High-intensity interval workouts may seem overwhelming if you've never done them, but they're effective and beneficial for people of all fitness levels. They can be tailored to accommodate those who are just starting to work out for the first time, or those who are returning to physical fitness after a long break. Once you start to get into better shape, you can easily adjust your interval workout to continue to push your fitness to the next level.
In a high-intensity interval workout, a battery of exercises is performed back-to-back with little to no rest in between. There are several fitness benefits to this type of workout structure, including that you don't have to work out for very long to develop your cardiovascular system, burn a high number of calories, and tone your muscles.
Structure of a High-Intensity Workout: How to Organize Your Session
A high-intensity interval workout typically consists of about five to 10 exercises. You complete an exercise for either a set amount of time (10 to 30 seconds) or a specific number of reps (5 to 15), and then either take a short break or move directly onto the next exercise on the list. You continue to make your way through the exercises until you're finished with them all. More advanced exercisers may go through the battery of exercises multiple times, but one time through is good when you're just starting out.
The key to an interval workout is to do each exercise as intensely as you can. Think short bouts of maximum effort, followed by a period of rest as you prepare for the next exercise. Because you're bouncing from one exercise to the next, your heart rate remains elevated, your breathing rate will shoot up, and your muscles will start to burn.
High-intensity interval workouts typically don't last too long. Most take just 15 to 20 minutes. Knowing that your workout will be over quickly will help you push through the discomfort and heavy breathing you'll feel while you're working hard.
Why High-Intensity Intervals: What's the Benefit?
There's no better type of workout for those on a tight schedule than high-intensity interval workouts. Fitting in a workout everyday can be challenging, but interval training gives you even more health and fitness benefits than traditional cardio in even less time. They can be done three to five days per week.
Intervals of high-intensity exercise have been shown to more effectively develop cardiovascular fitness compared to traditional, continuous aerobic exercise like jogging. Even though interval sessions take less time to complete than continuous aerobic workouts, studies have shown that interval training is more effective at increasing VO2 max.
But time efficiency isn't the main benefit to high-intensity interval workouts. They're also just a better option for getting into shape.
Despite their relative short duration, high-intensity intervals burn more calories than other types of workouts, and thereby are more efficient for reducing body fat, than aerobic exercise. You'll burn more calories during the actual workout, and will also continue to burn additional calories even after you're finished. High-intensity interval workouts boost your metabolism throughout the rest of the day, so you'll be burning calories at an elevated rate even once you're sitting at work or resting at home.
Getting Started: A Sample Workout
Begin every high-intensity interval workout with a five-minute warm-up. You'll start with a light jog to get your blood flowing and increase your breathing rate and body temperature. Then, you'll do three dynamic stretch activities. During the warm-up, you don't need to worry about performing the exercises at a high-intensity. Rather, take your time with each rep.
- Light jog - 2 minutes
- Crossover Toe Touches - 10 reps
- Torso Rotations - 10 reps
- Leg Swings - 10 reps each leg
Take a small sip of water and then move directly into the high-intensity interval section of your workout. You'll do a total of four exercises. Try to do each exercise as intensely as you can and move from one directly into the next. With that said, since you are just getting into fitness, or returning to it after a long break or injury, it's important to listen to your body and modify the intensity of your interval workout as needed. If you start to feel nauseas or short of breath, take 10 to 20 second breaks between exercises.
- Jumping Jacks - 15 reps
- Sumo Squats - 10 reps
- Bicycle Crunches - 15 reps
- Mountain Climbers - 10 reps
Once you feel like you're ready for a bigger challenge, go through this battery of exercises twice. You can also add a fifth exercise, such as push-ups or burpees.