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Timed Interval Training (Part 2)

Timed Interval

I’ll cut straight to the chase, this is just going to be a summary of the different interval protocols you can try.

If you don’t know how to get started with Interval Training you missed part 1.

If you don’t know what Interval Training is or HIIT is, you missed part 1.

Read it, then come back for more energy system training ideas than you can shake a stick at!

Timed Intervals

These are intervals where obviously time is used as the unit of measure.

1. High and Low Intervals

High and low intervals are what I call ‘most’ of the typical timed interval protocols. Done typically via activities you’d deem cardiovascular or endurance oriented — rowing, running, cycling, kayaking, stair climbing, etc…

You are bound to find these the most on the internet, like the image you see above (30 seconds on, 90 seconds off).

Quite often they are walk/run or jog/sprint protocols and they can be in any of the 3 energy systems.

Specifically high and low intervals are characterized by periods of high intensity work and low intensity work, but not complete rest.

What separates these from the next type of interval is that the rest protocol typically still involves a low level of work — i.e. walking, low intensity cycling, light movement.

For example:

The recommended starting protocols from part 1; 10 seconds on, 50 seconds of walking; or 15 seconds on, 45 seconds of walking; or 30 seconds on, 30 seconds light on a bike or rower.

The Little Method of 60 seconds hard, 75 seconds slow, could also fall under this umbrella. You should increase volume over time using that method.

Perhaps the most common is the ‘just-getting-started’ walk-run protocol you’re likely to find at any local Running Room or Runner’s Den — or any other Running Store in North America that does run clinics, as I have no idea what the big one would be in the U.S. — whereby you’re expected to just start by running for one minute and walking for one minute.

2. Start and Stop Intervals

Start and Stop intervals are similar to high and low intervals. Timed interval that is characterized by complete rest or stopping.

Generally speaking, these intervals have you completely stop during the rest interval and catch your breathe by moving very little, and are most often used for interval protocols with short work or rest intervals.

It’s hard to change the tension on a bike, rower, or treadmill for instance quickly enough when the rest interval is only 10 or 12 seconds long.

I find this method easier for any fast interval work done on machines — which I don’t overly recommend but sometimes it is just easier for people and I understand that — but also easier for kettlebell interval work, or calisthenics work.

Jumping Rope is one of my favourite tools for energy system development, especially with various interval protocols, it’s also a fantastic tool for weight loss, provided you have an adequate strength base.

Namely, I really like to jump rope because you cannot cheat a jump rope, or push through bad technique, or you’ll hit the rope.

If you’re interested in Jump Rope training, check out the book, ‘Jump Rope Training,’ by Buddy Lee.

Hopefully that just gives you the idea, that you don’t have to just do what you would normally think of as ‘cardio‘ for it to be interval training, ideally as long as the load is roughly about 40% of your max load, or less, for anything working into the glycolytic or aerobic system — obviously your ATP-CP system can handle a great deal more load before form breaks down, but it breaks down more quickly.

For example:

The Tabata Protocol is an example of this method, 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off, repeat.

The Boutcher Method (as I use it anyway) is also an example of this method, with 8 seconds on, 12 seconds completely off.

3. Timed Set Intervals

Timed Set Intervals are a timed interval approach that aim to take a person to complete fatigue; Basically until you can’t go anymore and usually have a lot of rest.

They also usually have some other sort of unit of measure — for example, max power output on a cycle ergometer or rower, or reps/distance completed — to measure progress.

It could also be do a certain # of reps of a given exercise for time, for instance 100 burpees or 100 double-unders for time.

However, the key to what makes these actually intervals, and not just timed sets, is that they need to be repeated at least twice, and a certain amount of rest should be given as a constant.

For Example:

The Wingate Test in an example, whereby you try to complete as much work (power output) as possible in 30 seconds and usually you get to rest (light cycle) for 4 minutes.

As many double-unders as you can do in 2 minutes, rest 2 minutes, repeat 5 times, would fall under this classification. 

V02 Max Intervals might; 4 minutes all out, followed by usually a very long period of rest like 10 minutes.

Another example might be running suicides to complete as many in an allotted time, or completing a max distance in an allotted time so you’ll still get the rest like the above example, but you’re trying to perform each interval at maximal intensity and using some other measure or marker to track how well you’re doing.

