Interval Training: Steady-State Cardio is Obsolete

First off, if you want to lose weight, I hope you've gotten your diet in order. I'm not talking a temporary yo-yo diet, I mean changing your eating habits for good.

Now, I'm sure you've noticed the "steady-staters" when you go in the gym. They're the ones that will be jogging on the treadmill for hours on end, usually at a steady pace. This really ISN'T an efficient way of losing fat at all!

When you push your body for a long period of time, for long distances, it will actually switch over to burning your muscle for energy. Now, steady-state does have its place (like if you compete in long distance events or are a bodybuilder, just don't go at high intensities for long distances if you're a bodybuilder) but for the average person trying to lose fat through cardiovascular exercise, it's obsolete.

Do You Want to Burn Fat or Muscle?

Don't believe me? Look at the marathon runner (on the left) and compare him to the sprinter (look at that face). Who looks like they actually have some muscle on them? Now who looks like a skeleton?

Your body is a lot smarter than you think. It knows that if you're going to run such long distances that it doesn't need all that extra muscle, and that bigger muscles are much more inefficient at exchanging oxygen from your capillaries to your cells (which is needed to create energy for aerobic exercise), because there is more space that the oxygen has to travel, from the capillaries to the cells. In that case, your bigger muscle fibers are just excess weight, that are inefficient at exchanging oxygen and are a great source of energy.

Plus, your endurance muscle fibers are some of the smallest muscle fibers on your body (which is good for the oxygen exchange). When you run long distances, those are the fibers you'll be working the most. Your fast twitch muscle fibers (or Type II fibers) are your bigger muscle fibers and they give out pretty quickly. You can only perform at such a high intensity for short bursts until your bigger muscle fibers tire out. When you do something like sprinting those are the fibers you target.

That's why a sprinter looks ripped and a marathon runner looks like a skeleton. They target different muscle fibers AND a marathon runner is often times running on empty... so muscle will get burnt as energy.

If overall weight loss is that important to you, and you don't care if you lose muscle along with fat, then by all means run long distances at a steady state. So how do you keep your healthy tissue, your muscle, and still lose fat? That's right, intervals.

What's An Interval?

So what's an interval?  All you have to do is change either the pace, resistance or movement a few times during your workout.

Let's say you like to run for cardio and you start out with a decent pace to warm up. Once you've got a certain distance or a certain length of time, pick up your pace (sprint if you can). Go a set amount of time or distance at that pace and then slow down to a fast walk. You'll go back up and down, up and down in these intervals.

See how simple it is?

You just fluctuate back and forth and you'll work your body a lot harder. If you're on a treadmill you can change the speed and/or incline. That's why they have the pre-programmed settings like hill climbs and such but I prefer to control it myself using the manual setting.

Not only is it harder for you to run in intervals, but you will continue to burn extra calories throughout the day because you did intervals. Most people will watch the read out on the treadmill to see how many calories they burned and expect that number to make a huge difference. That's why they'll jog for hours on end.

But do you really have time for that? No, probably not.

And does it work? Not really.

With intervals, not only will you burn calories while you're doing them, but your metabolism will be boosted enough to burn extra calories throughout the rest of the day.

Don't Think Intervals Will Work You Hard Enough? Try This!

I forget which magazine I got this idea from, but I'm willing to bet that I can have you panting and wheezing in 12 minutes. And in this 12 minutes you'll work your body harder than if you did 30 minutes or more of steady-state cardio of the same kind.

Not only will you feel that you worked harder immedietly after you finished, you may also notice it when you step on the scale if you do this often enough.

Are you ready?

This is literally not for the weak-hearted, overly obese or if you have joint problems.

  • I want you to jog for 4 minutes, this will be to get your body warmed up.
  • Once you hit that 4 minute mark I want you to sprint for 10 seconds. 10 seconds, that's it, come on you can do that tough guy!
  • As soon as the 10 seconds is up you can walk for 20 seconds.
  • But don't get too cozy, when that 20 seconds is up, you're going to be sprinting for another 10 seconds.
  • I want you to go back and forth like this for 4 minutes. So that's 8 sprinting intervals and 8 walking intervals.
  • And once you're done with that you can do a 4 minute jog as a cooldown.

Now let me know how you feel after just one 12 minute cardio session. Do you feel like you worked yourself more than your normal steady-state cardio? I thought so.

If you have issues with getting the timing right, you can make a song and add it to your mp3 player. That way you just listen and you know when to jog, sprint or walk based on the song you're listening to.

