Running fast, then slow, then fast again, isn’t just something you did in gym class (who was too tired to sprint the whole race? 🙋‍♂️). This running method — known as interval running — is actually a super beneficial workout.

But what *exactly* is interval running?

Interval running involves running at a fast pace for a set time followed by jogging at a slower pace for a set time, and so on.

This style of running aims to maximize your aerobic fitness while minimizing your overall time spent exercising.

Here’s how it works and how to start an interval running plan.

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The basics

Interval running is a type of high intensity interval training (HIIT) where you get an intense workout in potentially less time. Aerobic exercise basically just uses oxygen to up your breathing and heart rate.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy adults do moderate aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. That’s 150 minutes per week.

Totally don’t have time for that? Instead, the CDC says you can do vigorous aerobic activity for at least 20 minutes a day for 3 days a week.

Since interval running offers plenty of intensity, you can count it at least partly as vigorous exercise and potentially reduce your cardio time each week.

What to expect during interval running:

  1. It starts with a period of light jogging to warm up.
  2. The bulk of the workout involves “cycles” of high intensity running, lower intensity jogging, walking, or rest.
  3. It usually wraps up with a period of light jogging or walking to cool down.
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Getting rolling (or running)

Since interval running is highly customizable, anyone who can safely jog or run can do it. If you have an injury, a heart condition, or aren’t sure where your fitness level is at, talk with a personal trainer or doctor before getting started.

At the high intensity intervals, aim to be pretty out of breath. At the lower intensity intervals, you should be able to comfortably chat with a pal.

Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned pro, here’s a basic interval workout that can be customized to meet your skill level and goals:

Do this (workout)For this long (time)At this intensity (effort)
warm up5 mins35%
run1 min65%
jog2 mins50%
run1 min70%
jog2 mins40%
run1 min65%
jog2 mins50%
run1 min70%
jog2 mins40%
cool down5 mins35%

Since interval training tends to be more exhaustive than steady-state endurance workouts, you may need a longer recovery period. In the beginning, start with 3 times a week and go from there as your fitness improves.

In the meantime, you can still do other exercises on the remaining days.

Get ready to run

New to running in general? We got you.

Check out our guides to the best running shoes, sports bras, and cold weather gear for running.

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Moving your body in *any form* is good for you. Whether you practice interval running, go on long jogs, or just dance around your room like you’re Shakira, aerobic exercise comes with a bunch of benefits, including:

  • better capacity to use oxygen
  • lower heart rate
  • lower blood pressure
  • lower risk of cardiovascular disease

Interval training in particular — compared to traditional jogging — may also come with some extra dope benefits, such as:

  • improved cardio-respiratory fitness
  • increased body fat burned
  • reduced workout time with similar results
  • improvements in max aerobic capacity
  • increased use of fat for energy
  • increased insulin sensitivity
  • more muscle fibers worked
  • more calories burned

Just starting out? Here’s what to do.

Interval running workout for beginners

  • Do a 5-min jogging warmup.
  • Run 30 secs at 75 percent of your intensity.
  • Slowly jog for 30 secs at 25 percent of your intensity.
  • Repeat for 3 cycles.

Do this 2 times per week for 4 weeks. Keep challenging yourself by adding an extra cycle each week.

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Afterward, you’re ready to move on to the intermediate routine.

If you completed the 4-week beginner interval workout or are already a moderately experienced runner, you can prob tackle this intermediate, 3-cluster routine. Here’s how:

Interval workout for intermediate runners

First, complete 1 cluster:

  • Do a 5-min jogging warmup.
  • Run for 30 secs at 75 percent intensity.
  • Run for 30 secs at 25 percent intensity.
  • Repeat for 3 cycles.
  • Take a 1-min rest.

Then, do 2 more clusters of the above.

Do this 3 times a week for 4 weeks. Each week, add another cycle to each cluster (i.e., on week 2, you’ll do 4 cycles in each cluster).

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If you’re an experienced runner or have already completed the 4-week intermediate interval runner routine, you’re ready to take on this challenge.

