How to Use Interval Training to Burn Fat

Interval training increases fat burning capacity, and requires less cardio capacity than a high-intensity workout

30-second intense exercise intervals can kick fat burning into high gear

Interval training burns more fat, and is sustainable for people who are just starting to work on their fitness

It’s well known that exercising at a high intensity burns the most calories and therefore burns more fat. We also know that people who are physically fit kick into fat-burning mode faster and burn more fat than people who are less fit.

Unfortunately, for those who are not physically fit, high-intensity workouts are impossible to sustain for any length of time, with fatigue setting in long before larger amounts of calories and fat can be burned. 

Interval Training for Fat Burning

For less physically fit people seeking to increase their fat-burning capacity, it’s been found that longer, less-intense activity does eventually help reduce body fat.

From a practical perspective, one of the best ways to get the body to burn more fat is through interval training, which involves periods of intense exercise broken up by periods of rest. Interval training not only allows you to burn more fat while you exercise, it also trains your body to become more efficient at burning fat all the time.

Sample Interval Training Workout

Here’s an example of a simple interval-training workout:

  1. Warm up for three to five minutes by doing your chosen activity at a lower intensity (e.g., brisk walking or cycling on an exercise bike). 

  2. Increase the intensity of your activity for 30 seconds. This can be a sprint (if you are brisk walking) or you can increase the tension and speed on your exercise bike. Work hard enough to increase your heart rate to where talking becomes an effort. The Perceived Exertion method (see below) is an excellent guide.

  3. Lower the intensity of your activity for one to two minutes to an easy pace until your heart rate slows enough to be able to talk easily. 

  4. Repeat this cycle of 30-second sprints and one- to two-minute recovery periods eight to 
12 times. 

You can adjust your workout in a variety of ways as you become more fit: decrease your recovery time, increase your sprint time, repeat the cycle more often, go faster, use an incline, add resistance or try another activity.

Perceived Exertion Scale

The Perceived Exertion Scale provides a simple way to identify your level of physical effort while exercising. For most workouts, try to achieve a level 5-6.

For those doing interval training, the recovery period should be around level 4-5, and the high-intensity sprint at level 7-8. Working at level 9 or 10 isn’t recommended for anyone – even the very fit.

For longer workouts, like hikes or long bike rides, a level 5 or lower is recommended.

Level 1: You are sitting on the couch, channel surfing 

Level 2: You are comfortable and could 
maintain this pace all day long

Level 3: Still comfortable, but breathing a bit harder 

Level 4: Sweating a little, but you feel good 
and can carry on a conversation 

Level 5: You are just above comfortable – sweating more, but you can still talk easily 

Level 6: You can still talk, but you are slightly breathless 

Level 7: Really sweating and talking has become a real effort 

Level 8: Can grunt in reply to a question. Can keep at this pace for a short time only 

Level 9: Feel like you are going to die 

Level 10: You are dead.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.