  • You pick a song that will get you warmed up and cut it off at the 4 minute mark (you'll need software like MP3Cutter on your computer)
  • And then you want to pick a song that's more hardcore, something you could sprint to. (You'll want to make sure these are cut in a way that the music starts as soon as it switches to the next song) Cut the hardcore song off 10 seconds into it. (Make sure that you're saving each of these mini-songs you're making)
  • Now pick a song that's softer, something that'd be nice to walk to. Cut this song off 20 seconds in.
  • What you can do with MP3Cutter is put cut marks on the first song every 10 seconds and then, when you split them into separate files, just keep the first 8 sections. Do the same for the slower song, but in 20 second sections.
  • Now pick a song that's upbeat but nice and drawn out, something you can imagine yourself relaxing to. You can keep this the full length if you want.

You can keep this the full length because, when I would run, I'd do it outside and the first two parts (the warm up and the intervals) I'd be running one way and the cooldown I'd just turn around and run back. If you do it this way, the cooldown will be a little longer.

Ok, now piece the song together. Put your 4 min warm up first, then your first hardcore piece and then your first softer piece. Alternate back and forth with them till you've put all 8 of each in place and then at the end put your cooldown song. And you can now link all of this together as one song.

Now load it on your mp3 player and you're ready to go! All you have to do now is listen. You hit play, start your run and pay attention, your song will tell you when to change pace. I usually hit play and then quickly start the timer on my watch, so I can keep track of my progress.

More Ways to Train in Intervals

Now if that wasn't enough, you can actually do intervals with bodyweight exercises, weights and machines! You won't really be changing the speed, but you'll be doing different movements at different weights.

You just pick a few exercises you want to do, and do them all straight through back to back with no rest, pretty fast paced, then you can rest for a minute or two and start the circuit over again. With this type of workout, not only will you lose fat, you'll also be gaining muscle.

I've done both types of workouts. I did the 12 minute cardio one for 4 months, two times a week. (I also was lifting weights 4 times a week) I dropped 12 lbs, now this might seem like nothing but I also had gained huge amount of muscle, so it's hard to just go by overall weight.

Now the bodyweight intervals I did only for 2 months, but I'd do this 5 times a week. It consisted of pushups, boxing, plyometrics and such. In those 2 months I lost 18 lbs.

So you can see how well intervals work.

I hope you've learned something from reading this and I hope that you'll at least try to use intervals in some way. If you take my 12 minute challege, please let me know how it went in a comment below. I'd be happy to hear about any progress in your fat loss journey too.

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What Kind of Interval Training Do YOU Do? 54 comments

jess 9 years ago

thanks really enjoyed the article was well written.

Ian 9 years ago

Awesome article, I am def. going to have to give the 12 min. workout a try. I've always just ran a long ways at a steady pace, so this will be a def. good change!

Deana 9 years ago

Great article - Thank you. I have friends who have been running and walking

'junk' miles for years and I'm about to give them a copy of your article!

Crista 9 years ago

Hello there, I was looking for some information on interval workouts and I came across your page. The information was very helpful for me to setup my own routine. I am going to start by just walking slow/fast intervals. I also never knew about cutting my songs and loading them on my MP3, I am going to look into it. Thanks again and hopefully it will work for me.

tfybill 8 years ago

Nicely written example of interval training. I particularly like the sprinter vs the distance runner photos at the top. They really illustrate the difference in results of jogging vs intervals. Your interval workout would fit right into the programs I review at

Tammy Watkins 7 years ago

AWESOME Article! Thank you for sharing. I have been looking for information to make my own interval music already made a few!! I have one that is Will Smith (with Summer time song for summer motivation :) Beyonce, Nelly, Kelly Clarkson, and Martina Mc Bride! Thank you AGAIN!! AWESOME!

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 7 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Thanks for reading everyone, I'm glad you're putting this information to use!

Double-Edged Fat Loss 6 years ago

Great informative info! You're right- steady-state cardio aren't really effective for the millions of people who want rapid fat loss because most of us don't have an hour to spare each day for exercise. 12 minutes of circuit training can get rid of vast amounts of calories and boosts metabolism- leading to continuous fat burn.

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Yep Double-Edged,

Intervals will save you time and burn more fat!

Property-Invest profile image

Property-Invest 6 years ago from London

Thanks for the great advice on interval training, it really is an effective method, rather than spending hours in the gym. Great hub!

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Yeah Property-Invest is saves a lot of time and is very effective!

hubby7 profile image

hubby7 6 years ago from Chicago

Interesting article. I learned a lot from you about interval trainging. I'm sure it works. Still, I like to adhere to the hour run on the treadmill while I am, at the same time, writing my hubpage articles in my head and listening to body as far as setting my pace. I take the gradual, soft, and way-of-nature-like approach to exercise as opposed to the hardcore, drill instructor one. Neither approach is the right one. It's just a matter of which approach you prefer. Anyway, excellent writing style and good info. I'll stop back by for more!