Interval running workout for advanced runners

First, do one cluster:

  • Do a 5-min jogging warmup.
  • Run for 30 secs at 75 percent intensity.
  • Run for 30 secs at 25 percent intensity.
  • Repeat for 4 cycles.
  • Take a 1-min rest.

Then, do 2 more clusters of the above.

Repeat for 4 weeks and add on an additional cluster each week. By week 4, you’ll be doing 6 clusters of 4 cycles for about 30 minutes of total workout time.

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If you prefer the treadmill to the trail or pavement, no prob. You can do intervals just as easily on your machine. You can also up the incline to make things a little more interesting.

Treadmill interval workout

Next time you hop on your treadmill, try this:

  • Do a 5-min jogging warmup.
  • Jog at 50 percent intensity for 1 min.
  • Walk at 35 percent intensity for 3 mins at a 5 percent incline.
  • Jog at 65 percent intensity for 1 min at a 5 percent incline.
  • Walk for 35 percent intensity for 3 mins at an 8 percent incline.
  • Jog at 50 percent intensity for 1 min at an 8 percent incline.
  • Do a 5-min jogging cooldown at a 1 percent incline.
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How many calories you burn interval running depends on things like your weight, workout intensity, fitness level, and workout length.

According to the CDC, a 154-pound person running at a 5-mile per hour pace will burn about 295 calories in 30 minutes.

Some research also suggests that HIIT exercise (like interval running) may burn even more calories. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), HIIT workouts burn about 6 to 15 percent more calories than continuous workouts.

So, if the ACSM’s estimate is right, that same 154-pound person might burn up to 339 cals doing interval running in 30 minutes. While 330 might not seem like that much more than 295, over time, that can seriously add up.

In another small 2015 study, researchers found that participants (all men) burned significantly more calories when performing HIIT workouts (non-running specific) than in steady-exercise sessions.

While more research may be needed to prove the caloric-burning benefits of interval running over regular running, it just might give you a leg up.

Any type of running — even the kind that happens when you’re late for work — can help your weight loss routine.

According to the ACSM, interval training in particular is great for burning belly fat and lowering body weight while maintaining muscle mass.

In 2017 research, it was suggested that interval training results in a greater reduction of body fat than traditional exercise.

However, in one 2016 study of women with obesity, HIIT training didn’t result in any more weight or fat loss than moderate-intensity continuous training.

Either way, it’s safe to say that running in any form will help you reach your weight loss #goals — as long as you also prioritize your nutrition and overall well-being.

You can use any stopwatch to practice interval running. But, some apps or a smartwatch may make things even more streamlined.

It seems like there’s an app for literally everything, and interval training (thankfully) is no exception. To make training easy, we’ve rounded up our top interval timing apps.

For most people, interval running is a safe and effective workout. But like most things we love (see: coffee, sugar, or even running) — it’s not without risks.

When you run at higher intensities, there’s a greater impact on your ankles, knees, and hips. For that reason, the sprints in HIIT can potentially lead to a greater risk of muscle pulls, strains, or tears.

It’s worth noting that regular jogging has risks, too. It can also cause stress fractures and overuse injuries.

To prevent problems, follow these key tips:

  • Take it slow: Sure, part of interval training is going fast, but those rests are there for a reason. To avoid muscle strain, pain, or injury, master a beginner routine before you move up to something more intense.
  • Talk with a pro: A certified personal trainer can help you assess your skills and goals and create an interval training program that works for you. If you have any injuries or muscular issues, it may be best to try a lower impact exercise like using an elliptical or swimming. A pro can point you in the right direction.
  • If it hurts, stop right there: No matter how many times people say no pain, no gain, don’t push through pain when your muscles are screaming. Sure, some soreness post-workout is expected, but sharp pain during your workout isn’t normal.

Interval running is an A+ way to improve your health and fitness. Since interval running gives you more cardio-aerobic payoff for your run, you may be able to reap more benefits in less time than with continuous running.

Whether you’re new to running or have been doing it for life, interval training is super customizable and suitable for all skill levels.

If you’re new to working out or have an injury or heart condition, talk with your doc or a certified personal trainer before you hit the ground running.