We've all been advised to work smarter not harder, right? Well it's time to apply that to your fitness routine by incorporating interval training. Less time in the gym doesn't require you to sacrifice fitness. Interval training is designed to be tough but quick, so you can work harder, and smarter, but not longer.

Research shows that interval training — workouts that alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods — increases fitness and burns more calories over a shorter period of time than steady-state cardio. 

So how do you get the most out of interval training? Let's break it down.

What is interval training?

Interval training alternates short, high-intensity bursts of activity with periods of rest and recovery in between. This uses the body’s two energy-producing systems: the aerobic and the anaerobic. The aerobic system allows you to walk or run for long distances and uses oxygen to convert carbohydrates throughout the body into energy. The anaerobic system draws energy from carbohydrates stored in the muscles for short bursts of activity.

The high-intensity periods are typically close to anaerobic exercise and the recovery periods involve complete rest or activity of lower intensity. This allows you to work out more in a shorter period, and it's more comfortable than spending an entire workout at high intensity. The key is creating workouts around what you want, at your fitness level. 

Benefits of interval training

  • Increaes endurance: Interval training makes other workouts easier to handle by training your heart to pump more blood to the muscles and training your muscles to extract that oxygen more efficiently.
  • Faster, more efficient workouts: Interval workouts allow you to get a lot done in a shorter period of time. You can easily complete the entire session in as short as 15-20 minutes.
  • Reduced risk of injury: Since you're in control of the intensity during your workout, you're able to avoid injuries or overdoing it.
  • Weight loss: Studies show that interval training burns more fat and burns plenty of calories, even after it’s completed.
  • Fun factor: Interval workouts provide more variety than other workouts, making them less tedious or boring.

How to do it?

  1. Choose a cardio activity: Cardio can be done with any machine or activity —  running, cycling, elliptical, jumping rope, etc.
  2. Choose the length of your workout and intervals: For beginners, this could be 10-20 minutes or 30-60 minutes for more advanced exercisers. Intervals alternate between 1-2 minutes of higher intensity exercise with 5 or more minutes of lower intensity. Advanced exercisers can make their work intervals longer and recovery intervals shorter.
  3. Warm-up and cooldown: Don't forget to start each workout with a 5-10 minute warm-up and end with a 5-minute cooldown and stretch.


If creating your own workout isn't your thing, you can find HIIT classes at Dan McKinney, Magdalena Ecke, McGrath, Mission Valley, Ryan and Toby Wells YMCAs. Many classes at the Y incorporate interval training, including Cardio Blast, Extreme Fit, Cycle and Cycle/Strength, Bodyweight Circuit (Virtual Y) and Aqua Interval. See our group exercise overview for locations and classes.

*Interval training can be tough if you're just starting your fitness journey. It's okay to spend anywhere from few weeks to a month building your stamina with cardio workouts before adding interval training to your routine. Don't forget to have the go-ahead from your physician before starting, because interval training can be demanding on the heart, lungs and muscles.