Interval Training

Resources Needed: Equipment associated with the exercises your group selects.

A timer: a device or program that keeps time – this can be a simple timer or an interval timer like the ones at the following websites:

Interval Timer


Note to Leader: It is important to provide participants with a variety of exercise options so that they can learn more about their certain preferences on what they enjoy or don’t particularly enjoy and what they feel like they can accomplish on their own at home. In addition to circuit training (described on page 318 of the HealthMatters curriculum), interval training is an excellent way to structure your exercise activities that keeps participants motivated and adds an element of fun. Participants can enjoy counting down with the timer and motivating each other to keep going for those last few seconds – which are always the hardest.  An even greater benefit is that science has shown how interval training can rev up your metabolism and continue burning calories even after you finished your work out!

Example Instructions: For interval programming, the goal is to work at a moderate-high level of intensity for the full amount of interval time followed by a short period of rest before the next interval starts. This put participants shooting for about a 15 out of 20 on the Borg exertion level scale.

Step 1: Select your interval times.

Common intervals are 20 -60 seconds of activity followed by 30 seconds of rest before starting the activity again.

Step 2: Select your activities or exercises

Select body weight exercises that do not require any additional equipment or select exercises that require additional components. For example you could incorporate items like chairs for sit to stands or hand weights or resistance bands.

Step 3: Create your intervals

Decide the order in which you will be completing the exercises.   There are 2 common options:

Option A:   3 repetitions of the same activity for one full set. Lets say you selected 30 seconds for your activities, your interval options would look something like this:

Activity A for 30 seconds: Rest for 30 seconds: Activity A for 30 seconds: Rest for 30 seconds: Activity A for 30 seconds: Rest for 1-2 minutes: Activity B for 30 seconds: Rest for 30 seconds: Activity B for 30 seconds: Rest for 30 seconds: Activity B for 30 seconds: Rest for 30 seconds: . . . .

Option B: Activity A for 30 seconds: Rest for 30 seconds: Activity B for 30 seconds: Rest for 30 seconds: Activity C for 30 seconds: Rest for 1-2 minutes . . . Repeat

You can repeat the sets of exercises as many times as desired for your interval training. You can also start slow and increase duration of exercise for intervals over time or increase the number of repeated sets. You can also come up with appropriate exercises on your own or even change the amount of time for the intervals.

What We Did: We selected the option B interval timing with 3 exercises that each worked different elements in our FABS our bodies.   For example we chose to do arm circles, run in place or do high knees, and finish with side bends. Each exercise was completed at moderate to high intensity for one full minute and then followed by 30 seconds of rest before we went onto the next exercise for a full minute. After we finished the full rotation we got a drink of water and rested for several minutes before we started again.   After two rotations (where each exercise was completed twice) we changed up our exercises before repeating the intervals to add some variety. The participants themselves suggested the second round of exercises making sure to have one upper body, one aerobic, and one lower body activity. The interval training we completed is outlined below so that you could recreate the same exercises.

Our interval timer looked like this:

Exercise 1 for 1 minute – Rest for 30 seconds – Exercise 2 for 1 minute – Rest for 30 seconds – Exercise 3 for 1:00 Rest for 2 minutes while getting a drink of water and then repeat from beginning.

Exercise 1: Arm Circles – This exercise will work the arm and shoulder muscles. Keep arms flexed straight out from the shoulders to the fingertips like you are making the letter “t” with the body then and rotate those straight arms in circles. Try and keep the circle the size of a baseball or grapefruit to work the muscles more. Reverse directions half way through the interval to switch things up and get a better benefit from this activity

Exercise 2: High Knees or Run in Place – The goal of this interval is to be high enough intensity to result with an increase in heart rate and work aerobic capacity. Make sure to also move the upper body and not just focus on the legs. Also move at the pace you feel comfortable with to exercise the full interval.  It is also beneficial to really push for the last 10 seconds of the interval to really make sure you go at a strong intensity the entire time instead of slacking off. When doing high knees I have participants hold their hands out straight with elbows bent at 90 degrees and palms facing the floor. This gives them a goal of how high to get their knees. The idea is to have the knee reach high enough to tap the palm of the hand above it at waist level or higher.   For running or jogging in place just make sure to incorporate arm movement for a more beneficial activity.

Exercise 3: Side Bends – This exercise works the core stomach and back muscles and a bit on balance. Simply stand up straight with feet planted a little more than shoulder distance apart to have a strong standing foundation. Arms hang straight at your sides to start and then bend at the waist while reaching for the side of your knee on each leg back and forth while engaging the core abdominal (stomach) muscles, back muscles, and working a little bit on staying balanced.   A good cue is to say that you are trying to touch your ribcage to your hip bone and flex your stomach muscles to bring your bellybutton back towards the spine of your back. For this exercise it is important to not bend too hard or too fast and keep the back straight versus leaning backward, if anything you can lean forward slightly to help you flex and engage those stomach muscles. Always remember to breathe, those hard working muscles need oxygen!

Exercise 4 (Jay’s Selected Exercise): Triceps Extension Pulses – This exercise specifically works the back of your arms. Lean forward slightly with back straight and knees softly bent like you are looking over the edge of a cliff and not wanting to fall. Extend arms out straight directly behind you with the elbow and wrist locked and making sure to keep the shoulders pressed down and not up in the ears. Pulse the entire arm up and down moving only a few inches either way, lifting from the shoulder and not at the elbow. You should feel the triceps muscle on the back of the arm working the most. You can switch it up and draw small circles with the arms or pulse in and out instead of up and down. The key here is to keep those arms absolutely straight and shoulders out of the ears.

Exercise 5: Speed Skaters or Side Steps – The Speed Skater exercise is meant to look like the Olympic speed skaters while they are zipping along on the ice and works aerobic capacity, balance, and leg muscles. Begin with a step or hop to one foot and then tap the other foot slightly behind the standing foot before repeating this motion the opposite way.   By adding the step behind, this adds an element of balance to the muscular endurance and aerobic capacity of the activity. To modify this exercise for lower intensity, participants could instead simply step together one step in each direction. Make sure to move your arms with each step. To increase the level of intensity you could increase the speed and also try and bend your knees more to keep the body lower to the ground. The lower and faster you go, as well as whether you hop or step, the harder this exercise works.

Exercise 6: Leg Raises – This exercise works on muscle strength, balance, and flexibility. Stand up straight holding onto a chair or wall if needed to help you balance. Begin by lifting one leg forward, to the side, or to the back. Hold the leg in place 6-12 inches away from the floor for just a moment before returning to standing position and lifting again. The straighter or higher the leg the more you will work the muscles. You will want to switch legs back and forth with each lift or halfway through the interval so that you are working equal sides of the body.

The Last 10 Seconds of Each Interval: This is surely the hardest part of the interval. Bodies are tired and motivation gets weak. It is important to push through these last few moments of activity and work the exercise until the very end. Make sure to say motivating phrases here and have the group motivate each other while counting together those last 5-10 seconds to make sure that each interval is being finished together by the entire group. Then celebrate briefly for the first few seconds of rest while you take deep breaths and grab some water or stretch a little bit before the next interval starts all over again!

Participants Doing Interval Arm Circles