Beginner’s Guide To Interval Training part 2

Table of Contents

Welcome back to part 2 of my Beginner’s Guide to Interval Training series. I hope that you had a chance to read the first installment and hopefully now, you have a clearer understanding of the benefits that interval training can have in your fitness routine.  In last week’s post, I shared with you 5 Major Benefits of Interval Training and the research studies to back them up.

To continue where we left off, I am going to share with you my own personal secrets to an effective interval workout that I use with all of my current training clients, whom, by the way, get awesome results.

Please enjoy!

Sirena’s Secrets to an Effective Interval Workout

1. Keep your interval workouts under 20 minutes.

In Prof. Boutcher study, his interval group performed 20 minutes of interval training 3 x a week and burned just as many calories as the group that performed 40 minutes of steady state exercise. Which means…

…you can workout in half the time with interval training and burn just as many calories as you would with steady state exercise.

I’ve also found that breaking up the interval workouts in segments, can be just as effective.

For instance, consider doing 3 -4 little cardio “bursts” lasting 3-5 minutes in the middle of a workout, or right after a circuit. This is a great way to fuse your cardio and strength workouts in one, thus making your workouts even more time-efficient.

If you’re telling me that you still can’t find 20 minutes to workout, I’ll first tell you to stop being lazy.

But, if for whatever reason, you can’t find a 20 minute block of time, you can also break up the workout throughout the day —  10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon, can still be highly effective.

2. Keep your “work” intervals (the hard part) under 60 seconds.

Just to recap, interval training is a form of exercise that alternates periods of higher intensity work followed by a period of lower intensity work.

In short, I refer to the higher intensity period as “work” and the lower intensity period as “rest” (even though you aren’t actually “resting” as you will still be moving).

I’ve found that “work” intervals lasting between 10-30 seconds to be the most effective for fat loss…I base this largely on my own personal experience with clients, and what I have actually seen work in real life.

However, to go back to research, high intensity, all out sprinting for 30 seconds on a specialized bike (called a Wingate Test) was the norm for most of the research done on interval training.

Despite the remarkable results found using this 30 second all out effort protocol, I would highly advise against this form of intensity if you are new to interval training and if you do not have a skilled, and experienced fitness professional to guide you.

With this in mind, some researchers have used an 8 second interval, followed by a 12 second rest, or a 24 second interval with a 36 second rest and both found an increase in fat-burning hormones post-workout.

I expand upon how hard you should be working during your intervals, later on in the post…in the meantime, keep reading.

3. Your “rest” interval (the easy part) should be 1.5 – 2 x longer than the work.

interval trainingMeaning, if you decide to do a little treadmill interval workout and plan to do 30 seconds of higher intensity work, your rest (the period of time right afterwards) should be 45- 60 seconds long. (Unless performing Tabata Training, which I will expand upon in part 3 of this series.)

This time is crucial, as it allows your body to briefly recover between your work intervals.

For beginners, I would stick to the 1:2 work/rest ratio until you build up stamina and endurance to start changing the variables.

With more advanced clients, I typically adjust the rest intervals to be a little shorter, while decreasing the amount of intervals.

This allows for a higher intensity workout with less workout volume, which would minimize overtraining and keep the body stimulated.

4.Perform your intervals outside, where the terrain is more challenging.

interval training, hill sprintsStarting your interval training on the treadmill is a safe and easy way to monitor your time and your intensity.

However, as you progress through your workouts and begin to get more fit, you should start to transition your workouts outside to a more challenging terrain.

Not only will the uneven surface of the ground be more challenging, thus increasing the intensity of the intervals, but running or sprinting outside will actually utilize your glutes (butt) and hamstrings more effectively than on the treadmill.

You see, when you are on the treadmill, your hip extensors (predominantly your hamstrings and glutes) are getting some assistance from the moving belt. The treadmill belt that is moving underneath you is actually helping extend your hips behind you, thus taking away some of the movement from your hamstrings and glutes.

