7 benefits of interval training

Danielle Easton
13 min read
Some additional information in one line

Interval training stands out for improving heart health, boosting metabolism, and enhancing athletic performance, making it a vital part of fitness routines. 

Known for its effectiveness and efficiency, interval training alternates high-intensity exercises with rest or low-intensity periods. 

It's versatile, fitting different fitness levels and goals, and adaptable to various workout styles. This makes interval training a favorite among fitness enthusiasts and professional athletes alike.

We'll discuss the benefits of interval training and its impact on modern fitness practices.

Key takeaways

  • Interval training alternates between high-intensity exercise and rest, offering efficiency and effectiveness in fitness routines.

  • It suits various fitness levels and goals, including cardiovascular health improvement, metabolism boost, and athletic performance enhancement.

  • Interval training has evolved into different forms like HIIT, Tabata, and Fartlek training, each with unique benefits.

  • The benefits of interval training include improved cardiovascular health, type 2 diabetes management, muscle strength, and increased metabolism with an afterburn effect.

  • Interval training is cost-effective, versatile, and accessible, making it suitable for various fitness preferences and lifestyles.

7 benefits of interval training.

The evolution of interval training

Interval training began as simple cycles of intense effort and rest and has a long history, tracing back to 1902 with athlete Joe Binks. 

Binks, a 4:16-mile runner, used a training method of running 110-yard intervals at top speed and finishing with a fast 200300 yards, all within 30 minutes once a week. 

This early example of interval training has since evolved into sophisticated forms like HIIT, Tabata, and Fartlek training. HIIT emphasizes short, intense bursts of exercise followed by rest, boosting cardiovascular fitness and muscle strength. 

Tabata, created by Izumi Tabata, involves ultra-intense, brief exercises, while Fartlek, a Swedish concept, combines continuous training with speed play. 

These variations cater to different fitness goals, showcasing adaptability and enduring appeal of interval training methods.

What is interval training?

Interval training is a dynamic and versatile workout method, alternating between intense exercise and recovery periods. 

It's not just about physical exertion; it's about strategically planning your workout intensity. This approach allows you to tailor your training to your fitness level and goals. 

For instance, if you're new to interval training, you might start with moderate intensity and gradually increase the challenge. 

If you're an experienced athlete, focus on shorter, more intense bursts to push your limits. 

By understanding and applying the principles of interval training, you can transform your workouts, making them more efficient, effective, and tailored to your needs.

Benefits of interval training


Interval training, characterized by alternating high-intensity and low-intensity exercise periods, has gained popularity for its health benefits, ranging from helping diabetes patients manage their glucose levels better to preventing workout monotony. 

This exercise form effectively improves overall fitness, offering physical and mental advantages.

Cardiovascular health improvements

Interval training is renowned for its profound impact on cardiovascular health because it enhances cardiorespiratory fitness by boosting the body's capacity to consume oxygen, thus strengthening the heart and lungs. 

Research supports these benefits: improved energy systems efficiency reduces obesity risk and heart-related problems. 

One study published in the International Journal of General Medicine found that interval training could significantly decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome, which is linked to increased chances of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. 

Notably, the flexibility of interval training allows for shorter workouts without compromising output, making it a practical choice for maintaining cardiovascular health in a time-constrained lifestyle.

Benefits for type 2 diabetes management

For those managing type 2 diabetes, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) offers substantial benefits because research indicates that even short intervals of HIIT can match the health benefits of longer conventional exercises. 

A pivotal study showed remarkable blood glucose levels and muscle mass improvements among type 2 diabetes patients after just six interval training sessions

This research was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology: Respiratory, Environmental and Exercise Physiology and found that average blood glucose levels decreased from 7.6 mmol/l to 6.6 mmol/l. 

Combining interval training with intermittent fasting has gained traction for its effectiveness against insulin resistance, offering a feasible health improvement strategy for busy individuals.

Impact on muscle strength and endurance

Interval training significantly enhances muscle strength and endurance because the high-intensity nature of the workouts stimulates muscle growth, and the recovery periods allow for muscle adaptation and strengthening. 

The National Library of Medicine highlights that HIIT promotes muscle strength and improves metabolic health, which is crucial for reducing risks of diseases like COPD and cardiovascular disease. 

For optimal muscle strength and endurance results, a combination of multi-joint strength exercises with single-joint assistance exercises during recovery phases is recommended. 

This approach adheres to the principle of adaptation, leading to increased cardiovascular efficiency and greater tolerance to lactic acid buildup, ultimately enhancing performance, speed, and endurance.

