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How to Start an Interval Training Program

Use a heart rate monitor for best results.
Use a heart rate monitor for best results.

Interval training is an intense type of cardio exercise program I've been sharing with my clients and readers for several years now. It allows people to burn more fat, in less time, than traditional aerobic programs. It's also the first cardio program that's been documented to regularly build muscle. It's pretty amazing stuff.

But like any workout, it's something you've got to build up to. In a typical interval session, your goal is to get your heart rate really high, all the way up to 90% of your VO2 Max. Initially, you only have to keep up that pace for 15 seconds at a time, but for some people, even that short burst may be too much.

What's needed is a way to condition your body and make sure you're prepared before you jump into something that challenging. If you're new to working out, new to intervals, or coming back after a break of 3 or more months, here's how to get started.

Pre-Interval Training Program

Step One - Figure out your Resting Heart Rate.

Step Two - Use your Resting Heart Rate to calculate your VO2 Max.

We'll calculate your VO2 Max for you!

Click Here for the WeBeFit Training Heart Rate Calculator.

Enter your AGE, SEX and RESTING HEART RATE. The answer is to the right under Red Line Zone / VO2 MAX.

Step Three - Get a heart rate monitor.

Step Four - Step on a piece of cardio such as a bike, elliptical or treadmill and get your heart rate up to between 40 and 59% of your VO2 Max. Once your heart rate is in the range, maintain that pace for at least 10 minutes, three times a week. Gradually increase the time, by 30 seconds to a minute each session, until you're up to between 20 and 30 minutes at a time.

The entire time you're doing cardio, your goal should be to make sure your heart rate is at least at 40% of your VO2 max, but not exceeding 59%. Once you're able to complete a minimum of 20 minutes, with your heart rate at 59% of your VO2 max, you should be ready to start doing intervals.

Interval Training Program

In an interval program, you change what you do for step four. Instead of moving at a steady pace for 20 to 30 minutes, you're going to ramp up the intensity. Your goal is to get your heart rate all the way up to 90% of your VO2 max.

The exercise segment only lasts for as little as 15 seconds, to as long as 4 minutes. Do not exceed 4 minutes. Realize that when you're first starting, you may only be able to make it more than 15 seconds, and your heart rate won't be anywhere near as high as it should be. That's OK. The point is to push it as far as you can.

Step Five - Stop doing the cardio, rest and let your heart rate drop to between 50% and 70% of your VO2 Max. The rest period typically lasts at least as long as the exercise part, and may take longer. Once your heart rate has recovered, go back to step four and raise it up again.

Don't stop moving! In an interval program, during the "rest" periods you should continue moving, just at a much slower speed. Some people refer to it as "active recovery." Stopping completely may allow your heart rate to drop below the 50% threshold and you won't get the greatest benefit from the workout.

Resist the temptation to do intervals without a heart rate monitor. If you just go by how you feel, or by following the hands of a clock, you're not maximizing the exercise session. You may be pushing your body too much, or too little, but you won't really know for sure.

Try to get in at least two minutes of total exercise time. As you improve, your goal should be to finish with a total of 15 minutes of exercise time. For best results, schedule three interval training sessions a week.

For more details, read our original article on Interval Training with attached medical studies here.

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