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Designing and Teaching Effective Interval Formats

As a fitness professional, you have known for years that interval training can meet the goals and needs of your members and class participants. Interval training has become such a popular type of training - mainly because students enjoy the constant moving and changes of intensities. Mixing things up by alternating bouts of high intensity with bouts of moderate/low intensity can be very motivating, as well as efficient. So, how well do you know the science of interval training and how to effectively incorporate it into your group fitness class?

Though Interval training has been around for decades, it’s only recently gained enough popularity to grab the attention of fitness enthusiasts around the world. So much so, that it has been given names based on its intensity and those that have researched it well – HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), and Tabata (named after Professor Izumi Tabata), just to name a few. As the darling of fat loss and improved aerobic conditioning, you can choose to do it right...and gain the credibility and following of your students. Or you can choose to do it wrong...and lead your students down a path of injuries and muscle loss.

Let’s take a look at a sampling of some common interval types and how they are differentiated:

The chart below lists additional components of each training option:

Type Timing Total Time How often?
Tabata Intervals 20 seconds high intensity followed by 10 seconds rest 8 cylces = 4 minutes 2-4x/week
Gibala Method 60 seconds high intensity followed immediately by 75 seconds easy. 12 cycles = 27 minutes 3x/week
Turbulence Training 8 reps heavy strength training, followed by 1-2 easy cardio Maximum of 45 minutes 3x/week

In the simplest sense, interval training is nothing more than a method of exercise that alternates periods of work and rest. The complicated part of interval training may be figuring out how to implement it. How much work do I do? How hard should I do it? How long should I rest before I do it again? Knowing that these interval ratios have been tested and shown effective, the chart above can provide a framework and sampling of how you can incorporate interval training in your classes today. In addition, consider all of the following when designing your interval based format:

Once you’ve determined how many bouts of intervals you will run, and how long each interval and rest period will last, it’s all about the movements. After all, everyone from the high level athlete to the beginner will want to take your class and challenge themselves with high intensity intervals. But remember, what is high intensity to one student, is easy to another - it all depends on the student’s cardiovascular fitness, coordinated ability, and anaerobic strength. The best way to ensure the success of each student is to have a base movement in mind, along with a modification and a progression. Some examples are provided here:

Modification (level 1) Base Movement (level 2) Progression (level 3)
Plank Plank Jacks Plank to Squat Thrust
Plank to Squat Burpee Single Leg Burpee
High Knee March Sprint Tuck Jumps
Lateral Taps Jumping Jack Power Jack

Remind your students that once their body adapts to the stress of the interval, their fitness level improves along with muscle function. They will then have to work harder to achieve a high intensity or perform a progression of the movement. It’s recommended that interval workouts are done every other day at most. This allows for the necessary rest and recovery needed for hard-working muscles.

Knowing that lack of time and lack of results are the top reasons why people give up exercising, your guidance with interval training can be the boost your students need for finding fitness success!


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