Increased metabolism and 'afterburn effect'

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) goes beyond regular workouts by significantly boosting your metabolism, thanks to the 'afterburn effect' or EPOC. 

This phenomenon keeps your body burning calories at a higher rate for up to 24 hours after your workout. 

Imagine finishing a session and still reaping metabolic benefits the next day! However, remember that this effect complements, rather than replaces, regular cardiovascular exercise. 

For optimal health, integrating consistent HIIT sessions into your routine is vital.

Cost-effectiveness and accessibility

Interval training is a budget-friendly and accessible fitness option as you don't need expensive equipment or a gym membership; you can do these workouts anywhere, anytime. 

They're ideal for those with hectic schedules or limited resources. 

A study in the "Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation" emphasizes HIIT's economic value, particularly for those with coronary artery disease. 

The study found HIIT's healthcare and delivery cost to be £676 per participant, making it a cost-effective choice with a 96% probability of being more economically efficient than moderate intensity steady-state (MISS) training. 

This suggests that the long-term health benefits of HIIT can outweigh its initial costs. Think about the potential savings and health gains you could achieve with interval training as part of your fitness regimen.

Versatility and prevention of workout monotony


Interval training can be tailored to include different exercises, intensities, and durations, preventing workout monotony and keeping exercise routines engaging and challenging. 

This adaptability caters to various preferences and fitness goals and helps maintain long-term exercise adherence. 

By regularly changing the workout format, interval training keeps the body guessing, and the mind engaged, making it an effective way to avoid the common plateau effect and maintain consistent progress in fitness journeys.

No equipment needed, and can be done anywhere

Unlike traditional workouts that rely on gym machinery and dedicated spaces, interval training allows you to exercise anywhere. 

While traveling, you can break a sweat in your living room, a park, or even a small hotel room.

Interval training adapts to your surroundings. You can engage in a high-intensity workout using just your body weight, incorporating exercises like squats and push-ups. 

Alternatively, opt for straightforward, highly effective movements such as jumping jacks and high knees. 

This adaptability makes interval training an accessible and versatile fitness choice for maintaining a consistent routine, no matter where you are.

Interval training vs. traditional training

Imagine standing at the crossroads of your fitness journey, pondering the path to take. On one side, there's interval training, offering the promise of quick bursts of intensity and potential time efficiency. 

Conversely, traditional training is a steady and enduring journey toward your fitness goals. Both paths are well-trodden and have their unique appeal. So, which one should you choose?

Interval training and traditional training, also known as moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT), offer distinct approaches to exercise, each with its unique benefits. 

Let's explore these paths, their characteristics, and the factors that can help you decide which aligns with your fitness aspirations.

Interval training

Interval training entails a structured alternation between periods of high-intensity exercise and periods of rest or light activity. 

This method has been shown to significantly improve cardiovascular fitness, enhancing endurance and fostering muscle strength and endurance. 

For those pursuing these specific fitness goals, interval training proves effective. 

However, it's important to note that achieving comparable fitness levels with interval training may require more time and effort than traditional training.

Traditional training (MICT)

In contrast, traditional training, or MICT, involves sustained exercise at a moderate intensity level. 

This form of training contributes to better cardiovascular health and muscle strength, but it may not yield the same endurance improvements as interval training. 

However, it stands out for its potential time efficiency, as it doesn't require frequent adjustments in intensity.

To summarize, the choice between interval training and traditional training hinges on an individual's fitness objectives, available time, and personal preferences. 

Both methods offer their own set of advantages and can contribute significantly to overall fitness and health.

How interval training works


Interval training operates on the principle of alternating between periods of high-intensity exercise and intervals of rest or light activity. 

This dynamic approach triggers various physiological responses within your body that contribute to its effectiveness.

During the high-intensity intervals, your body undergoes a significant transformation. It shifts its energy source from carbohydrates to fat. 

This process, known as lipolysis, breaks down fat molecules into smaller lipids, which are released into the bloodstream and utilized for energy. As a result, your heart rate accelerates rapidly, and your blood glucose levels surge, providing the fuel needed for the intense effort.

Subsequently, during the recovery period, your body replenishes its energy stores. 

Your heart rate returns to a more relaxed state, and blood glucose levels normalize. 

This therapeutic process, known as catabolism, absorbs the released lipids and employs them to rebuild fat molecules. 

This preparation and recovery phase allows you to recuperate from the high-intensity exercise and primes your body for subsequent bouts of exertion.

Implementing interval training in your routine


Interval training is a type of workout that involves alternating between intense exercise and recovery. 

