Developing an Interval Training Program

Developing an Interval Training Program

Most competitive athletes are acutely aware of the importance of including variable-intensity workouts into their comprehensive training regimen. Although continuous or constant effort workouts are important, discontinuous or interval training allows athletes to preform a greater volume of higher-intesity work that is not possible with prolonged continuous efforts.

The good news is that interval training is not just for the elite athlete but also can benefit recreational athletes significantly, as well as people whose primary exercise focus is on improving their overall health. 

Interval training defined

Interval training involves performing multiple repetitive exercise or workouts that are broken up by active or passive recovery periods. By alternating repetitions of higher intensity with easier recovery periods, a tremendous amount of higher-intensity work can be undertaken — well beyond what could be accomplished in a continuous workout. 

Exercise intervals and recovery periods can range from a few seconds to several minutes depending on the workout objective. For example, a short, more intense work interval generally requires greater anaerobic metabolism and the recruitment of muscle fibers that can shorten the fastest, while longer, moderately paced intervals typically invoke greater participation of the aerobic system.

Training can be progressed by modifying the duration/distance of the exercise or work interval, the  intensity/pace of the work interval, the duration and type (passive vs. active) of the recovery interval, the number of work intervals (repetitions) or the number of repetition cycles or sets within the workout.

How to design an interval workout

Starting an interval training program is relatively simple, even for the novice exerciser, and can be applied to a variety of activities such as walking, running, cycling, swimming, rowing and even weight training. When planning an interval training workout, consider the variables in relation to the objective of the training session. 

For example, if the goal is to improve aerobic power, the work interval generally is set at 60 seconds or longer. The recovery interval can be passive (no activity) or light activity. The work-to-recovery ratio is generally set at 1:0.5 (2 minutes hard:1 minute easy) or 1:1 for longer-duration workouts. 

For shorter-duration, higher-intensity workouts, a ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 can be used. As a general rule, the heart rate should drop into the 100 to 110 beats-per-minute (BPM) range by the end of the rest interval. However, both the work and recovery heart rates can vary depending on a person’s age, health and fitness level and any medications they may be taking.

Interval training tips

• Always warm up before starting intervals and cool down afterward.
• Be congnizant of your current physical fitness; start conservatively and gradually progress the work interval intensity.
• Keep the number of repetitions realistic and gradually build the number over time.
• Only modify one variable at a time (increase intensity or duration but not both at the same time).
• Set the recovery interval duration and intensity to allow your heart rate to come down below 110 BPM.
• Focus on form, technique and a steady rhythm during the work interval.

For help planning an interval training program, contact local trainer Janet Crandall at 521-7208 or