Interval training: how slow should you go?

Great news! Not everything in life needs to be a long, hard slog – and this includes your exercise program. Breaking up your routine with interval training is a well-documented and successful fitness strategy. It’s been studied in laboratories, found its way into countless magazines and publications and even been emblazoned on national headlines. Basically speaking, the idea is a winner! But what if you’ve tried it and still can’t quite see the results? It may be a matter of fine tuning and could be easier than you think.

What is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and how does it work?
In case you’ve had your head in the sand, HIIT involves working out at different heart rate intensities. If you need convincing about this interval training caper, there’s some astounding data out there. According to the Journal of Physiology, just 20 minutes of interval training (short, high-intensity bursts followed by brief periods of recovery)Interval training fitness tips - Sage Institute of Fitness produces the same physical response as a whopping 90 minutes of arduous cardio performed at a moderate pace. And, note this too: the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that individuals that practised HIIT over 15 weeks lost an amount of subcutaneous fat that was a massive nine times greater than their counterparts doing regular cardio over a 20-week period. Excited? We’re not surprised…

However, in the midst of people high-fiving their time-conscious friends and throwing their marathon running shoes in the bin, a few of us have still found ourselves a touch disappointed. It seems that many of us have embraced the idea but have not followed through on an important detail: heart rate intensity.

HIIT: getting it right
To hit your mark with interval training, there are two considerations: the level of intensity required when you are maxing out, and making sure you are going easy enough in the recovery periods. You could say that both the hare and the tortoise need to put their heart rate monitors on!

Interval Training Tips from Sage Fitness

Success with interval training requires a strong juxtaposition between the two periods. When you are working at full capacity, you need to push your heart rate up to 85 – 90% of your maximum heart rate for approximately 30 seconds. And in recovery, take as long as you need to let your heart rate returned to 60 to 70% of your max.

It pays to have a heart rate monitor to do this accurately. Although there are different formula’s to calculate your maximum heart rate, the most common gender-based methods are:

  • if you’re a man, subtract your age from 220
  • if you’re a woman, subtract 88% of your age from 206

Personal Training Tips from Sage Fitness

The good news is that the “going slow” phase is extremely important, so remember to chill a bit, and allow yourself time to slow down and get back to that 60 to 70% zone. Your heart rate has to slow down because this is where the cardiovascular adaptation takes place, and your body prepares for next period of high intensity.

Brainteaser alert:
This may seem a little confusing, but you still need good old-fashioned cardio training to enable you to do high-intensity training properly. Here’s why:

  1. Your body needs to be conditioned enough so that your joints can handle HIIT.
  2. Your body needs to be fit enough to call upon the appropriate fuel like fatty acids when doing intensive bursts of activity.

fitness instructor interval training - sage institute of fitness

The ideal prescription?
Keep up with regular cardio sessions of approximately 30 to 45 minutes perhaps 2 to 3 times a week. Then, enjoy the benefits of HIIT by partaking in an additional 2 to 3 sessions per week. And remember – wear a monitor to assist you with managing the your heart rate when interval training.


Sage Institute of Fitness – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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