4 Tips to Make the Most of Interval Training

Even for those working from home, time can be a premium. To get the most out of your limited workout sessions, check out interval training.

Photography Wong Sim Styling Peter Zewet Model Mitchell Wick/Chadwick Grooming Irene Tedj Styling Assistant Edwin Habibun and Jay Robert Davies
Photography Wong Sim / Styling Peter Zewet / Model Mitchell Wick/Chadwick / Grooming Irene Tedj / Styling Assistant Edwin Habibun and Jay Robert Davies

There are no shortcuts when it comes to becoming the fit. No matter your goal is—losing weight, gaining muscle, toning up—you need to commit to a strict workout regimen, train hard and stick to it. End of story. Now, while the overall message here is basically correct, sometimes you simply can’t afford to spend as much time as you’d like in the gym or in your home’s exercise corner. Or perhaps you’re simply looking to change up your training routine. In that case, perhaps interval training is for you. “But wait,” you may ask, “do you mean interval training or high-intensity interval training aka HIIT?” The short answer is: HIIT is a form of interval training. The long answer is, well, a bit longer.

With interval training, you’re basically alternating between periods of low- to high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods. For example: One minute of squats, rest for 30 seconds, planking for one minute, rest 30 seconds and so on. HIIT, meanwhile, focuses on alternating between short bursts of high- or maximum-intensity exercise and brief low-intensity activities. So, HIIT sessions—which typically lasts under 30 minutes—are much more intense than interval training in general.

Now, while HIIT is definitely an effective training method, lower intensity interval workouts can be just as great. This is especially true for those who are recovering from an injury, people who are coming back to the gym after a hiatus or simply anyone who prefer less demanding workouts due to work, time constraints or just personal preference. All that being said, whether you’re going for the more moderate versions or opting for HIIT, interval training in general has quite a few major benefits.

1. Burn those calories
Those bursts of increased intensity exercise increase your caloric expenditure. And sometimes this extra caloric burn lasts until after you’re done exercising. For reference, you can keep burning more calories for about two hours after an intense HIIT session.

2. Balancing out
When you’re doing cardio—say, running or cycling—you’re mainly burning calories, but it doesn’t really build muscle. When you’re doing weights, you’re building muscle but it won’t do too much in terms of getting rid of excess fat. Interval training, on the other hand, helps you do both: maintain or build muscle while burning calories at the same time.

3. Time efficient
As we touched on earlier, interval workouts tend to be shorter all around. One of the most common excuses for not exercising is lack of time. Interval workouts is therefore the ideal solution, as enables you to complete an effective workout in less time than a standard cardiovascular workout.

4. Better aerobic capacity
During interval workouts, the high-intensity periods can be done at or close to anaerobic exercise. The relief periods are, obviously, not as intense. Interestingly, by varying the intensity of effort, you’re exercising your heart muscles. This cardiovascular workout improves aerobic capacity. In time, this will allow you to exercise for longer periods of time and also at higher intensity levels. It’s the gift that keeps giving, basically.

One final note when it comes to interval training is that you need to consider is the tradeoff between duration and intensity. On one end of the spectrum, you have traditional cardio exercises like jogging. This would be a one lengthy, continuous, low-intensity session with no or minimal breaks. On the other end you have HIIT, which consists of many short bursts of activity at max intensity but with relatively long breaks and short overall duration.

Low-to moderate-intensity interval workouts occupy the space in between. So, to get most of this type of workout, you need to balance duration and intensity. For instance, a one-hour jogging session would consume about the same amount of calories as, say, a 10-15 minute HIIT workout. If you’re going for a low-intensity interval workout, then maybe 30 minutes is what you should be aiming for. Of course, as you become more used to interval workouts and your endurance builds up, you can eventually crank up the intensity to make even better use of your time, and once in a while dial it back down when you need something more low-impact and less straining.