If you’re looking for a quick and efficient way to maximize your time in the gym, burst training, also known as interval training, is it. It’s a style of exercise that can be done anywhere, anytime, without or without equipment. All you need is a body and mind that are ready to go.
As the name suggests, burst training involves periods of high-intensity work (90-100% HRmax) followed by periods of lower-intensity rest of recovery. Although it may seem like a killer at the moment, burst training is highly effective for torching calories and fat and chiseling out your dream body.
We thought so. If you’re ready to put the days of hour-long workouts behind you and trade them for something quicker and more effective, we’re giving you everything you need to know about burst training—what it is, why it works, and how to do it. We’ll also throw in our best tips to maximize your workout time.
What Is Burst Training?
Also referred to as interval training, burst training is a training style that incorporates short periods of high-intensity activity at 90-100% of your maximum heart rate (HRmax) followed by brief periods of rest of low-intensity/impact activity. The goal behind burst training is to elevate the heart rate and challenge cardiovascular fitness.
And typically see a work-to-rest ratio of anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds of work followed by 30 to 60 seconds of rest. Ideally, we want a full “recovery” during these rest periods to allow the individual to go full out during the next interval.
The point of burst training is to tap into your body’s glycogen stores to burn stored sugars, causing your body to burn fat until glycogen stores are replenished.
Although this is a relatively simple way of looking at it, it follows along the lines of the “afterburn effect,” or excess-post oxygen consumption, which we’ll touch on shortly.
But the big difference between burst training and conventional training is efficiency. With burst training, 4-6 sets of 30-60 second bursts 3-4 times per week are all you need to experience marked improvements in health and fitness. While you may think that’s not nearly enough, it is. More isn’t always better.
Being a cardio bunny for hours each day isn’t supporting weight loss and fat burn—it’s actually doing damage. Engaging in too much cardio can lead to big consequences, including:
- Accelerated aging
- Joint degeneration and pain
- Fat storage (instead of loss)
- Hormonal imbalances
Get the idea? Chronic cardio is not a good thing, but when you incorporate short bursts of maximum-intensity activity, you can achieve many of the same benefits of cardio in a fraction of the time—and with significantly less stress for your body.
But why isn’t long-distance cardio the solution for fat loss and weight loss? Long-distance cardiovascular exercises decrease testosterone levels and increase stress hormones like cortisol 1, 2.
By nature, cortisol is a catabolic storage hormone that triggers fat accumulation rather than burning and interferes with muscle recovery.
A 2012 study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that aerobic endurance athletes typically demonstrated long-term high cortisol levels 1.
Researchers used hair testing to determine cortisol levels in 304 endurance athletes (runners, cyclists, and triathletes) and compared them to non-athletes.
Results showed that higher cortisol levels were associated with higher training volumes. Another study published in the Journal of Sports Sciences also found that extended periods of aerobic exercise favored an increase in oxidative stress, which can lead to chronic inflammation 3.
But when you knock back the time and increase the intensity, you’re signing up for enormous benefits like increased cardiorespiratory output, higher human growth hormone (HGH) secretion, and much more.
And the real beauty? You don’t need a gym or any fancy equipment! Although you can incorporate weights into burst training to enhance muscle growth, you don’t need to.
So, working your body at such a high intensity at a near-maximal heart rate means better results in significantly less time.
Burst training is your one-way ticket for fat loss and fast metabolism.
Why Is Burst Training So Effective?
Ramping up your heart rate with short-duration, high-intensity work has several health benefits, including:
Aerobic exercise has been shown to boost neurogenesis, or the ongoing growth and development of new neurons in the brain.
Although research has looked at sustained aerobic exercise more than interval training, it shows that it can increase neurogenesis in the adult brain, which may increase the hippocampus’s neuron reserve and improve preconditions for learning, memory, and emotional regulation 4.
Hoping to be the next centenarian? Research shows that burst training could help you live longer! A 2020 study published in BMJ looked at the effects of different types of aerobic exercise on mortality rates in older adults 5.
Participants were grouped into three categories following two training sessions weekly: high-intensity interval training at 90% HRmax, moderate-intensity continuous training at 70% HRmax, and following national guidelines for physical activity.