It's a popular way to burn calories, improve endurance, and boost cardiovascular fitness. If you want to include interval training in your workout routine, below are some tips to help you get started: 

Precautions and safety tips

Before starting interval training, assessing your current fitness level and setting realistic training goals within your capabilities is crucial.

A foundation of overall aerobic fitness is essential before diving into high-intensity training. 

Begin cautiously, with an example like walking for two minutes and running for two minutes, gradually adjusting as you progress. Longer intervals generally yield more favorable results. 

Ensure you train on a smooth, flat surface to maintain even effort, and always allocate time for a proper warm-up before initiating your interval sessions.

Designing your interval training program

When structuring your interval training program, you can manipulate the duration of work intervals, the duration of rest or recovery intervals, the intensity of work intervals, and the number of repetitions for each interval. 

These variables can be adjusted to align with your specific fitness objectives. 

For instance, longer recovery and shorter work intervals enable you to go all out during intense periods, while longer work intervals contribute to calorie expenditure and endurance development.

Practical guidelines and tips

It's crucial to monitor your effort accurately during interval training. For shorter intervals of 30 seconds to one minute, aim for a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of 8 or 9. During recovery intervals, maintain a light intensity level of around 2 to 3.

For longer intervals lasting about two minutes, target an RPE of 6 to 7. If you find it challenging to determine whether you're pushing hard enough or too hard, utilize the talk test try speaking aloud. 

If you can only utter a word or two, you've reached an intensity level of 8 to 9. If you can comfortably articulate three to four words, you're in the 6 to 7 intensity range.

Specific examples for running and cycling


For those eager to harness the benefits of interval training, specific examples tailored to running and cycling can provide invaluable guidance.

For runners: interval training involves a dynamic alternation between sprinting and walking or jogging slower. 

For instance, you can begin a 2030 minute session by running vigorously for 1 minute, followed by a 2-minute walk or jog. This structured cycle enhances your running speed and bolsters your endurance, allowing you to conquer longer distances with greater ease.

For cyclists: cyclists can reap the rewards of interval training. Implement this strategy by oscillating between high-intensity cycling and periods of easier pedaling. 


For example, aim for a 20-30 minute interval session where you pedal intensely for 1 minute, followed by 2 minutes of relaxed cycling. 

This form of interval training significantly enhances your cycling speed and endurance, making those challenging terrains more conquerable.

Consider these interval workouts for cycling:

  • Tempo intervals: 3×10 minutes at 8085% effort, 4×12 minutes at 8085% effort, 4×15 minutes at 8085% effort, 3×20 minutes at 8085% effort.
  • Sweet spot intervals: 3×8 minutes at 8894% effort, 4×10 minutes at 8894% effort, 3×15 minutes at 8894% effort, 4×20 minutes at 8894% effort.
  • Threshold intervals: 4×12 minutes at 96102% effort, 2×20 minutes at 96102% effort, 3×12 minutes (2 mins at 103105%, 2 mins at 8894% effort), 3×15 minutes (1 min at 120%, 4 mins at 7075% effort).
  • VO2max intervals: 4×8 minutes at 106110% effort, 5×3 minutes at 115120% effort, 7×2 minutes at 120125% effort, 4×6 minutes at 110115% effort.

Listening to your body

To make the most out of interval training, it's crucial to be in tune with your body by paying attention to how you feel physically and mentally.

Physically, monitor your body's responses. 

If you feel tired quickly or can't keep up the intensity, shorten the interval or lower the intensity. If you feel strong, consider extending the duration and intensity.

In recovery, adjust based on how you feel. If you're still tired, take longer recoveries. If you recover quickly, shorten the rest.

Mentally, watch your stress levels. If you're stressed, take a break or change your routine. 

If you're focused and calm, push harder during intervals and stay attentive during recoveries.


What is interval training, and how does it differ from regular workouts?

Interval training alternates between high-intensity activity and rest. It can improve fitness and health faster than traditional workouts.

Can beginners safely participate in interval training?

Yes, beginners can do interval training safely by starting with low-intensity intervals and gradually increasing intensity as fitness improves. Consulting a fitness professional is also recommended to tailor your workouts.

How often should I do interval training for optimal results?

For most people, 23 days per week of interval training is sufficient to improve fitness and health significantly. It's important to allow time for recovery between sessions to avoid overtraining and injury.

What are the key health benefits of interval training?

Interval training offers numerous health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, better blood sugar control, increased metabolic rate, effective weight management, and enhanced muscular strength and endurance.

Is interval training suitable for people with health conditions like diabetes or heart disease?

Consult a healthcare provider or fitness professional before starting interval training, especially if you have certain health conditions. They can provide guidance on the appropriate intensity and modifications to suit individual health needs.

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