Interval training for the best quick, effective walking workouts

Interval training is a workout that alternates high-intensity exercise (like very fast walking) with rest periods of moderate exercise (like regular walking). You’ll get the benefits of an intense brisk walk without having to jog or speed walk the entire time. By adding those short bursts of activity that get your heart pumping, you can significantly increase your calorie burn and get more steps in your walk. Best of all, you can get intense through intervals almost everywhere, without having to walk hills or otherwise jeopardize your low-impact workout. It’s actually the perfect addition to a daily walk, swim, or the living room aerobics that many people do to stay casually fit.

Interval training may sound like something that an intense athlete would do, like someone who pumps iron at the gym or goes on five-mile runs every morning. But really, interval training is something that anyone can (and should!) do. We’ll cover what interval training is, how it offers unique benefits over other forms of walking, plus how you can start an interval workout today.

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1) What is Interval Training (and HIIT)?

Man and woman fitness walking in the park
gpointstudio / Shutterstock

Interval training isn’t anything fancy or complicated. It just means varying your intensity level by adding a few bursts of energy and intensity to your daily exercises. An example of interval training would be mixing in a short burst of fast walking or jogging in the middle of your walk, then returning to your normal walk to rest up. You’ve probably done a brief interval workout without knowing it, or the benefits to your health that you received.

HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is a more formal, athlete-crowd way to describe the same thing. Typically HIIT is very intense, like bursting into a very fast run for a few minutes before slowing back down, or doing twenty quick jumping jacks in the middle of your aerobic stretches. Don’t worry if that’s not for you – you can bring the same concept to a walking routine that gets you active with less impact on your body.

To use interval training in your daily walk, you can start by simply adding in a few bursts of fast walking followed by walking at your normal speed to recover. There are many ways to divide your time – for instance 30 seconds of fast walking followed by 2 minutes of slower walking. You can also work in untimed intervals by walking quickly, then slowing down as you tire to rest up. Timed intervals are often more beneficial, because you’ll know exactly how long you’ll need to keep up your brisk fast walking pace. They also force you to take an extended rest period, which helps avoid pushing yourself too hard. 

You already know that getting just a few extra minutes of walking a day can improve your health, muscle tone, and stamina. If you’re trying to hit a 10,000 step goal, walking faster is a great way to get there. As you build up your endurance and hit a new step goal, you can increase the fast walking time and decrease the slower walking time. Or, you can boost the intensity by jogging instead of walking. There’s really no limit to how you can use intervals in your walk. Here are 2 suggestions from Pacer:

15-minute interval walking workout

30-minute interval walking workout

2) Benefits of Interval Training

Group of people running together for fitness
Jacob Lund / Shutterstock

There’s nothing wrong with steady speed walking. Walking is a great way to get your recommended daily cardio exercise. Interval walking allows you to get more intense, burn more calories and get more steps in a given time. It’s also great for people who may not be able to maintain a fast pace for long periods of time. For the more experienced or adventurous, you can push yourself harder for that short intense period because you know you’ll soon be able to rest up.

In a single burst, your number of steps per minute will skyrocket, as will the number of calories you burn in a very short period of time. Your heart rate will jump to a healthy anaerobic or aerobic exercise level. The muscles you use during your interval will get a real workout and will build stronger and more reliable with each burst. Interval workouts also make walking more fun and interesting as you’re constantly varying what you’re doing.

Intervals are a great alternative to jogging, as you’ll have built-in rest periods to ensure that you don’t get too tired before the end of your walk. By varying the length and speed of your intervals, you can easily get a more or less intense walking workout that you can maintain for 15-30 minutes or longer.

Interval training was shown to burn up to 30% more calories than regular steady-state exercise. By pushing yourself harder, your body uses more oxygen which can lead to a metabolism boost long after you’re finished walking. The New York Times cites a study where older walkers were assigned to do either fast/slow interval walking or regular walks. The interval group showed significantly improved fitness, leg strength and blood pressureOther studies have shown that interval training can help to burn more fat and improve muscle strength.

Interval training can:

3) You Don’t Need to Be an Athlete to Use Intervals

Senior couple fitness walking in the park
Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock

Athletes love interval training, but you don’t have to be an athlete to use this method. Interval training, like walking, is incredibly versatile. Interval training is simply working in more intense versions of whatever exercise you like to do. While many of the studies, workouts and exercises that you find online may be geared towards runners, you can simply swap out those exercises with walking. Many intense walking styles, like walking stairs or inclines, can put extra impact on your joints. Interval training is more intense, but you can stick to a flat surface which can be a bit easier on your joints.

In addition to the benefits described above, intervals allow you to get more steps and burn more calories in a given time period. Athletes love this because they can spend less time at the gym and get a harder workout in. Who else needs to get their exercise in more quickly? Busy walkers. Many people don’t like to or can’t jog and don’t have an extra hour to walk every day. By maximizing the time you have, you’ll get more steps and feel great!

While athletes use interval training to boost their already incredible physical performance, everyday people can use interval training simply to become stronger and healthier. Many intense walking styles, like walking stairs or inclines, can put extra impact on your joints. Interval training is more intense, but you can stick to a flat surface which can be a bit easier on your joints.

4) Quick Tips to Stay Safe Using Intervals

Plus sized female jogger on running path
michaelheim / Shutterstock

Interval training can be intense, so it’s important to stay safe and prevent injuries. When you first start out with an interval routine, don’t try to hit your absolute maximum walking speed during the fast portions. You can always work up to this once you get the hang of things. Likewise, walk a little slower during the rest portions to ensure you can make it through the workout. If you’re new to walking or if you have a health condition, make sure to talk to your doctor about how intense you can get.

Always start with a warmup

Make sure to get moving and warmed up before you start your first fast interval. Getting intense while your muscles are still cold is a recipe for injury. Try to get a good workout in – at least 3-5 minutes. Don’t worry, you’ll be maximizing your working time and getting more intense than you might think so the time will not be wasted!

End with a cooldown period

Once you finish an interval exercise, don’t sit right down. Schedule a few minutes of cooldown leisurely walking so your muscles can adjust to the end of your exercise. This can help keep you from getting stiff and allow your heart rate and body to return to normal. Post-workout is a great time to get some stretches in as well because your joints are already warmed up.

Don’t push yourself too hard

Interval workouts can be fun and rewarding, but don’t push yourself too hard. If it hurts, stop or slow down. You can always skip one of the fast portions and do an extended rest period, or cut your interval workout short and finish with a regular walk. This is especially important if you’re not used to intense workouts. Walking will still be there tomorrow so long as you’re not sore or injured from working out too hard today.

Increase the intensity gradually when it feels right

If you’re feeling great with your initial interval workout, start to gradually increase the intensity. Your body will usually tell you when you’re ready. You can do this in many ways:

  • Decrease the duration of the slower rest intervals
  • Increase the duration of the faster walking intervals
  • Add in more intervals (increase the length of your workout)
  • Jog, or get more intense during the fast sections
  • Add in hills, stairs, or other intensity boosts to make the overall workout more intense


Woman jogging over a bridge in the park
Skumer / Shutterstock

An interval training walking workout is something almost anyone can do to make your walking workout more intense, burn more calories and get some amazing health benefits. Done correctly, you’ll get more intense without the impact and difficulty of jogging or high-intensity aerobics. You may start to notice greater energy, muscle tone and, of course, a higher number of steps per walk. Give intervals a try today!

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