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Thanks for reading hubby7! We're all different and have different goals and different paths to achieve our goals. Steady-state cardio will still be done by some because they prefer it... It's just that interval training is more efficient for fat loss and time.

At least you're staying active; that's what counts!

Healthy Living Is profile image

Healthy Living Is 6 years ago from allergies, people, flowers. health, diet, art, medicine, mental health

Great Post

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Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Thanks for reading Healthy Living Is!

gidtset profile image

gidtset 6 years ago

Great article - if you are new to running and interval training. The risk of getting injured is pretty high when you run intervals compered to cardio training.

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Well gidtset, you could injure yourself if you don't warm up and stretch before your run... but interval training is actually pretty safe. Just don't expect to wake up and go sprint some intervals... and if you haven't ran in a while make sure to work your way up.

You just have to get to know your body and what it's capable of, warm up for your runs and stay hydrated.

Ajay 6 years ago

I tried Interval cardio today morning, felt really nice..Thanks..

However I am bit confused that after finishing my 12 mints on treadmill, either to go for elliptical or cycling?? Or just to stop there itself...I really don't wana lose muscles in this process and concern about size. Can you please put some more information which may be able to help fixing a complete cardio workout for the day? Thanks again for the information.

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Hey Ajay,

When I did this workout I only did it for the 12 minutes... the intensity is so high that you don't need to add anything onto it. You'll continue to burn calories even after you stop.

If you feel the need to continue on and are afraid of losing muscle you could add some weight training (which will burn calories too but it will also help you build muscle)...

It's usually recommended to do your weight training first and then finish up with your cardio.

I can understand the confusion though because most people are conditioned to believe that they have to do hours of cardio and go by the digital caloric read out on the treadmill... but you really can lose fat with an intense 12 minute interval bout...

Ajay 6 years ago

Thanks for your quick reply. I guess I am on right path..

How many times in a week I should do it this 12 min intensity workout then??

Please note earlier I was relying on one or maximum 2 days cardio per week ( 3 min walk - then 6-7 min average running and then again -1 min walk to cool down) followed by elliptical 10 mints and again treadmill for 5min or cycling for 5mins....

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

How about you try this 3 times a week, Ajay?

Maybe like a Monday, Wednesday, Friday pattern so that you get a day off in between and you spread your workouts out over your week..

Shouldn't be hard for you to fit in 12 minute workouts, 3 times a week.

Let me know how things go!

Dan 6 years ago


Was reading your article and it sounds pretty good. I havn't run in years and am willing to give this a try. you mentioned eating properly towards the beginning. Have any suggestions? Also do you think this 12 minute thing would be good for starting out or should I adapt it somehow?

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Hey Dan, I would recommend (since you're probably trying to lose weight?) that you ultimately eat a little less calories than you burn in a day... that's the basics to weight loss.

But what I like to do is eat 6 times a day, so that my body is never hungry... I eat breakfast, a snack, lunch, a snack, dinner, a snack... of course limit the junk food... and what I do is make sure each meal is balanced (with a serving or two from each food group) and what I put on my plate is ALL I'm going to eat... I don't go back for seconds

This workout wouldn't be bad for starting out because your body will control the level of intensity you're able to perform at... like for the sprints, if your body isn't able to literally full out sprint for the sprint interval then you won't be able to sprint.. but you'll still be able to run hard (hard for you).

If you're doing this on a treadmill, keep that in mind and don't try to run 12 miles an hour right away during your sprint intervals. Find a pace that's challenging for you but that doesn't cause you to go flying off the back of the treadmill.

As you progress you can raise the level of intensity you run at.

Hope this helps!

Jenni 6 years ago

I really enjoyed this article, thanks. I started at the gym 3 1/2 years ago, and have finally found a fab trainer - and this is exactly the type of training that I do. And it's worked a treat! Before I met Karen, I went to the gym religiously 5 mornings a week, "training" for an hour, with minimal weight loss. Karen helped me work out the link between food and weight loss (it's really a no brainer once you've worked it out!), along with interval training and am now seeing fantastic results with weight loss, cm loss and improved fitness.

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Glad to hear that you're reaching your fitness goals Jenni!

A good nutrition plan linked with interval training is a recipe for fat loss for sure!

Eirik 6 years ago

Exellent article!

What do you recommend to eat when starting the diet?

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

What diet, Eirik? I don't recommend "dieting" really if you mean eating well for a set period of time to reach a goal...

