What's the Difference? Interval Training vs. Standard Cardio

Have you heard of interval training but are still determining what it is and how it differs from regular cardio workouts? Interval training is becoming increasingly popular. The two exercises' differences can help you select which will work best for your fitness goals.

Cardio conditioning has long been a go-to form of exercise to encourage overall fitness. They are designed to increase heart rates, burn calories, build endurance, and enhance aerobic capacity. Interval training is a more advanced version of cardio conditioning with higher intensity, resulting in more effective outcomes.

So what exactly makes interval training different from traditional cardio? This article will explain the differences between interval training and various types of cardio so you can decide which type of exercise works best for you.


Traditional cardio workouts have always been associated with steady-state exercise at a moderate intensity level. This type of workout usually involves engaging in an activity such as running, cycling, or stair-stepping for an extended time at a constant pace. While this approach effectively burns calories and enhances cardiovascular health, it can become monotonous and tedious over time.

Interval training offers a different approach to cardiovascular fitness that involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by periods of rest or low-intensity activity. These intense bursts allow you to push yourself harder than you would during steady-state exercise, resulting in increased calorie burn and improved endurance. The rest periods also give your body time to recover before the next burst, which helps prevent injury and allows you to continue exercising for longer periods.

Research has shown that interval training may be more effective in improving overall fitness levels than conventional steady-state cardio conditioning.


Unlike traditional workouts, interval training sessions are typically shorter due to the higher intensity. These shorter sessions can be incredibly beneficial for those with busy schedules or little time to exercise.

In addition to being more time-efficient, high-intensity intervals can also burn more calories in less time than steady-state cardio exercises. This is because the body continues to burn calories even after the workout ends as it works to recover and repair muscles from the intense activity. The calorie-burning advantages of interval training make it a splendid option for those looking to maximize their results in a shorter amount of time.

Nevertheless, it's important to mention that high-intensity intervals may not be suitable for everyone, especially beginners or those with certain health conditions.

Heart rate

Traditional cardio workouts have been a go-to for people aiming to improve their cardiovascular health. However, recent studies show that interval training may be more beneficial in increasing heart rate variability (HRV). HRV refers to the variation of time between each heartbeat, which indicates the body's ability to respond to stress.

Interval training involves short bursts of high-intensity exercises followed by periods of rest or low-intensity activity. This type of workout can enhance the nervous system's regulation, improving HRV and cardiovascular health. In contrast, traditional steady-state cardio workouts may lead to a steady increase in heart rate without significant changes in HRV.

Research has also shown that improved HRV is linked with reduced risk for cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. Therefore, incorporating interval training into your exercise routine could provide benefits beyond burning calories and improving endurance.


Fatigue is one way that interval time training sets itself apart from traditional cardio workouts. With interval training, there are multiple rounds or sets of exercises that can be done in quick succession. You'll be pushing yourself to your limits with every interval session, which can create mental and physical fatigue that may take longer to recover from than with a traditional cardio workout. After each round, you will feel greater fatigue levels; this is one sign that your body has worked hard enough during your session, and it's time for you to give it rest!

In addition to increasing fatigue levels during each session, interval training also calls on the body in unique ways compared to traditional cardio exercise. During intervals, you must train both aerobically and anaerobically to go at maximal effort before taking rest periods between rounds. Therefore, interval training can provide more significant mental and physical challenges than traditional cardio activities such as running on a treadmill or bike.

Afterburn effect

Interval training differs from traditional cardio workouts because it focuses on the afterburn effect or the increased metabolic rate during and after exercise. This effect is caused by oxygen consumption, which peaks during interval training. As a result, interval training can be an incredibly efficient way to burn calories and fat throughout the day - known as the "afterburn" effect. This means that even after a short burst of exercise, your body's metabolism will remain elevated for several hours later, allowing you to burn even more calories and fat than you would with traditional cardio exercises.

For these reasons, interval training can be a great way to reach weight loss goals in a shorter time frame effectively. While exercising at this higher intensity level requires greater effort than a regular cardio workout, the benefits are undeniable - providing better results in less time with mindful planning and patience.

Muscle activation

Interval training is generally considered a more effective form of cardio than traditional workouts, mainly due to its ability to activate muscles with greater intensity. Whereas traditional aerobic workouts rely on long-duration exercise that primarily engages slow-twitch muscle fibers, interval training calls for shorter periods of exercise and explosive movements that engage both fast and slow-twitch muscle fibers. Muscle activation during interval training burns more calories than traditional (steady state) cardiovascular exercises in less time – making it an excellent option for those looking to make their workout routines more efficient.

The type of exercise used in an interval session can be tailored to the individual. It can involve a variety of exercises such as running, jumping rope, and body weight circuit training. For maximal gains in muscle activation, intervals between 30 seconds and three minutes should be performed, followed by rest periods lasting half the duration. The length and intensity of the workout depending on the goal. Those looking for muscular endurance may opt for longer intervals, while explosive activities benefit those desiring increased power or speed. By stimulating both fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers, interval training offers an alternative way to gain strength while still providing endurance activities.