Have you ever heard that the best way to lose fat is to increase your cardio? Running is one way to do so, but the big question is whether you run aimlessly or in a manner that is efficient and effective. Interval training running for weight loss is the ideal way to get the most out of the activity and attain your weight loss goal. Here is everything you need to know about running for weight loss interval training.
What is Interval Training?
Interval training is a special kind of exercise that involves alternating periods of intense activity with moments of rest ( less-intense recovery periods) (12). According to research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, interval training is the best way to shed unwanted pounds, much better than cardio done in a steady-state (3). The 2 weeks study was done on 16 McMaster University students in Canada who performed 6 sessions of sprint interval training (SIT), particularly 30 seconds of all-out cycling efforts with 4-min of recovery between tests. The findings showed that this workout yielded the same muscle and cell adaptations as a bike ride lasting between 1.5-2 hours.
Exercising for a shorter time at higher intensity burns more fat in the long run than performing other steady-state workouts for a more extended period. Compared to traditional aerobics, interval training is more efficient at burning calories after the exercise, i.e., afterburn referred to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) (5). According to Yurielkaim, EPOC is higher after shorter, higher-intensity exercises than longer, steady-state chronic cardio style activities (6). How does this happen? After working out, the body focuses on returning all the systems to normal, for example, blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate, body temperature, as well as fueling the muscles and repairing damaged muscle tissue, among other functions. To do all these activities, energy is used up, resulting in more calories being burnt after the exercise.
Even though the afterburn effect is unique from one person to another, a comparative study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism found a 4.2% increase in metabolic rate after high-intensity exercises that caused fat oxidation over 16 hours. Another study in the Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism publication concluded that oxygen consumption during HIIT was lower than in continuous moderate-intensity training, but after 24 hours, the amounts were equal, meaning that the two types of exercises induce similar 24-hour energy expenditure despite reduced time commitment in the high-intensity interval workout (2) (4).
Elements of Interval Training
Before jumping into the actual running for weight loss interval training workouts, it is important to first understand its components. Interval training is divided into 5 main elements (6). These are:
Work Interval Intensity
By now, you should have figured out that intensity is the most critical aspect of interval training because it is what differentiates steady-state cardio from these fat burning workouts. Intensity is the all-out effort period where you put more effort into the exercise.
During the intervals, you switch on the anaerobic system, which energizes you for the high-intensity periods. This produces lactic acid, an indication that the body is quickly using energy to the extent that it lacks enough oxygen for the muscles to function, resulting in a fat-burn effect. Yurielkaim recommends about 85-100% of all-out effort or sprinting, i.e., the hard part of the intervals (6).
According to a 2012 research by the University of New South Wales Medical Sciences, published in the Journal of Obesity, participants who sprinted on a bike for 8 seconds then did a light exercise for 12 seconds, and repeated the pattern for 20 minutes, lost 2.5 kilograms of subcutaneous fat for 15 weeks (8). On the other hand, those who continuously did steady-state workout for 40 minutes did not lose any fat. This proves that high-intensity intermittent exercise burns 3 times more body fat than steady-state cardio.
Work Interval Duration
The duration for working out at a high level depends on your fitness level and history of working out. At first, the length may be very short, but you can increase the duration as your fitness improves. It may be impossible to sprint out for over 30 seconds.
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Recovery Interval Intensity
Recovery in this type of workout means lowering the work intensity to a pace that allows the body to reset briefly to prepare for another intense workout period. Instead of sprinting, you can walk briskly, jog lightly, or run faster.
Recovery Interval duration
The recovery mode period between working intervals is equally important because you need adequate rest before going hard again. However, this period should not be too long to lose the intensity of the exercise. Restricting the time spent at this moment helps maintain cardiovascular drift when the heart rate increases steadily as you workout, notwithstanding the workload change. Therefore, it allows you to stay at a higher rate for a longer period, enhancing the fat burn and metabolic output.
Number of Intervals
Your fitness level and the amount of time set aside for the exercise determines the number of intervals. The fitter you are, the more the work intervals because the recovery intervals are shorter.
Best Interval Training Running Workouts for Weight-loss
Now that you understand the 5 elements of the high-intensity interval, here are practical running for weight loss interval training examples:
Beginners Guide to Running Interval Training
There are numerous ratios for running and interval training for weight loss. For beginners, Yurielkaim recommends a work-to-rest ratio of 1:4, with the recovery interval being 4 times longer than the work period (6). For example:
- After warming up, sprint for 30 seconds (80-90% maximum effort), then do a 2-minute jog or walk to recover. Repeat this 5 times, then perform cooling down activities.
- Warm-up, sprint for 10 seconds at 100% effort, then take 40 seconds to recover either by walking or jogging. Repeat 6 times before engaging in activities to cool you down.
Intermediate and Advanced Running for Weight Loss Interval Training
As you move from beginner to more advanced levels, your work-to-rest ratio will reduce. Select a ratio that suits your fitness level. For example:
- Warm-up, sprint for 30 seconds, recover for 90 seconds (ratio 1:3), cool down.
- Warm-up, sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 60 seconds (ratio 1:2), cool down. The Adidas blog refers to this as aerobic intervals whereby the intense phase (sprinting for about 85-90% of your maximum sprint) lasts for a maximum of 30 seconds, and the recovery phase is twice that for a total of 20 minutes (intervals) (7).
- Warm-up, sprint for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds (ratio 1:1), cool down.
