Interval Training: Principles, Exercises & Safety

Instructor: Bethany Lieberman

Bethany is a certified OB/GYN nurse who has a master's degree in Nursing Education.

In this lesson, you will learn about a form of exercise called interval training. We will discuss the principles, safety implications, and examples of suitable exercises.


Jackie is in a panic; her 20-year high school reunion is in less than a month! The invitation has been burning a hole in her mind as it stares her down from the magnet on the refrigerator door. She wants to make a good impression on her former classmates and, especially, her ex-husband, who left her for his young secretary - they haven't crossed paths in years. She needs to shed a few pounds, and she read somewhere in one of her women's magazines that interval training is the key to weight loss. Having no clue about interval training, she calls her neighbor who works at the local fitness club.

What Is Interval Training

Her neighbor is quick to jump to the rescue, hoping he can squeeze a gym membership purchase out of Jackie at the same time. He explains that interval training combines alternations between fast-speed work outs and slow speed-work outs. Jackie would be pushing herself to maximum heart rate then would cool down to catch her breath, over and over. This is different than traditional exercise, such as jogging, which is typically performed at a moderate speed continuously until a certain distance is reached.

Principles Of Interval Training

The principles of interval training are to exercise at alternating levels of high and low intensity. The periods of lower intensity allow the body to recover in between the high-intensity period, which overtime, allows for an increase in the total amount of exercise performed at a high intensity. Essentially, Jackie would be able to sustain more exercises at a high intensity longer because of the lower-intensity periods of recovery. Her neighbor explains that exercise is a stressor on the body; the harder the body is stressed, the more resources it has to use, such as fat, to respond to the stress. Intervals will expose Jackie to these stressors, but the rest periods will prevent her from becoming burnt out. She'll expose her body to the stressor more often and will burn more calories.

Safety Concerns

It is important for Jackie to obtain medical clearance from her physician to ensure that she is healthy enough to participate in this exercise regimen. Those with heart conditions, diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure, or those who are overweight or smoke are at a higher risk of injury when starting a new exercise program. Her neighbor also expresses that it is important to seek out a physical fitness professional, such as himself, to determine her initial level of fitness to avoid injury. (Here comes that gym membership!) The key to maintaining safety during high-intensity workouts is to tailor the intensity level to meet the desired level of challenge. Since Jackie has lead a sedentary lifestyle, she is at a higher risk of injury and could possibly start with one episode per week, eventually working up to three to five times per week.

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