Interval Training for Beginners - Level 1

Treadmills. Paula Bronstein / Staff / Getty Images

Slogging along at the same pace may be good cardio aerobic exercise, but interval training takes it up a notch. Once you have built up your cardio endurance by lengthening your time on the treadmill, elliptical trainer or stationary cycle, change it up by adding intervals.

The following workout is a beginner interval workout lasting for 21 minutes. Interval training involves alternating higher-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery periods.

By adding higher intensity intervals, you can build endurance and burn more calories.

Equipment Needed for the Beginners Cardio Interval Workout

The workout is shown using a treadmill with changes in speed and incline, but you can use any machine of your choice or take the workout outside. The elliptical trainer or stationary bicycle are good choices. But you can also do a brisk walk, jog or cycle outside.

Interval Workout Instructions

  • For each 'work set', use the settings on your machine (incline, speed, resistance, ramps, etc.) to increase intensity. Outside, increase speed or find a hill. You should be working out of your comfort zone, but not so hard that you feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  • For each 'rest set', lower those same settings, or slow down/go downhill for outdoor exercise, until you're back to a moderate pace.  You should be completely recovered before the next work set.
  • Modify the speed and intensity according to your fitness level. If you aren't ready for the higher intensity, it's smart to go at the intensity you are comfortable with. Similarly, if this doesn't seem to be enough for you, feel free to speed up or increase the incline or resistance.
  • The RPE levels listed (Rate of Perceived Exertion) help you keep track of your intensity on a scale of 1 - 10.  During rest sets, stay around 4-5 RPE.  During work sets, stay around 5-6 RPE.  There isn't a huge difference between the work and rest sets, you simply want to work a little harder during the work sets.
  • See your doctor if you have any injuries or conditions.

You can also use a Target Heart Rate Calculator to monitor your exercise intensity.


Beginner Cardio Interval Workout 1
21 Minutes

Warm up5 Minutes:  RPE 3-4: Warm up at an easy pace, let's get your muscles going!
Rest Set 3 Minutes:  RPE 5:  Increase speed from warm up and increase incline 1%.  Keep a moderate pace.
Work Set1 Minute:  RPE  6 - Increase incline 1-3% to raise the intensity level.  You should be working harder!
Rest Set 3 Minutes:  RPE 5 - Decrease speed and incline to lower your heart rate back to a comfortable level
Work Set1 Minute:  RPE  6 - Increase speed 3-5 increments and increase incline 1-2% to raise the intensity. 
Rest Set3 Minutes:  RPE 5 - Decrease speed and incline to lower your heart rate back to a comfortable level
Cool down5 Minutes:  RPE 3-5 - Decrease speed/incline to lower your heart rate back to a comfortable level and cool down

Good work now hit the showers.

Once you are ready to progress, you can simply add another work set/rest set pair. If you want to keep going, add another set once per week. This steady increase in duration will give your body time to consolidate its fitness advance and will reduce the risk of injury.

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