4. Timed Circuit Intervals

Timed Circuit Intervals take the concept found above in #3 and expand it to include numerous exercises timed.

These types of timed interval should have rest intervals still, although it’s not uncommon for people to confuse timed circuits, with timed circuit intervals.

Timed Circuits are not technically ‘Intervals’ because their is no rest period, therefore no interval of work to rest. An interval must repeat at least twice.

An example of a timed circuit might be the Crossfit benchmark workout ‘Helen,‘ whereby, you do 3 rounds of 3 different exercises, all for time (no rest between rounds).

*As a warning, and disclaimer, if you’re going to the Crossfit website and are thinking about attempting one of the workouts found there please consider learning the movements first with the assistance of a qualified coach.

An example of a timed circuit interval, would be Barbara, where you do 5 rounds of 4 different exercises but you are instructed to rest exactly 3 minutes between each round.

Of course there are numerous other creative ways to utilize this interval sequence.

You can count the total time it takes to complete the given number of intervals (to monitor progress) or you can go for a personal best round, or a median/average of your 3 best rounds or however else you want to track progress.

You can also obviously manipulate the rest to change the effect of this type of interval.

For Example:

Do 10 kettlebell swings, sprint 100 m, do 30 jumping jacks, rest for 1 minute (walk back) when repeated would be an example of a Time Circuit Interval.

It could be a pseudo-mini-triathlon alteration for instance, whereby you row 250 m, run 400 m and bike 1000 m, then rest for 2 minutes.

Another might be 10 burpees, bear crawl 40 m, crab walk 40 m, 10 burpees, rest for 45 seconds, is an example of another.

5. Rounds for Time*

Crossfit popularized these. Are they really a timed interval?

I’m not so sure, if they are. I include them only because they are a fun way to mix your training up. They are generally highly aerobic and only become intervals when the workload is so hard, you simply HAVE to rest. Necessary rest is almost always the case if it’s grueling enough.

That’s why they get the asterisk…

I like them a training method from time to time, especially for time pressed moments.

The only way to make this a true interval style of training is to put rest periods between rounds, and subtract them from the possible ‘scoring’ used to monitor their progress.

This would mean have 10, 20 or 30 seconds of rest between rounds as ‘mandatory‘ components, which would actually allow you to keep your work output higher for longer and in my opinion most likely lead to a safer, more effective training session or training component to a session. Actually I started mixing that into routines I’ve designed as of late.

In the Crossfit version, most of the interval element is self-inflicted rest, almost fartlek-esque. It’s more appropriately geared towards power-endurance training or simple muscular endurance training depending on the modality, as opposed to a true interval.

The way you monitor progress on workouts like these is basically the total amount of volume accumulated via distance, reps, wattage or other unit of measure given a set amount of time.

For Example:

The Crossfit workout Cindy, is an example of rounds for time, whereby you do 5 pullups, 10 push-ups and 15 bodyweight squats (that = 1 round) for as many rounds (+ any additional reps you do in that time) as you can do in 20 minutes.

I love suspension trainer RFT’s (like the TRX), whereby you might do 10 bulgarian split squats each leg, then 10 TRX rows, then 10 TRX hamstring curls, then 10 push-ups, for as many rounds in 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, or 20 minutes (whichever you like really, and have time for…). That’s a good way to program these though, start with low time frames (5 minutes) and progress to higher time frames (no more than 30 minutes) over 4-8 weeks.

6. Pyramid Intervals for Time*

A few years back I was introduced to a crossfit workout called, ‘Plaza of Death.’

Sounds charming right?

It’s not an official Crossfit WOD, as far as I know, but it was something along the lines of 20 pull-ups, 30 push-ups, 40 sit-ups, 50 air squats, run 2 miles, then descending order back from 50 air squats, 40 sit-ups, 30 push-ups, 20 pull-ups for time.

Again NOT AN INTERVAL, but highly aerobic. I’m not so sure I would ever recommend this style of training to anyone, because it’s just not really that effective. It’s hard but hard ≠ effective.

Continuous Circuit Training is not as effective a training protocol as Intervals Circuit Training, as I discussed here.

