Skip to content

Fitness & Exercise

Interval Training: How to Get Started

Font Size
A
A
A
By Annabelle Robertson
WebMD Feature

Looking for a way to drop extra pounds and get in shape ASAP? Then it may be time for you to start interval training. 

Interval training combines short bursts of intense activity, called intervals, with periods of lower intensity, or rest periods. Switching between the two makes your body work harder, burning more calories faster than it would at a steady, moderate pace. 

"You’ve got to be disciplined with it, but you don’t have to do it much, or for too long," says Doug Katona, a strength and conditioning coach who trains world-class athletes at his CrossFit Endurance gym in Newport Beach, Calif. 

"Instead of 45 minutes on a recumbent bike, reading a magazine, give me 15 minutes of interval work," Katona says. "It will be more challenging, but the workout will go by a lot faster and you’ll really like what your body starts to look like. After a few sessions, you’ll actually enjoy the workouts."

How to Start Interval Training

In some sports, including swimming, you’ll stop between intervals. In others, such as running, you may keep running, only at a more relaxed pace. Or you may walk. It depends on your level of conditioning and what you hope to accomplish.

It's not just about how fast your heart is beating.

"The important thing about interval training is not the rate of activity; it’s the rate of recovery," Scott Nohejl, a champion rowing coach and founder of the Chatham Area Rowing Association in Savannah, Ga.

If you're not active now, talk to your doctor before you start an intense exercise program.

  • Walking or running: Warm up first, then mix short bursts of speed of varying lengths, or sprints, into your walk, run, or jog. Those bursts of speed may last 30 seconds to a minute. After each interval, slow down and let your heart rate come back down.
  • Swimming: Swim a length, rest for 30 seconds, swim another length, and repeat until you've swum six lengths, suggests Guy Edson, technical director of the American Swimming Coaches Association. Two days later, aim for seven lengths with 30 seconds of rest, and so on. Then begin shortening your rest. Eventually, you'll do 10 lengths with 15 seconds of rest between lengths.
  • Rowing: Row hard for two minutes, then rest for one minute, and repeat that cycle 10 times, Nohejl suggests.  After two weeks, move up to three-minute intervals with one minute of rest.

You can also do intervals on a stationary bike or with a jump rope.

Reviewed on February 28, 2013

Healthy Living Tools

Ditch Those Inches

Set goals, tally calorie intake, track workouts and more, all via WebMD’s free Food & Fitness Planner.

Get Started

Today on WebMD

pilates instructor
15 moves that get results.
woman stretching before exercise
How and when to do it.
 
couple working out
Moves you can do at home.
woman exercising
Strengthen your core with these moves.
 
man exercising
Article
7 most effective exercises
Interactive
 
Man looking at watch before workout
Slideshow
Overweight man sitting on park bench
Video
 

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

pilates instructor
Slideshow
jogger running among flowering plants
Video
 
woman walking
Article
Taylor Lautner
Article