Tired of the same old running routine? Mix it up with sprint intervals. Running intervals not only bust boredom but burn a ton of calories too, making it an ideal weight-loss workout (if weight loss is your goal). That's what you call a win-win.
Plus, there's no special equipment required — just you and the open road. Lace up your shoes and let your legs do the rest.
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What Is Sprint Interval Training?
Interval running fuses short bursts of high-intensity exercise with brief recovery periods of low-intensity exercise, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). An example of an interval-running workout consists of an intense sprint for 30 seconds immediately followed by walking for 1 minute. The typical duration for interval running includes a 5-minute warmup, a maximum of 10 to 12 intervals and a 5-minute cooldown, per ACE.
Resistance training exercises also provide a method for performing intervals. It's worth noting that strength training intervals focus more on improving muscular endurance (the ability of a muscle to repeatedly exert force against resistance) as opposed to running sprint intervals, which focuses on improving cardiovascular endurance (how well your lungs and heart can supply oxygen to your body during exercise).
An example of a resistance interval workout might be 45 seconds of squat pulses followed by 1 minute of rest or slow and controlled squats at full range, then repeat.
It's always a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. This is especially important if you have a history of heart, lung or joint conditions. If you're returning to exercise after an injury, make sure you get the OK for the specific type of training you plan to do.
How Do Sprint Intervals Help With Weight Loss?
There are a few ways interval running aids in weight loss. Sprinting increases your heart rate and pushes your body's energy systems to their max, resulting in EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), Meg Takacs, a running coach and creator of the Mindful Miles training program, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Which means you burn a high amount of calories after your workout, too."
Burning calories is also more efficient during your workout. How many calories are burned while interval running? While the number is different for everyone — depending on body weight, exercise intensity and exercise duration — here's an example: While a 155-pound person would burn about 500 calories during a 60-minute jog, they could burn that amount with a 30-minute sprint workout, alternating between all-out sprints and recovery, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Then there are the muscular benefits. "When you do sprint intervals, you not only recruit more muscles — especially hamstrings — which burns more calories, but you also create more micro-tears in your muscle tissue," Takacs says.
That means your body continues to use calories to repair those micro-tears and build new lean muscle after your workout, which is more good news for future fat burn. That's because the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest to maintain it.
You can use a physical activity calorie counter to help you determine how many calories you’ve burned based on your body weight, activity type and exercise duration.
There are many free online tools, like this physical activity calorie counter from ACE, that can help you figure out the number of calories you burned during a specific activity, like interval training.
Additionally, smartwatches, fitness trackers and heart rate monitors can give you an estimate based on your heart rate during your workout.
An important note: Reducing physical activity to nothing more than calories burned can lead to disordered exercising behaviors. You can be sure you're making the best choices for your health when you're choosing workouts you enjoy on a regular basis.
Planning Your Interval Workouts
Because interval runs are intense and hard on the body, you shouldn't be doing them every day, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Aim for two to three sessions per week, per ACE, and use a different type of interval for each workout. For example, on Mondays you can run hills and Wednesdays you can do a HIIT pyramid workout on flat land, where your exercise reps will look something like: 1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, 1.
For outside running interval workouts, you won't have the luxury of the treadmill to track your time and speed. To gauge your intensity, Takacs recommends working off your perceived effort. As you increase your speed and power with each interval, it'll feel harder. On a scale of 1 to 10, sprints should be a 7 to 9 and recovery should feel like a 3 or 4.
You can also use a running watch to help you do this. For example, if your first 200-meter sprint clocked in at 45 seconds, aim for each successive sprint to be faster.
But it's worth noting you can absolutely do interval running for weight loss on a treadmill if you can't get outside by increasing or decreasing the treadmill's speed and incline levels.
20-Minute Outdoor Sprint-Interval Workout
Designed by Takacs, this flat-and-fast outdoor sprint interval workout for weight loss burns a ton of calories in just 20 minutes. All you need is a track or a level stretch of ground to get going. For a real challenge, try to acquire more distance with each consecutive interval.
Check out more of our 20-minute workouts here — we’ve got something for everyone.
- 5-minute jog at an average pace
- 90-second sprint
- 60-second walk
- Repeat 6 times
- 1-mile jog at an average pace
Make sure you have supportive running shoes to reduce your risk of injury, like an ankle sprain, especially for interval-type training.