I see you out there taking your long strolls around the neighborhood, walking with your best friends, having lengthy conversations while the dog sniffs nearby bushes. After about 30 to 45 minutes, you all part ways and head home. You feel good. You “exercised” and secretly hope to see the scale move tomorrow. You scan your daily to-do list and enjoy a sense of satisfaction as you check off “exercise.” Now, time to decide on which restaurant for dinner as you snack on some chips.

The next morning, you’ve gained half a pound.

Is that you? Maybe it’s time you workout with a new best friend. Give interval training a try (we’ll discuss the food choices at another time).

What? You think interval training is for athletes? You’re imagining grueling sprints on a football field or breaking into an all out “run for your life” while a trainer screams at you to run harder. You can already feel the nausea churning in your stomach and your lungs exploding. No way you’re signing up for that.

It’s time to let that way of thinking go. Interval training, designed for your abilities and goals, is an outstanding approach to conditioning and burns more calories than a “long, slow distance,” given precisely the same amount of time. Would you like to burn 100 calories in 30 minutes with a leisurely stroll or 100 calories in 10 minutes of interval training (obviously, caloric expenditure rates will vary by person, exercise mode, and intensity)? Many people report a greater sense of calm after interval training. And it isn’t just psycho-babble. It’s been clinically demonstrated, thanks to the neurochemicals released as a result of pushing harder.

I know what you’re thinking, let’s be realistic. Most of us coming straight off the couch, or who have just started their fitness journey, can’t take off and run for 20 minutes straight. In fact, many can’t even power-walk for 20 minutes straight. But, most of us are able to walk really fast for 10 seconds and then slow down for a couple of minutes, then walk really fast again for 10 seconds ... and so on. After a week or two (or sooner) I can almost guarantee that you will actually want to walk really fast for 20 seconds, slow it down for a couple of minutes and then walk really fast again for 20 seconds.  In a 20-minute session you will achieve maybe two minutes of “vigorous activity” that you couldn’t get by trying to do it for two minutes straight.  Your body still gets the benefit of an intense two minutes but broken up into bouts you can handle, plus you burn more calories in the same 20 minutes.

Another bonus of this method is that it’s scalable for different abilities. If you are able to jog but not full-out run for very long, you can use the same method alternating jog and run periods. If you are unable to do the higher impact work (like running) you can use hills (either outside or by adjusting cardio equipment settings) for the interval periods. You aren’t tied to a treadmill, either. Intervals can be done on stationary bikes, elliptical trainers, stair climbers, step mills, swimming, etc. Jumping rope is another great way to do interval training; it’s cheap and very portable. Jump for 10 seconds or two minutes, and then walk.

The different ways to design your work-to-rest ratios are almost infinite. A classic design is a 1:1 or a 1:3 ratio.  If you work really hard for 20 seconds, then you “rest” (lower intensity) for 20-60 seconds.  “Rest” can mean just slowing down or completely stopping, but best is to just slow it down a bit and keep moving.

How do you know you’re pushing hard enough during the higher-intensity interval? Heart rate is universally recognized as the way to determine your effort level (for those not on heart rate altering medications).  Plenty of information and access to formulas can be found online to help determine appropriate targets for your current status (new algorithms are being developed all the time). The easiest method is the “talk test.” When you start breathing hard enough that you do not want to talk, then you are probably working hard enough during the bout.  If you can hold a conversation, then you probably need to push harder (so no more chatting with your friends while you exercise – if you’re working hard enough, it should be difficult).  Remember, you don’t have to push hard for a super long period of time.

This is what I call “Classic Interval Training.”  Some of you may have heard of “High Intensity Interval Training” (HIIT), which is different.  High-intensity is just that: high intensity.  To get yourself there, you have to push your heart rate really high – way up into the vigorous zone and beyond.  You shouldn’t be able to maintain that intensity for longer than about 30 seconds and most can only maintain it for about 10 to 15 seconds.  In this type of training, you fatigue very quickly during the bout but still get the “rest” as in classic intervals. Most of us aren’t able to tolerate true, high-intensity interval training just yet because most of us are just starting out.  The less extreme classic interval training is fine and the science agrees (Wiley-Blackwell, March 12, 2010).

The goal is health and fitness through efficiency to get more work done in the same amount of time. You challenge your cardiovascular system to improve, spark those neurochemicals and burn more calories.

Always check with your physician before beginning or altering your exercise regimen.


NSCA certified personal trainer Shannon Sorrels has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and an MBA. Her company, Physix LLC, works with Valley individuals as well as groups to improve their overall fitness. Reach her at (480) 528-5660 or visit www.azphysix.com.


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