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Is Interval Training Actually More Effective Than Normal Exercise?

Photographed by Ben Ritter.
'Soul Cycle', 'Ballet Beautiful', 'Quickie Ass & Abs' – the world of fashionable work outs can be a bit of a conundrum for those of us more used to traditional sporting terms such as 'jog', 'swim' and 'walk'. But as with all new fashions, there's no smoke without fire and these now staple classes are oversubscribed for good reason.

Interval-training is as bellicose as it sounds. We're talking relentless bursts of high-level intensive work-outs. Professional athletes have been training using the interval-method for eons, it's just that now, couch potatoes like us are giving it a go too. But is it actually better for you than, say, a more attractive 30 minute jog with a nice podcast along the river?

From Frame, to Another Space, to Heartcore, high intensity interval training is around every corner. Barry's bootcamp is one of the more hardcore, dedicated entirely to high intensity interval training. Merciless trainers will tell you off for being 12 seconds late to the treadmill, and you'll quickly feel like you've accidentally stepped onto the set of Britain's Biggest Loser as your spaghetti arms fail to heave you up for that tenth press-up. Not convinced? We spoke to two trainers about why everyone's losing their sh*t for interval training, and whether this type of workout is actually more effective. Now drop and give us twenty.

Think how your car burns the most fuel in stop-start traffic.

Sandy Macaskill, trainer

Sandy Macaskill, 31, Barry's Bootcamp London co-owner and Nike Elite Trainer

What is interval training?
Essentially it's a workout with alternating periods of maximum effort and recovery.

Can you explain what happens to the body during interval training, and why it’s more beneficial than lower-impact workouts over a longer period?
Think how your car burns the most fuel in stop-start traffic. With interval training, you are working at high revs so you torch fat. And even better, you keep burning it after the workout is over.

The training session I attended was split between cardio on a treadmill and weights – what does each part do for your body and your fitness? Do you need both?
The cardio element burns fat there and then, while the weight training helps build lean muscle, strengthen your bones, and continues the calorie burn for up to 24 hours. Think strong not skinny!

How many minutes should you run for during the running bit? And at what sort of speed?
We run for 25-30 minutes, which is plenty with interval training. We don't go in for steady state cardio – your body needs to be taken out of its comfort zone if it is to train efficiently. So of that 30 minutes, you might only be at high intensity for half of it.
Anya Lahiri, London Master Trainer and Nike NTC Elite Trainer

If someone wants to incorporate interval training into their home routine or outside (i.e. not in a gym), what would you recommend as a starter programme? The Nike NTC app is a great place to start and will guide you through specific training programmes. Nothing beats joining a class for motivation and proper instruction on form though.

Are there any dangers in interval training? Anything that can cause harm if not properly done? For example, how far should you push yourself? If a person starts to feel faint or a bit sick, should they stop? The beauty of high intensity intervals is that everyone's threshold is different. You should push hard enough that you need to take a recovery, if you can still jog or keep going your push wasn't hard enough. If you feel faint or sick you should definitely pull back but trust your body – your heart rate will come down in the recovery and you normally have more in the tank than you think.

What do you recommend eating or drinking before and after interval training? Try and have some good carbs (whole grains, sweet potatoes etc) and some protein at least two hours before class to fuel yourself so you can push to your max. After class you should ALWAYS have some form of protein immediately after to help repair the muscles you have just smashed.

Do you have any mantras, or motivational tips for people to get fit? Don't be scared of being a beginner, everyone has to start somewhere!