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Credit: Mike Baird

Interval training is an intense and effective method for losing fat

Interval training is a form of training that's been used by athletes for decades to get into peak shape.

But you don't need to be going for a gold medal to benefit from intervals. While it may not take a long time to do, what interval training lacks in duration it more than makes up for with intensity. Interval training is hard work but that's what makes it so effective. The intensity boosts your metabolism so you burn more calories than normal after your workout.

What is Interval Training?

Interval training is simply a period of intense work (the "interval") followed by a period of recovery during which you exercise at a much lower intensity. You alternate between the work and recovery periods for a specified time.

The interval period can last anywhere from 15 seconds to three minutes or longer. Likewise, the recovery period can be anywhere from 10 seconds to three minutes or more.

You also need to do a warm-up and cool-down before and after the actual interval work.

Gauging Your Intensity - The Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale

While hardcore athletes will use heart rate zones to determine their intensity, you can use a much simplier method called the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) Scale. It's a self-determined scale from one to 10 to gauge your intensity level. Here's how it works:

 
Rating Effort Example
0 None Lying down or sitting
1 Very, very weak Standing
2 Weak Easy stroll
3 Some effort Walk - brisk walk
4 Moderate Fast walk/slow jog
5 Somewhat hard Jogging
6 Strong Running
7 Very hard Fast running
8 Intense Very fast run
9 Very, very hard Sprinting
10 Maximum All out sprint

You determine what every rating means for you. For someone who's out of shape, walking up a flight of stairs may be at an RPE of 5, while a fit woman may rate that activity as an RPE of 3.

Sample Interval Training Program

You can use any piece of cardio equipment for interval training but I'd advise against using the treadmill. The delay in the machine when you're changing speed or incline is too long so you're better off using a machine like a stationary bike or elliptical trainer that can adjust the intensity quickly.

But you don't have to use any machine at all. Doing a walk/run program or using a skipping rope is an excellent way to do intervals. You can also ride a bike, paddle a kayak, ice skate or ride rollerblades; whatever tickles your fancy. I recommend doing most of your cardio work outdoors as it's much more engaging and interesting than being stuck indoors on a machine.

Here's a good beginner interval program you can do two or three times a week using a walk/run method:

  • Warm up by walking for five minutes. Start at RPE of 2 and increase to RPE of 4 by the end of the five minutes.
  • Next, run for 30 seconds at an RPE of 7 - 8.
  • Then, recover for 90 seconds at an RPE of 3 - 4 (brisk to fast walking).
  • Repeat the cycle of 30 seconds running, 90 seconds walking three to six times.
  • Cool down by walking for three minutes at an RPE of 3.
  • Do some stretching after you're finished.

Word of Caution

If you've been inactive for a while, don't jump into interval training. You need to build up to it by doing a few weeks of steady state workouts; do 20 - 30 minutes per day, three to five days per week at a moderate intensity (RPE 4 or 5). After six to eight weeks you'll be ready to start with intervals.

If you have any history of heart conditions in your family or are over 35 years old, get checked out by your doctor before doing interval work.

But if you're healthy and willing to work your butt off then intervals are a great way to do cardio training. In time, you actually will work any excess off your butt.