Eating healthy should be a permanent thing. You should stick with lean cuts of meat, nuts, eggs (egg whites if you're really trying to cut down), whole grains, low fat dairy, and lots and lots of organic fruits and vegetables! And of course lots of water...

You can have sweets on occasion on maybe one "cheat" day, or better yet meal, a week. But you really don't want to be eating too much that's prepackaged for you. Sure it's easier to eat because you just microwave or bake it and it's ready to go but look at the ingredients.. you don't want half that stuff!

Stay away from things like high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils.

If you are busy then just set a day or two aside and cook a big meal that you can break into portions and pop in your fridge to eat off of all week.

jaloba 6 years ago

The Itunes PodRunner Interval podcast has some really great 25 min+ interval tunes to walk/jog/sprint with. Just started using it last week, after discovering it on Itunes. I was previously jogging to the Podrunner podcasts, but the Intervals podcast has some pretty good mixes. =]

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Thanks for letting us know jaloba! It's always nice to get some interval mixes without having to make them yourself.

But if you'd still like to create your own mix, I show you how here:

John 6 years ago

Hi Bendo13,

Interesting article, thanks! I've been trying to lose a bit of weight recently through cardio but I see I've been doing it steady-state. Rather than running I am using an exercise bike. Do you think that following your exact 12-minute workout would work for cycling too or should I do it for a longer/shorter time?



Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Hey John, that workout would still work on an exercise bike. Just make sure that you're really going all out during the "sprint" intervals!

John 6 years ago

Excellent, cheers for the quick reply. :-)

What should I eat after exercising, bearing in mind that I've generally had my evening meal [a chicken fillet, lots of veg. and 50g of pasta or rice] before working out?

Out of the 8 difficulty settings, which one would you do this routine at? One of the middle ones?

Thanks again!

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

For your post workout I'd shoot for some fruit, a lean source of protein and some complex carbs. If you could just mix up a quick shake that'd be ideal since you already had dinner. So maybe some protein powder, a bit of fruit and some flax seed.

For the warm up you can have it near the low end of the middle.. and maybe raise it a little when you go to "sprint" pedal but don't raise it too much or you won't really be able to pedal that fast. And for the "walk" intervals you can put it to a pretty low level so that it's a big change in intensity. If you want to keep it at one setting the whole time and just change your pace then stick with about the middle and change it if you feel it didn't work you hard enough.

John 6 years ago

Thanks once again!

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

No problem, hope you get some good workouts in, John!

Raj 6 years ago

Thanks for the great article.Just want to ask you something.I do interval training using a treadmill on Mon,Wed and Fri for 20 mins and then I do weight training after that for 45-60 mins.So I spend about 70-90mins in the gym.Should I incorporate steady-state cardio outdoors on my rest days on Tues and Thurs?Would doing this risk overtraining?

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

I wouldn't add anything to your rest days, your body needs to recoup. So give it a break from the gym and you should be good to go.

You might be at risk of overtraining if you went to the gym 5 days a week, but that doesn't mean you have to sit around all day! There's nothing wrong with playing basketball or going for a bike ride on your days off ;).

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fadibody 6 years ago

You got a very interesting hub!Keep it up.

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 6 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Thanks for reading, fadibody!

Jo Winson 5 years ago

Hi great article and really easy to understand thanks ! I have been running the couch to 5 k programe I had great weight loss at the start but now I am stuck, so thought I would have a go at interval training for a change . As I have been running for long periods it feels really weird to run for such a short period of time as 20 seconds sprint I find I am just getting going and I have to stop . Does the method still work if I upped the sprint times to 1 min many thanks .

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 5 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Glad you enjoyed the article, Jo Winson!

You can modify intervals in any way you like but the short intervals will work your body harder because you constantly are changing pace and your body has to work hard to keep up. At the moment I do a 40 second run/20 second walk set of intervals for 15 minutes.

Another way you can modify is it keep the 20 second sprint but do something like run for a longer period of time overall (which just means more intervals back and forth) or you can have your run be entirely uphill.

Hope that helps!

Jo winson 5 years ago

Hi thanks for the kick relply ! That sounds great I will give it ago many thanks .

HikeGuy profile image

HikeGuy 5 years ago from Northern California Coast

Good job on this. I started using High-Intensity Interval Training a few months ago when I wrote some articles on it for a client. Good point about gaining muscle -- it's body composition that matters: the ratio of lean tissue to body fat. HIIT is a great time-saver. I do it hiking, power walking/jogging and on a stepper with ski poles. I also do circuit training. It used to take me about an hour a day of exercise to maintain a steady rate of weight loss. Now I only work out four or five times a week -- great stress-buster, too.