Treadmills are even manufactured to have a little give or spring to them as to reduce the impact of your running. This sounds great in theory, however, part of the running process is your body’s ability to naturally brake and push off as you run. The added cushion of the treadmill actually makes it a little harder on your body to do so.

Trust me, I am not a fan of running. However, in terms of effective exercise, short duration and high intensity interval training is my preferred option than steady state, I’m going to go for a run kind of exercise.

Once you have taken it outdoors, the next step would be to incorporate outdoor hill training into your workouts.

5. Start slow and gradually build your way up.

Keep in mind that the intensity of your work is subjective: what is difficult for one person, may be easy for you, so avoid trying to compare what you are doing to the next person or from what is suggested in a magazine or on t.v.

If you are new to interval training, start by sticking to the 1:2 work/rest ratio. If you are finding that you need a little longer of a break between each work interval, by all means take it.

Also, you do not have to start off with running.

You can very easily start with a walk/brisk walk intensity.

Or even hop on a recumbant bike and do intervals where you are pedaling faster and then pedaling slower.

And maybe you start with 5 minutes, or 10 minutes instead of 20.

Chances are, you’ll be doing more than what you are currently doing, which is a step in the right direction.

As long as you are alternating periods of harder exercise with a period of rest, and not going any lower on the 1:2 work/rest ratio, you are going to still reap the benefits of interval training.

And once you get the pattern under your belt, you can start to play around with increasing the intensity, decreasing the rest time, or increasing your total time.

6. Aim to reach 8-9 out of 10 on an RPE scale or 80-90% of your MHR during your “work” intervals.

An RPE scale, or “Rate of Perceived Exertion”, is tool used to help you determine how hard you feel you are working.

As I stated earlier, what is easy for you may be difficult for someone else, so using an RPE scale is a great way for you to gauge the intensity of your workout.

RPE scaleBelow is an example of an RPE scale. This particular model uses a 0-10 system. It’s pretty simple to figure out…

0 – equivalent to sitting on the couch watching t.v. during a snow storm.

10 – equivalent to running for your life from zombies.

So you can see that my 9 out of 10 (what I consider very hard) may be different from what you consider a 9 out of 10.

When you are first starting out with interval training, you may not be sure exactly where to start off. So, use the RPE scale to get you started with a baseline.

Your work intervals should be an 8-9 out of 10 (again, 10 being running for your life from zombies) and your rest should be somewhere between a 3-4.

Like I mentioned earlier, as you get a bit more experience under your belt, you can start to play around with your intensities. Either pushing for a 9-10 for your work intervals, or a 5-6 on your rest intervals.


That wraps up the second post in this series about interval training. Next week, we’ll put it all together and come up with a few interval workouts you can actually do on your own, either at your gym, in your home, outside or even on vacation.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear what you think!

Do you currently use interval workouts in your fitness program? And if so, what do you do?

5 Responses

  1. I totally read your post, and almost immediately went to the gym to do 20 min of intervals. It made my 20 min go by very quickly since it was really only in 20 second bursts (and then 40 seconds rest). Thanks for the motivation and focus in my gym routine!

    1. Of course Gail! I’m so happy that we’ve been working together, and can’t wait to see what kind of results you’ll get with nutrition as well.

      I’m working on your Google Docs workouts too! 😉


  2. I’ve started doing intervals on my commute to work. I was walking at a brisk pace for 35 minutes there and back. I’ve been able to scale it back to 32 minutes by walking a little faster and running across the intersections (safely, I might add). I started doing the intervals from boredom and the occasional ”late” departure in the morning! I love it. I feel good and I’ve whittled my midsection. Great website Sirena! Congrats!

    1. Hi Marie,

      Thanks for the comment and the kind feedback, I really appreciate it. Incorporating the intervals in your daily life is a great way to get more exercise, so way to be! Good call on on the intersections, although in Boston, running acoss the street is almost a necessity!

      Thanks again for reading, I’ll be posting part 3 of this series with exercises you can do at the gym or at home as well.



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