- Warm-up, sprint for 30 seconds, recover for 15 (ratio 2:1), cool down.
How you move while running and sprinting is the same because you put one foot in front of the other. The difference is that sprinting is a much more explosive version of running, and it takes more power and muscle activation to cover the same stretch of the road compared to walking, jogging, or running (11). Runnersworld gives tips on how to sprint faster, it includes warming up, proper posture, thinking circularly, landing efficiently, driving arms, shortening strides, kicking your butt, breathing, and performing rolling starts (11).
Sprinting is effective during and after the workout. According to Livestrong, it boosts the heart rate, pushing the body’s energy systems to their maximum to cause excess post-exercise oxygen consumption that is beneficial as already discussed (9). Sprint intervals recruit more muscles, particularly the hamstrings, resulting in more calorie burn. It also creates more micro-tears in the muscle tissue, meaning that the body continues to use calories to repair the micro-tears and construct new lean muscle after the workout (9). The more muscles you have, the more calories your body burns at rest to maintain them.
Other Effective Running Workouts for Losing Weight
Interval training or long-distance running for weight loss? High-intensity work sessions increase the muscles training stimulus, helping you attain greater training effect in the same period as moderate distance run (12). However, apart from sprinting, you lose a considerable amount of weight through long-distance running for weight loss (7). Here are two examples:
Intervals at Your 5k Race Pace (1:1 Ratio)
Here, the work and recovery phases are equal, each lasting 4 minutes, and the cycle is repeated 4 times, meaning that the entire exercise takes a total of 32 minutes (7). You run at the average pace of your 5k personal best, or adjust the intensity as per your heart rate (calculate max heart rate by taking 220 – your age, then take 90-95% of the value). Note that it will take you about 1.5-2 minutes to reach the calculated heart rate because that is when the heart rate levels off after you begin running.
Continuous Running at Your 10k Race Pace
Here, your pace, which should be the average of your 10k personal best, or as per 85-90% of your heart rate value (220 – your age), is constant throughout the workout. The exercise will take about 40 minutes (7).
Running for Weight Loss Interval Training Plan
How often should you run for weight loss interval training? For visible results, perform interval training running for weight loss 2-3 times a week. You should wait for a minimum of 48 hours before the next intense training session. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology concluded that only 7 interval training sessions performed at an intensity of 80–95% V̇o2 peak between that needed for moderate training and that required for sprint training regimens over a fortnight resulted in an increase in a fat burn by 36%, i.e., from 15.0 ± 2.4 g to 20.4 ± 2.5 g (10).
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Benefits of Running for Weight Loss Interval Training
A study by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health recommends the inclusion of high physical activity levels in any plan regardless of weight loss goals because of its numerous cardiovascular benefits. In summary, the advantages of this type of exercise include (6):
- Weight loss
- Increase performance in sports
- Boost overall endurance and fitness
- Aerobic interval training (AIT) has been established to reduce body mass index, percentage of fat, mean arterial blood pressure, and boosting peak oxygen pulse better than multidisciplinary approach (MTG) (1). AIT also induced a more favorable regulation of blood glucose and insulin, which are risky cardiovascular factors.
- It will take you a shorter workout time if you work harder or longer during the intensity bursts.
- You should warm-up well before the running workouts. You can do this by running at a moderate pace for 10-15 minutes, followed by 2-3 short accelerations. After the exercise, jog at a slow pace for about 10 minutes to cool down (7). Therefore, the perfect way of doing the exercise is to begin by warming up, then the workout, and lastly cooling down (12).
- Treadmills are not the best alternative for interval running because they normally take over 10 seconds to reach full speed, meaning that the recovery period will be lengthened. Therefore, it is much better to perform the workout on level ground for a maximum outcome (6).
- You need supportive running shoes to minimize the risk of spraining an ankle while interval training (9).
To shed off unwanted fat, you need to burn more calories than you consume, and the perfect way of doing so is by running for weight loss interval training. We can conclude that, although running slowly or at a comfortable pace boosts your metabolic rate, it is not as effective as interval training running workouts for weight-loss. This detailed guide has given you basic information to help you reap the maximum benefits from this workout. If you have an injury or specific health issue, get approval from your doctor. Also, consult a qualified personal trainer or fitness coach before trying this workout.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Aerobic interval training reduces cardiovascular risk factors more than a multitreatment approach in overweight adolescents (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise oxygen consumption and resting metabolic rate in young women (2000, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of short-term sprint interval training on human skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism during exercise and time-trial performance (2006, journals.physiology.org)
- High-intensity interval exercise induces 24-h energy expenditure similar to traditional endurance exercise despite reduced time commitment (2014, researchgate.net)
- High-intensity interval training: A time-efficient strategy for health promotion? (2007, link.springer.com)
- Interval Running for Weight Loss: Here’s the Best Way to Do It (n.d, yurielkaim.com)
- THE 3 MOST EFFECTIVE RUNNING WORKOUTS FOR LOSING WEIGHT (2020, adidas.com)
- The Effect of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise on Body Composition of Overweight Young Males (2012, hindawi.com)
- This Outdoor Sprint-Interval Workout Blasts Calories (and Boredom) (2020, livestrong.com)
- Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women (2007, journals.physiology.org)
- Want to Boost Your Speed? Here’s How to Sprint Faster (2019, runnersworld.com)
- WHY YOU SHOULD BE DOING INTERVAL TRAINING TO LOSE WEIGHT (2019,runtastic.com)