break
  • 01:00 – 01:20: Jump squats
  • 01:20 – 01:30: Break
  • 01:30 – 01:50: Knees to chest
  • 01:50 – 02:00: Break
  • 02:00 – 02:20: Jump squats
  • 02:20 – 02:30: Break
  • 02:30 – 02:50: Knees to chest
  • 02:50 – 03:00: Break
  • 03:00 – 03:20: Jump squats
  • 03:20 – 03:30: Break
  • 03:30 – 03:50: Knees to chest
  • 03:50 – 04:00: Break

Is interval training for me?

A woman is performing Tabata

Now, is high-intensity interval training for everyone? There are a few reservations: it is not suitable if you are new to exercise in general. It requires good physical condition, nor if you are overweight or obese or if you have cardiovascular problems. In these cases, it is best to seek advice from a professional who supervises our physical activity and guides us as to what we need.

A lighter option may be to perform the high-intensity intervals at a slightly lower level without actually training maximum effort intervals. The effect will be less, but it is an excellent way to get used to our body to demand a little more.

Of course, this type of training (and any other) will help us lose weight as long as it is performed in the context of a hypocaloric diet where we create an adequate calorie deficit that allows us to lose kilos while maintaining a healthy diet.