Cross Training with High Intensity Intervals and Pilates

High Intensity Interval Training for Weight Loss and Cardio Fitness

Four people in exercise cycling class. Credit: Arthur Tilley / Getty Images

Should you combine Pilates and high-intensity interval training? Interval training is cardio fitness training in which bursts of high-intensity effort alternate with low-intensity movement. This contrasts with Pilates, which emphasizes strength and flexibility. 

What makes interval training a nice cross training option with Pilates, is that interval training provides a great aerobic workout. It also does it fast -- in as little as twenty minutes.

Interval training is one of the quickest ways to build aerobic capacity and overall endurance. Studies show that interval training can be safe for many age groups and levels of fitness.

How Interval Training Works

In brief, the way interval training works is that short bursts of high-intensity exercise demand so much oxygen that the muscles run out, creating lactic acid build up. Muscles need oxygen to break down the lactic acid so when lactic acid builds up under the muscles demand for oxygen, an oxygen debt is created that the heart and lungs then have to work extra hard to repay in the recovery phase of the workout.

Fat Burning and Weight Loss with Interval Training

In Interval Training Builds Fitness Fast, Elizabeth Quinn reports that the American College of Sports Medicine has said that more calories are burned in short, high-intensity exercise. And some studies have shown that interval training has a metabolic effect on the body that makes it better at fat burning than the regular aerobic exercise of longer duration.

That's good news for those of us for whom weight control and weight loss are fitness goals.

How to Do Interval Training

One of the best ways to get started is to use an approach called fartlek, where you measure the intensity of the exercise by your perceived level of exertion. As you become more comfortable with the process you might move into a program where your bursts and rests are more scientifically planned and based on criteria such as target heart rates and anaerobic threshold levels.

Interval training at this level is often referred to as High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

Beginner Interval Training

Choose an activity where you can easily move between bursts of high-intensity activity and moderate recovery phases. Treadmill, spinning, and walking/speed walking are examples of popular interval training activities. Do remember that safety is a concern so you don't want to move into a burst of high intensity doing something complicated.

  • Warm up first.
  • Start your interval workout with a few minutes of exercise at a moderate pace.
  • Do a 30-second burst of intensity at 85 percent of what you perceive to be your maximum output.
  • Return to a moderate pace for approximately two minutes.
  • Do another 30-second burst of high intensity.
  • Continue to alternate burst and recovery phases for 15 to 20 minutes. (interval training has been shown to be effective in as little time as 15 minutes)
  • As you build endurance and familiarity with the process, you can increase the length of your bursts up to 1 minute.

    Learn More About Cardio Training
    Treadmill Workouts Using High-Intensity Intervals
    Interval Training for Beginners

    Cross Training with Pilates and Interval Training

    Pilates is not generally considered aerobic training though it can be done in a cardio enhancing way. It is tempting to think that one could do a little Pilates, launch into a burst of high-intensity exercise, and then go back to Pilates. But that is not a realistic plan. Many people have reported dizziness when they tried it. In any case, moving from vertical to horizontal and back while the heart is pumping at a high rate is not recommended.

    Pilates is body/mind/spirit integrative exercise, with many benefits, and it takes a tremendous amount of focus to practice it properly. There is no need to combine Pilates in the same workout with interval training. My suggestion is to take your Pilates awareness into your interval exercise choice and do them separately. Can they be done in sequence or on the same day? Yes. If you choose to do Pilates after interval training, be sure your heart rate has recovered close to normal resting rate before beginning your Pilates workout.


    Hoyt, Trey. Skeletal muscle benefits of endurance training: mitochondrial adaptations. American Medical Athletic Association Journal, Fall 2009.

    Short Burst Training - IDEA Health and Fitness Association

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