Interestingly, results found that the participants following the HIIT protocol had a reduced mortality risk compared to the other groups.
But high-intensity aerobic exercise can also regulate mTOR and SIRT1, two important longevity genes 6, 7.
Improves cardiovascular health
Increasing your heart rate has obvious benefits for your heart. Studies show it can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease and improve your body’s resiliency to stress. Compared to sustained aerobic exercise, HIIT also produces a lower-magnitude inflammatory response 8.
Hormonal imbalances can make achieving your fitness goals challenging, but increasing your muscle mass can benefit the endocrine system. Exercise is vital for releasing two essential hormones: cortisol (via corticotropin-releasing hormone) and growth hormone 9.
Both hormones are necessary for physiological function and can support your body’s stress response—but it’s not that simple. Chronically high levels of either can be disastrous 10, 11:
- CRH increases intestinal permeability, as well as the permeability of the lungs, skin, and blood-brain barrier (BBB)
- High cortisol alters tight functions and allows harmful substances to pass through the gut barrier, resulting in impaired gut motility, poor digestion, altered blood flow to the gut, and immune responses
But while there are some issues with hormonal imbalances and sustained aerobic activity, HIIT can elicit a different response.
However, if you want to boost growth hormone (GH) to build muscle, you have to build the intensity—and burst training (HIIT) is one of the most effective ways of doing it. Research shows that HIIT effectively reduces fat, improves insulin sensitivity, and builds muscle 12, 13.
Builds muscle + burns fat
Incorporating weights into your interval training can be a highly effective way to torch calories, burn fat, and build muscle simultaneously.
Although burning fat and building muscle can be challenging simultaneously, metabolic resistance training (HIIT with weights) stimulates muscle growth pathways while kickstarting something called excess post-oxygen consumption (EPOC).
Simply put, EPOC is the energy needed to return your body to homeostasis or balance after intense exercise. Once the activity has stopped, your body is in a revved-up state and requires energy input to return it to baseline.
Even when you’re not doing work, your body still burns calories to get it there. So essentially, you’re burning calories without working. And studies show that your metabolic rate can remain elevated for up to 36 hours post-exercise! 14.
Another study found that sprinting on a bike followed by 12 seconds of light exercise for 20 minutes resulted in three times as much fat loss as continuous exercise at a constant pace for 40 minutes 15.
Need more? Another study showed that cycling for 10 sets of four minutes of hard cycling followed by two minutes of rest resulted in a 36% increase in fat burn and a 13% improvement in cardiovascular fitness 16.
If you want maximum results in minimal time—and without the adverse effects of sustained cardiovascular exercise—burst training is your best bet. It combines short, high-intensity bursts of activity with low-impact recovery phases at around 85–100% maximum heart rate.
Think of burst training as exercising like a sprinter, not a marathon runner.
Sample Burst Training Workout
The great thing about burst training is that you don’t need a gym or fancy equipment—your bodyweight works perfectly well!
All you have to do is pick a series of bodyweight exercises and perform them in a circuit for 10-20 minutes, 3-4 times per week. Choose your work-to-rest ratio and get started.
Here are some exercises to get you started. Pick your favorite, follow a 40 seconds ON (80-100% HRmax) and 20 seconds OFF (rest or low-impact movement) ratio, and let’s go!
- Jumping jacks
- Squat jumps
- High knees
- Pushup T-rotation
- Squat cleans (with DBs or KBs)
- KB swings
- Treadmill incline sprints
- Ski-erg springs
- Assault Bike sprints
Elevate Your Burst Training With These 5 Tips!
Consistency breeds results. Finding the motivation to work out at home can be difficult, but if you’re trying to achieve a specific goal, you’ll never get there if you’re not consistent with your workouts.
The more you can schedule ahead of time, the better your chances of completing it. Set aside X amount of time each day to do your workout or recovery and stay committed to it. Excuses don’t equate to results.
Schedule recovery days
Although it can be tempting to power through 20 minutes of burst training daily, don’t. Recovery days are where you’ll see progress, so ensure you’re scheduling in 1-2 full days of recovery.
That doesn’t mean you must take the day completely off training but stick to low-impact, low-intensity workouts on rest and recovery days.