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 5 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Definitely, HikeGuy! You can use intervals with anything you do really; you can even do weight lifting intervals. I'm all about quick and effective workouts and intervals will get you out of the gym pretty quick!

Mesh 5 years ago

I want to burn FAT not look like a bodybuilder. I want a yoga body. I have dropped 5# doing yoga for a month and have increased my strength as well using my bodyweight. I think this is the best of both worlds for women. Your strong, lean yet still feminine.

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 5 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

You won't look like a bodybuilder doing intervals, Mesh... but you will burn fat a lot better! Trust me; unless you're taking something illegal, you're not going to bulk up and look like a dude. There's nothing wrong with women doing yoga, but there's also nothing wrong with women doing intervals if they want to lose fat quickly!

muso 5 years ago

currently i am unable to do weights i am recovering from a broken arm so i am interval trainning on the tredmill twice a day 4 days a week & swimming on the 5th day

interval training 5 minute warm up on 5.0 then 3 minute fast walking followed by 1 minute intense running the enire workout lasts 57 minutes including 5 min warm up & 5 minute cool down & on the 5th day i swim 5 kms

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 5 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

That sucks that you broke your arm, muso... but it's good that you've adapted and will be still working out!

You've set up quite a workload for yourself and I'm sure if you stick with it that you will be quite fit by the time your cast comes off.

That seems like a decent interval set up, and you can always raise the incline if things start to get too easy for you. I'm currently on a 5 day a week schedule myself and I'm loving the results!

jack 4 years ago

Hey.. thanks for this informative article but i want to ask u something... should i count my calories??? Can i eat before bed? I sprint for 30 seconds with another 30 second rest,is it ok?

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

Hey Jack,

You can count your calories if you want, but it requires more effort than most are able to keep up for a long period of time. You're better off making healthy substitutions, practicing portion control based on your fist or palm of your hand and eating every 3 hours or so, alternating between meals and snacks. Counting calories can be pretty accurate, but most see it as a hassle.

And sure, if you haven't eaten all the meals you normally do in a day... maybe your schedule was packed tight ...then it's OK to eat before bed. It's all about not eating in excess, compared to the calories you burnt that day, not really about how soon you're going to be sleeping. There are a number of reasons why some people try to avoid doing this though... like your metabolism slowing down a little while you sleep or the food not agreeing with your stomach, causing you to wake up. But it's better to eat a little bit before bed (if you have to) than it is to go to bed with a stomach that is growling for food.

And yeah, 30 seconds on/30 seconds off would work pretty decent for intervals. That will give you a nice challenge, and you're always welcome to mix and match the interval/rest times.

jack 4 years ago

I really learnt alot from u only with one pasted article... thanks a lot... some times i lose hope beacause i seem to put on weught faster than losing... i could see my 6 pack for less than a month and now they are all gone... i do my exercise regularly... why is it that my maximum fats are stored on my belly..

Bendo13 profile image

Bendo13 4 years ago from Colorado Springs, Colorado Author

It's just a common area where men store fat, jack... and, as I was once told, you have to think about losing fat as if your fat stores are water in a swimming pool.

When you drain the pool (burn fat), it drains from all areas at once but the deep end will always be the last part to drain... so your thickest areas of fat are going to be the last to go, but they will go if you stick to it!

Rebecca 4 years ago


I appreciated this article. I watch the biggest loser a lot (it has its moments) and they are constantly doing interval training with sprints. It really makes sense to me that it would burn fat better, just like zig zagging calories through a weekly cycle. but i thought it was unfair to just show ONE long-distance runner and ONE sprinter, without taking into account their respective diets, calorie intake, age, (especially- the runner looks to be in his late forties or fifties. the sprinter looks like he's in his twenties or early thirties. it's much harder to maintain muscle mass/build new muscle as you age)and other activities (like resistance training to build extra muscle.) i don't necessarily doubt your point, you clearly know a lot more about the science behind weight loss/fat/muscle burning, but in terms of accurately proving it without bias, those photos don't, necessarily. though i understand for the sake of the article, it has more impact and is easier to sensationalize things a little - it would be hard to find both types of athletes of similar age/build/lifestyle. i'm just blabbing.

Easy Exercise profile image

Easy Exercise 2 years ago from United States

Interval training not only is more efficient, for me, it simply feels better. I can feel the difference both during and after. As an added bonus, my skin radiates - some of it is emotion but mainly the glow is from the muscles thanking me for challenging them. Don't we all enjoy a good challenge. Yes, take your work out up a level and try interval training.

Good hub.

Thanks for promoting a healthy lifestyle and actively seek to get people moving! Keep up the good work!

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