Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Top Interval Training Workouts

No big surprise to any regular Catapult Fitness Blog readers that I'm a huge interval training advocate.

Over the past couple of years I've explored different methods of interval training, many which I've shared on CFB. My personal faves include bodyweight intervals, treadmill sprints and the farmer's walk.

I was first introduced to Interval Training by Turbulence Training guru Craig Ballantyne. Craig has been a consistent source of new ideas for interval workouts which not only helps to keep me motivated, but continues to stress my body so that I'm able to see constant progress.

Here is my list of preferred ways to do your intervals, ranked in order from best to worst, based on my experiences…

1. Sprinting outdoors (and hills might be the absolute best)
2. Strongman movements (Farmer’s walks, tire flips, car pushing)
3. Bodyweight interval circuits
4. Treadmill running
5. Stationary cycle (upright preferred)
6. Stairclimber
7. Rower
8. Swimming (only works for competent swimmers)
9. Elliptical & Crosstrainer machines

Okay, so how long should you do intervals?

First, there is NO “best” interval training program – no best “sets and reps” for fat loss.

But that is good because it allows us to use variety in our approach. The best interval training method is simply the one that changes every 4 weeks.

Interval recommendations have ranged from 15 seconds (from Muscle Media waaaay back in the late 90’s), to 5 minutes (these are known as aerobic intervals). So let’s take a look at each interval recommendation and all those in between.

8 seconds on, 12 seconds off
This is the duration used by the Australian researchers in the now famous “intervals vs. cardio” study from 2007. The results found that intervals helped subjects lose belly fat, but cardio didn’t. Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult to replicate 8 seconds on, 12 seconds off using cardio equipment in your gym.

15 seconds
The great thing about 15 second intervals is that you’ll be able to work at a very high rate (almost near your maximum power output), as long as you get adequate recovery between work intervals. The downside is that it is very difficult to do 15 second intervals on machines, because it takes a long time to “build up” and “bring
down” the machine settings to the correct speed.

If you decide to use these short, high-intensity intervals, you should do so only if you already have an above average level of fitness. Your rest interval should be at least 15 seconds long, and can be as long as 60 seconds. The longer you rest, the harder you will be able to exercise in each interval.

20 seconds on, 10 seconds off
This method is known as the Tabata protocol, after the Japanese scientist that published a study on this routine. It is very demanding (obviously), and while some trainers have suggested this is the best method for interval training, there is NO proof that you will get better fat loss results.

Clearly, the pro’s with this method (as well as the 15 second intervals) is that you’ll get your workout done faster (provided you do the same number of intervals as any other workout). Again, it would be very difficult to perform this type of interval training on a machine, due to the time lag as you increase or decrease the settings. And finally, these too should only be performed by above average fitness levels.

30 seconds
The Turbulence Training workouts tend to use a lot of 30 second intervals. Beginners will rest up to 90 seconds between intervals, while advanced fitness levels will rest 30-60 seconds. The longer (relative) rest allows you to work harder in each successive interval (i.e. you’ll almost be able to match your performance in the first interval with each following interval). Short rest intervals (as in the Tabata protocol) will lead to a dramatic drop-off in performance with each interval. You can easily do the 3-second intervals on any machine.

I started using these with athletes back in the 90’s, and that is when I first realized they worked AWESOME for fat loss. Sure they don’t sound as exotic as Tabatas, but they work!

45 seconds
These intervals are proven for fat loss, in addition to being effective for many team sports (such as hockey, soccer, basketball, and rugby). I have used 45 second intervals extensively in both areas of training. Not only will these tax your muscles, they will also tax your will to complete each interval (if done at the right intensity). Use 45-90 seconds of recovery between intervals. Do 3-6 intervals per workout. Your fitness and fat loss will skyrocket.

60 second intervals
Similar to the 45 second intervals in benefits and toughness. Use 60-120 seconds of recovery between each.

120 second intervals
These are now officially aerobic intervals, and can be used for both fat loss and improving aerobic capacity for sports and running. A great way to achieve two fitness goals at once. Exercise for 2 minutes and then recover for 2 minutes. Repeat 6 times. These workouts take longer (obviously), but can have a role in changing your body and improving your performance.

3, 4, or 5 minute aerobic intervals
These have been used in a lot of strength-endurance studies, and also in a lot of soccer-training protocols. Same strategy as with the two minute intervals. This really increases your workout time, so these are only used with serious endurance athletes.

Beginner vs. Advanced
If you are thinking that these intervals all sound “too intense” for you, please don’t worry. Interval training is all relative. In fact, a recent study found that coronary-heart disease patients found interval training EASIER than cardio! You don’t have to sprint for your life in each type of interval.