Recruit a workout buddy
Staying on track can be difficult, especially if you’re not someone who usually exercises at home. Rather than trying to hold yourself accountable, recruit a buddy to hold you accountable and work out with you!
To maximize your workout time, combine your HIIT protocol with weights for even better results. When you incorporate resistance training with high-intensity aerobic exercise, you’re getting a bang for your buck—building muscle and burning fat simultaneously.
Use a pre-workout
If you struggle to get the energy to train, a pre-workout might be just what you need—but don’t go crazy with the caffeine. Most conventional pre-workouts are designed to ignite your body with high-dose caffeine, but not Pre Lab Pro®.
It’s an ultramodern pre-workout designed to supercharge your workouts without sending your body into overdrive.
Featuring natural low-dose caffeine stacked with red beetroot powder, Setria® Performance Blend, L-tyrosine, L-theanine, and B vitamins, Pre Lab Pro® ramps up energy, focus, and drive to promote next-level workouts and accelerate recovery.
- Skoluda N, Dettenborn L, Stalder T, Kirschbaum C. Elevated hair cortisol concentrations in endurance athletes. 2012;37(5):611-617.
- Hill EE, Zack E, Battaglini C, Viru M, Viru A, Hackney AC. Exercise and circulating cortisol levels: the intensity threshold effect. J Endocrinol Invest. 2008;31(7):587-591.
- Packer L. Oxidants, antioxidant nutrients and the athlete. J Sports Sci. 1997;15(3):353-363.
- Nokia MS, Lensu S, Ahtiainen JP, et al. Physical exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats provided it is aerobic and sustained. J Physiol. 2016;594(7):1855-1873.
- Stensvold D, Viken H, Steinshamn SL, et al. Effect of exercise training for five years on all cause mortality in older adults-the Generation 100 study: randomised controlled trial. BMJ. 2020;371:m3485.
- Cui X, Zhang Y, Wang Z, Yu J, Kong Z, Ružić L. High-intensity interval training changes the expression of muscle RING-finger protein-1 and muscle atrophy F-box proteins and proteins involved in the mechanistic target of rapamycin pathway and autophagy in rat skeletal muscle. Exp Physiol. 2019;104(10):1505-1517.
- Gurd BJ, Perry CG, Heigenhauser GJ, Spriet LL, Bonen A. High-intensity interval training increases SIRT1 activity in human skeletal muscle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010;35(3):350-357.
- Zwetsloot KA, John CS, Lawrence MM, Battista RA, Shanely RA. High-intensity interval training induces a modest systemic inflammatory response in active, young men. J Inflamm Res. 2014;7:9-17.
- Kanaley JA, Weltman JY, Pieper KS, Weltman A, Hartman ML. Cortisol and growth hormone responses to exercise at different times of day.J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001;86(6):2881-2889.
- Vanuytsel T, van Wanrooy S, Vanheel H, et al. Psychological stress and corticotropin-releasing hormone increase intestinal permeability in humans by a mast cell-dependent mechanism. 2014;63(8):1293-1299.
- Madison A, Kiecolt-Glaser JK. Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human-bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2019;28:105-110.
- Deemer SE, Castleberry TJ, Irvine C, et al. Pilot study: an acute bout of high intensity interval exercise increases 12.5 h GH secretion. Physiol Rep. 2018;6(2):e13563.
- Ryan BJ, Schleh MW, Ahn C, et al. Moderate-Intensity Exercise and High-Intensity Interval Training Affect Insulin Sensitivity Similarly in Obese Adults. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020;105(8):e2941-e2959.
- Abboud GJ, Greer BK, Campbell SC, Panton LB. Effects of load-volume on EPOC after acute bouts of resistance training in resistance-trained men. J Strength Cond Res. 2013;27(7):1936-1941.
- Trapp EG, Chisholm DJ, Freund J, Boutcher SH. The effects of high-intensity intermittent exercise training on fat loss and fasting insulin levels of young women. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32(4):684-691.
- Talanian JL, Galloway SD, Heigenhauser GJ, Bonen A, Spriet LL. Two weeks of high-intensity aerobic interval training increases the capacity for fat oxidation during exercise in women. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2007;102(4):1439-1447.