How to Approach Interval Training

Interval training is the best version of cardio for fat loss. Say goodbye to long, slow, boring workouts and hello to short, burst fat burning workouts.

Back when I was closing in at 300 lbs (136 kg), I didn’t even know about interval training. My interval training consisted of 20 seconds of munching on honey buns and 10 seconds of sipping on sugar-saturated soda. Boom goes the 1,000 calories consumed in less than 5 minutes.

That’s not interval training!

That’s just a cool way to start off an article, and it’s caloric chaos. As you know, interval training is when you exercise at a high intensity level followed by a period of recovery. What most people get wrong is that there should be a vast difference between the two. In other words, when you jog on a treadmill at a speed of 6.0 and then drop down to a speed of 5.0, that’s not intervals. Sorry.

This is the way I describe intervals with my clients and how to approach them:

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced athlete, your recovery periods should be like walks with Grandpa. That’s right very easy (unless your Grandpa is a sprinter if that’s the case, that’s very cool. Go Grandpa!).

The interval periods are where the approach should be different for beginners and advanced people. Since you are different than anyone else in the world, the best way to approach interval training that fits your unique fitness level is using a perceived exertion scale of one to ten (1 – 10).

Let’s explain this perceived exertion scale

A good way to grasp the concept is this:

  • [1/10] You’re almost just standing there.
  • [3/10] This is a good recovery period. This is like walks with Grandpa very easy.
  • [5/10] This is typically your steady-state cardio pace. This is a pace in which you can sustain, but can still maintain a conversation (but not really easily).
  • [7/10] You can’t have a conversation and do this pace at the same time.
  • [9/10] You’re running from hyenas (why are they chasing you? who knows).
  • [10/10] This is a chaotic intensity that you can only sustain for a very short period. Imagine running from hyenas with machine guns wearing sunglasses it’s that intense. I recommend never doing an interval at this intensity.

Now that you understand the intensity scale, let’s first take a look at how beginners should approach interval training.

Intervals for Beginners

If you are a beginner, be very conservative.

An example: Your recovery periods should be like walks with Grandpa and your intervals should be like a brisk walk with a woman named Mary. (Why Mary? I don’t know it just makes the sentence flow I guess; whatever). Let’s take a look at a beginner using a treadmill for their intervals:

Let’s say your interval program (you do have a structured program, right??) calls for this:

  • 30 seconds intervals (7/10 intensity)
  • 1 minute recovery (3/10 intensity)

Do this 4 times.

First, warm-up

First, it goes without saying, you should warm-up for 3-5 minutes before starting your interval program. Your perceived exertion for the warm-up should be what you consider your pace at steady-state cardio. I typically perform my first minute at a 3/10, then 1 minute at a 4/10, followed by a couple of minutes at a 5/10 intensity.

The intervals

30 seconds (7/10 intensity) the speed could be around 4.0, which is a brisk walk for some folks. But the idea is that you should be using a perceived exertion of a 7 on a scale of 1-10.

The more often you do it, the more you will learn your own body and pinpoint what a 7/10 is for you and your particular fitness level. A 7/10 for a beginner might even be 3.0, and that’s perfectly fine. For an Olympic athlete, a 7/10 might be running at a speed of 10.0. We are all different.

1 minute off (recovery) (3/10 intensity) the speed could be around 2.0. You want the recovery period to be just that a recovery period. It should be easy. So, if you feel you are anything above a 3 out of 10 on a scale of 1 to 10, you’re working too hard on your recovery period. By recovering properly, you then can focus on the intervals, which give you the fat-burning effects you are looking for.

An example for a beginner might look like this

  • Intervals speed of 4.0 (7/10)
  • Recovery speed of 2.0 (3/10)

The bottom line for beginners

  • Your intervals should be a 7/10 while your recovery periods should be a 3/10.
  • Be conservative and learn about your body and perceived exertion. Progress as necessary.
  • Start off only doing 3-4 intervals per session, and only do them twice a week to start off with. If you feel you can do 3 per week after the first week or two, then you can add another interval training session.

Interval Training for Interval Veterans

Alright, let’s say you’ve done some intervals before and you’re an interval veteran. Your program calls for this:

  • 30 secs intervals (9/10)
  • 1 minute recovery (3/10)

– Do this 8 times

I don’t care how boring you find it, your recovery period is just as important as it is for beginners because if you don’t recover properly, your performance on the intervals will suffer. I would even say your recovery period is even more important than a beginner because your intervals are more intense. So, walk with Grandpa for recovery. Besides, Grandpa is awesome.

I consider myself an interval veteran, so I’ll use myself running as an example. For my interval period for 30 seconds, I would run at roughly a pace of 11.0.

Doing this type of interval program on a treadmill is tough, considering it takes time for the belt to get up to that speed. So, I prefer to do my running intervals outside. But the bottom line is that there is a vast difference between recovery and intervals.

  • Recovery (3/10) I’m usually walking at around a 3.5 speed.
  • Interval (9/10) I’m hovering around a 11.0 speed.

There is a big difference. Yeah, that’s how you do intervals!

Let’s summarize for interval veterans:

  • The recovery and interval periods should be quite drastic.
  • Even if you are a veteran, don’t do any more than 4 interval training sessions per week.
  • Grandpa is nice so be nice to him and walk with him.

Bonus tip for interval beginners and veterans: When performing intervals on the stationery bike, increase the speed just a little bit, and then increase the resistance to reach your desired intensity. If you just increase your speed only (RPM), you could end up with over-use injuries and tight hip flexors.

Now THAT’S interval training done right to burn fat.

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