The only reason to use them as is, far as I can tell, is as a fun way to mix up your training program.

However, you can also allot rest intervals to improve the effectiveness. Otherwise it’s just torture.

For instance 3 exercises, that would take less than 3 minutes to complete, with the most aerobic exercise in the middle, followed by 30-120 seconds of rest.

For Example:

5 Burpees

10 TRX Rows

15 Air Squats

10 TRX Rows

5 Burpees

Rest 30 seconds.

7. Every Minute on the Minute

Sometimes referred to as ladders, but I define ladders a little bit differently. This timed interval really just needs something to beep every 60 seconds for a predetermined amount of time or until reps can no longer be maintained.

Usually every minute on the minute means you’re doing a short burst of predetermined exercise every 60 seconds.

For example, 5 swings, 5 pushups. Then you get to rest as long as you have left in the minute.

However, these can also be escalating sets of a singular exercise, or a small circuit of some kind.

You could start on the minute with 1 of each exercise, then rest, then you add a rep every minute on the minute to each exercise (or more than one) until you cannot do the amount of reps in the allotted time (though you are not necessarily limited to every minute on the minute, maybe it’s every 2 minutes).

What you see is that because the volume of work gets higher each minute, the amount of rest gets shorter, making these particularly effective for training type 1 endurance fibers and enhancing mitochondrial capacity of muscle cells.

You may even find them in more advanced Neuromuscular Training environments, where every minute on the minute, you try to lift a slightly heavier weight, until you max out. It is also often used just with a steady load for a predetermined amount of time.

This method can shake up a routine, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a staple, as the risk of injury increases with the decrease in quality that comes from resting less and less.

For Example:

Every minute on the minute push-ups, start with 1 and add one every minute until you can no longer complete the amount in a given minute.

Every minute on the minute, do one pull-up, one push-ups and one double under, adding one of each every minute until you can no longer complete the amount in a given minute.

8. Descending Ladder Intervals*

Descending ladder intervals can be done with an interval protocol, or without.

Many of them can be very hard so you might not want to do many of them — for instance don’t do more than one Fran without a considerable amount of rest in between.

A descending timed interval ladder generally requires at least 2 exercises, and you count down in a particular sequence.

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 of 2-4 exercises can yield a brutal training session in it’s own, but make those exercises slightly more aerobic (double-unders x burpees for instance) and you can plot a predetermined amount of rest in between each ladder too.

With the ‘ladder’ modality (pun intended), you can put 10-30 seconds of rest between each ladder rung to increase quality, depending on the exercises you choose.

For Example:

The most popular of descending ladder intervals is probably Fran, you won’t find a Crossfitter who doesn’t ask you what is your Fran time is.

Fran is 21-15-9 (descending ladder of 7×3, 5×3 and 3×3) of Thrusters and Pull-Ups.

A better, one of my favourites, that I learned from strength coach Dan John, is 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 of Goblet Squats and KB Swings (both done with a single Kettlebell or KB). 

That amounts to 55 reps exactly, and can be done in less than 3 minutes, and after 1-3 minutes of rest, you could do a couple more if you wanted.

Another variation I like of that one is Wall Balls and KB Swings.

To improve quality, input 15 seconds of rest between each rung of a ladder like this.

9. Ascending Ladder Intervals*

Ascending ladder intervals can look a lot like every minute on the minute intervals you see above but you don’t have to do them every minute on the minute. Typically you’ll need at least 2 exercises for this to work continuously.

This timed interval can employ the intermittent rest interval I discussed in the Descending Ladder Intervals section.

Generally you start at one and add a rep, or you start at 5 and add five reps, something like that.

Sometimes you try to go as high as you can without stopping (often referred to as unbroken) for time and then rest longer.

The point at which you must stop is also used sometimes as the unit of measure for improved performance in some cases

For Example:

1 Pull-Up, 1 Double-Under, 1 Push-up rest 10 seconds, add a rep each rung.

Farmer Walk 10 m, Waiter Walk 10 m, rest 20 seconds, add 10 m every rung.

Don’t forget to check out part 1

For Every Other Interval Known To Man Check out the Final Installment

*Everything you see can be made into an interval, but the way many people typically do them, would not be considered intervals without at least 2 repeats and rest in between.