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An Introduction to Interval Training | Less Time, More Results

Posted by Jon Lanman on
An Introduction to Interval Training | Less Time, More Results

Making time for exercise is seldom easy. If you had all the time in the world, you could set up camp in you local gym with the rest of the gym rats, and pump iron until you look like Hercules. But, most of us don’t have time for that. And even if we did, there are more enjoyable things than hanging out in the gym.

Instead, most of us want to minimize our time investment, while maximizing our results. That’s because time is the greatest asset we have in life. We can trade it in for cash, experience, relationships and even fitness. But we only have so much time - so we need to allocate it appropriately with our values, make sure we’re getting a good return on our investment, and make sure our time investment is sustainable.

Is Your Workout Schedule Sustainable?

There’s a simple way to answer this question. Do you have a workout schedule? If so, are you consistently sticking to it? If not, then your workout schedule probably isn’t sustainable. If you don’t have a schedule, that’s not too sustainable either.

The reason we struggle to maintain a workout schedule is because we have tons of competing items for our time. We have kids, family, friends, work, school… the list goes on. And, if your exercise schedule requires you to spend an hour in the gym, it’s a time-suck.If you’re busy and overwhelmed, that one hour gym session becomes the easiest thing to cut and make more time for yourself.

But, what if you could reduce that time investment? Could you commit to 30 minutes in the gym? 20 minutes? 12 minutes doing a home workout?

If you reduce your time investment, can you increase your level of commitment, and increase the sustainability of your workout schedule?

I think you can. And, I think you can do it without sacrificing results. In fact, you might even be able to reduce your amount of time, while also increasing results.

Intensity Vs Time

Fitness professionals and trainers think a lot about intensity and time. That’s because their two of the most important levers in the fitness formula. They also tend to share an inverse relationship. Let’s look at an example.

If you want to lose weight, you have to burn calories, right? To do so, you can do a variety of activities. If you do a low intensity activity like walking, it’s going to take a long time to burn those calories, because you’re burning them at a lower rate. But, if you were to do a high intensity activity like sprints, you would burn those calories at a higher rate, therefore requiring less time.

This intensity vs time relationship is reflected in the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) recommended weekly exercise guidelines. The ACSM recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. But, if you’re doing high intensity exercise, that recommendation drops by 50 percent to 75 minutes per week.

So, you can reduce your exercise time, if you increase your intensity.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT training is all the rage these days because it takes a less is more kind of approach to exercise. What it lacks in time though, it makes up for in intensity. So, let’s flesh out and define a few things.

What is High Intensity?

The ACSM separates exercise into three different categories of intensity: low, moderate, and high. There are a few different ways intensity can be measured, but for most of us layman it’s easiest to go off your heart rate.

First, you need to estimate your maximum heart rate. A simple way to do this is to take 220- Your Age. So, if you’re 40 years old you’ll end up with 220-40= 180. The estimated maximum heart rate for this person is 180 beats per minute. Keep in mind, this is a loose estimate. To get a more accurate number, you’d need to have an exercise test performed in a clinical setting.

The ACSM defines high intensity as exercise that falls between your 80-95% of your maximum heart rate. So, if your maximum heart rate is 180, you’d multiply that by 0.80, and 0.95 to get a heart rate range of 144-171 beats per minute. If your heart rate is within that range while your exercising, it’s then considered high intensity.

What’s an Interval?

Intervals consist of alternating periods of exercising intensity. In HIIT this often involves alternating between periods of high intensity and low intensity exercise. This allows you to push your body at a high intensity for a short burst of activity, and then allow for a recovery period performed at low intensity, before performing a repeated interval at the high intensity level.

You can create your own intervals pretty easily, starting out with a time allotment for each interval. For instance, you could create an interval of walking and sprinting, that allows for 1 minute of walking, followed by 30 seconds of sprinting, and then repeat. As you become more comfortable you can increase the ratio of sprinting to walking. Alternatively, if you’re jogging, you you could do 2 minutes of jogging, followed by 30 seconds of sprinting.

Just remember that when you’re creating your intervals, you should make sure you’re reaching 80-95% of your heart rate max, in order for it to be considered HIIT.

Tabata Training

Tabata is one of the simplest HIIT methods, because it consists of a very basic structure. Each Tabata is 4 minutes long. It’s quick, and intense with minimal breaks.

Here’s the basic formula of a Tabata.

  • Each exercise is performed for 20 seconds
  • There’s a 10 second break in-between each exercise
  • This is repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes.

You can do Tabata with pretty much any exercise. So, let’s say you want to work your core. You can throw some mountain climbers into the Tabata formula and you’ll end up doing 8 20 second cardio pumping bursts of mountain climbers. It’s amazing what you can accomplish in 4 minutes.

You can also get creative, and include two different exercises into your Tabata. As an example, you could switch between mountain climbers and plank. That would look like this:

  • 20 seconds of mountain climbers
  • 10 seconds of break
  • 20 seconds of plank
  • 10 seconds of break
  • Repeat the above routine 4 times for a total of 4 minutes.

A Sample 20 Minute Tabata Circuit

Okay, let’s say you want to get a workout but you only have 20 minutes, and you want to do your workout at home. No problem. Here’s a quick full body Tabata workout, that will leave you completely worked in 20 minutes.


Start with a light warmup for about 2-3 minutes. You can do this by marching in place, or doing jumping jacks. You should feel your muscles warm up, and heart rate gently rise. Once you're warmed up, jump into the following 15 minutes of Tabata.

Tabata #1

  • Mountain climbers 20 seconds
  • 10 second break
  • Hold plank for 20 seconds
  • 10 second break
  • Repeat circuit 4 times
  • 1 minute break

Tabata #2

  • Squat jumps for 20 seconds
  • 10 second break
  • Knee pushups for 20 seconds
  • 10 second break
  • Repeat circuit 4 times
  • 1 minute break

Tabata #3

  • Pull ups or negative pull ups 20 seconds
  • 10 second break
  • Alternative leg lunges for 20 seconds
  • 10 second break
  • Repeat circuit 4 times
  • 1 minute break

It’s important to finish off your workout with a gentle cool down, and stretch. So take the last 2-3 minutes to shake out your muscles, and stretch. Then give yourself a pat on the shoulder - you did it!

Because this is an intense form of exercise, you should have a base level of fitness before trying it. If you’re new to exercise, and have heart disease, diabetes, or any other chronic disease it’s important to consult with your physician before starting a high intensity training regimen.


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