Ditch Boring Cardio Routines and Try This 15-Minute Interval Workout

You shouldn’t have to fit into a diet and fitness plan. The plan should have to fit you. Click here for all the details on our January challenge.

If steady-state cardio feels like a slog, it's time to sub out your too-familiar routine with interval training. This type of cardio delivers a trio of benefits: It's highly effective, super fast and a whole lot more fun than an hour on the elliptical.

By alternating intense activity with brief rest periods, you'll burn more calories faster, per the Mayo Clinic, and you'll continue to torch calories post-workout, thanks to the afterburn effect, says Holly Rilinger, personal trainer, Nike master trainer and creator of The LIFTED Program.

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Better still, you can try intervals using any form of cardio you enjoy. That's the goal of Rilinger's flexible routine in the video above. You can break out a jump rope, climb on a bike, go for a run or walk on a treadmill. You can even mix-and-match: If you're sweating as part of the 'Your Year, Your Way' Challenge, you might spend Week 1 on the elliptical, then use the rowing machine during Week 2.

This plan is also suitable for any fitness level. "If you're in really great shape, these workouts will work for you, and if you're a beginner, these workouts will work for you," Rilinger says.

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Start With a Moment of Mindfulness

Mindfulness is an important part of Rilinger's fitness strategy. "Being able to... clear out some space for yourself so you can be focused in your workout is really important, because we don't have a lot of time," she says. "If we're only half in those workouts, then it's a bit of a shame."

Before you begin this workout — or any of Rilinger's programs for the 'Your Year, Your Way' Challenge — follow along with this 2-minute meditation to help you stay present and get the most out of every movement.

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How to Do This 15-Minute Interval Cardio Workout

For the 'Your Year, Your Way' Challenge, Rilinger designed a four-week progression so that your workouts get harder (and you get stronger) throughout the month. Each week, your sprint intervals will get a little longer.

The key to success with this cardio routine is to go hard on the sprints. On a scale of 1 to 10 — where 1 is "I'm barely moving" and 10 is "Wow, I might die from how hard this is," Rilinger says — aim for a solid 7.

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"Just focus on each interval by itself," she says. That way, you won't feel overwhelmed by repeating the cycle three to four times. "All you've got to say is, 'I can go hard for 10 seconds.' And then, 'I can go hard for 15 seconds.' That will get you through it."

During the recovery periods, bring the intensity down to something that suits your current level of conditioning, she says. If you're new to exercise or getting back into the swing of things, that might be a 2 out of 10. If you've been working out regularly, you might feel comfortable recovering at a 5.

Tip

Before you hit your first sprint, warm up for 5 minutes at an easy pace using your chosen method of cardio.

Week 1

Complete this circuit 5 times:

  • Sprint​ - 10 seconds
    • Recover​ - 20 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 15 seconds
    • Recover​ - 45 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 10 seconds
    • Recover​ - 20 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 20 seconds
    • Recover​ - 40 seconds

Week 2

Complete this circuit 4 times:

  • Sprint​ - 20 seconds
    • Recover​ - 40 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 30 seconds
    • Recover​ - 30 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 20 seconds
    • Recover​ - 40 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 30 seconds
    • Recover​ - 30 seconds

Week 3

Complete this circuit 3 times:

  • Sprint​ - 30 seconds
    • Recover​ - 30 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 30 seconds
    • Recover​ - 30 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 60 seconds
    • Recover​ - 60 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 30 seconds
    • Recover​ - 30 seconds

Week 4

Complete this circuit 3 times:

  • Sprint​ - 30 seconds
    • Recover​ - 30 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 60 seconds
    • Recover​ - 60 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 30 seconds
    • Recover​ - 30 seconds
  • Sprint​ - 60 seconds
    • Recover​ - 60 seconds

Tip

Cool down with a few stretches of your choice. Focus on stretches that target the muscles you just worked. For example, if you jumped rope, you'll want to include a calf stretch. And if you ran, you'll want to stretch your glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves.

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