Instead, just work at a slightly harder than normal pace. By the end of the interval, you should be getting tired, but you shouldn’t be gasping for air. Start conservatively and you will get the hang of it.

For example, if you regularly use level 5 on the stationary bike for 30 minutes continuously, you might try doing a 1 minute interval at level 7. Try that for an interval workout and let me know how it goes.

My favorite intervals for fat loss are between 30-60 seconds. These have been the staple intervals in my Turbulence Training workouts since the first workout was designed back in 2001. But again, I think you will get your best fat loss results if you vary your interval training workouts – just like you must vary your strength training workouts.

... of course, we're going to need to wait for the manual before we have access to the actual workouts. Nevertheless, great info.

For those of you itching to get started, you may want to check out the TT March 2009 March Madness Circuits which includes a 5-minute bodyweight interval training session and a timed bodyweight interval program.

Craig has several additional Interval Training specific programs that you can find via the Turbulence Training website. Just Click Here.

Train hard; stay strong.



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19 Responses to "Top Interval Training Workouts"
  1. Yoga Instructor NYC said...
    November 24, 2011 at 12:20 PM

    If you want to get a long lasting good health then don't forget to do exercise in your daily life.And manage your diet as balanced as well.

  2. Hamlin said...
    December 9, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    Thanks for sharing sucha a great tips....Weight loss is something more and more people are trying to accomplish. It is not easy to lose weight. There is temptation all around from posters with delicious foods, smells of french fries or donuts wafting through the air and sometimes eating fattening foods is just cheaper and easier. So what are we to do? Here are five weight loss tips to add to your arsenal of health tools.

  3. Revolution Functional Fitness said...
    December 15, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    Tabata is definitely a tough and effective workout. However, I feel a lot of people do not/cannot push themselves hard enough to get the true benefits.

  4. South Pacific said...
    December 16, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    This is incredibly tiring, but it works! Thanks for the great tip!

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  5. Anonymous said...
    December 21, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    I am trying the 8 seconds 12 seconds on an elliptical machine at they gym. I just look at the ellapsed time on the machine. After 5 minutes warm up, I start at 5:00 very fast, slow at 5:08, very fast at 5:20, slow at 5:28, fast at 5:40, slow at 5:48 and on.
    I don't know if it works or not, but I get more tired than when I do my usual work out.

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    Dear Friend,

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  10. Breakaway said...
    February 21, 2012 at 12:55 AM

    Very tiring workout, but these tips are brilliant!

  11. Jason@CheshireFitness said...
    March 2, 2012 at 9:49 AM

    Really great tips, stuff like this can help massively! Very effective work out, thanks for sharing. Jason.

  12. Bob said...
    March 8, 2012 at 8:22 AM

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    March 14, 2012 at 2:51 PM

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  14. Jonathan said...
    March 30, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    Hi Susan,

    What do you think about combining cardio intervals with strength exercises?

    You can use a recumbent bike with resistance or do squat jumps or another similar exercise.

    Would this be better than regular intervals in your opinion?

  15. Susan said...
    March 30, 2012 at 7:25 AM

    Interesting question Jonathan.

    For some individuals, based on their anaerobic threshold, adding resistance to a recumbent bike may be necessary for the purpose of interval training. Now, there are reasons for NOT using a recumbent bike for intervals, but that's a separate discussion.

    Based on the scenario you established (bike + squat jumps), you're really talking about combining an explosive training movement with intervals. Assuming you have medical clearance to do so from a doctor, there is research that shows a benefit to such a protocol for trained athletes.

    What you would do is combine 3 sets of an explosive movement (squat jumps for instance)with 3 sets of explosive single-leg jumps (20 for each leg) alternating with 3 sets of high-resistance cycling sprints (5 x 30 seconds at 60-70 min(-1) with 30-second recoveries between repetitions).

    You can read more about this here -

  16. chriztina298 said...
    April 4, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    Thanks for sharing this post about ideas for interval workouts. I also do some of the exercises and it really benefits me a lot.
    Ann | Wellness Philippines

  17. Eva Lentes said...
    November 27, 2012 at 5:47 PM

    i think it gives good results to switch from the classic 60 second intervals that everybody is doing. great advice

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  19. Jamyla Taylor said...
    April 2, 2014 at 2:27 AM

    Hi there, nice post and a good source of information. It really shows that you're an expert in this field. I'm looking for some informations about personal fitness training in this site. Anyways, thanks for sharing. Cheers!


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