Cookie Consent

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.


Complete Guide on Interval Running for Weight Loss and HIIT

Taren Gesell

If you're looking to lose weight, you may have heard about interval running for weight loss. It's an intense workout that provides an incredible training stimulus with an afterburn effect that's a really effective way to lose weight. As someone who has personally lost 65 pounds from endurance training, I know how effective combining HIIT with running is for shedding pounds.

This is me at my lowest weight after losing 65 lbs.

In this post, we'll explain everything you need to know about every aspect of interval training, which can help you become much more successful in your overall weight loss plan.

We'll explain how interval training is superior to steady-state cardio for losing weight. We'll explain how to start interval training from scratch, even if you're currently just walking or walking. We'll explain the specifics of incorporating interval training into an overall running regimen. We'll explain how to perform interval running workouts into your plan regardless of weight loss goals.

Whether you're taking your first running strides or seeking to enhance your routine, this guide is your companion on the path to a fitter, healthier you.

Key Takeaways You'll Learn in This Article:

  • The core principles of interval training and it's different from conventional cardio workouts.
  • The benefits of interval workouts for effective fat loss.
  • A detailed comparison of interval running versus steady-state jogging in terms of weight loss efficiency.
  • How HIIT can dramatically boost your metabolism and assist in your weight loss journey.
  • Essential tips and strategies for beginners to start interval running.
  • In-depth insights into designing effective running workouts specifically for shedding pounds.
  • Understanding the significance of different heart rate zones in running workouts tailored for weight loss.

What Is Interval Training?

Interval training has emerged as a game-changer for athletes and anyone who's looking to include running in order to stay fit in less time. Dr. Martin Gibala wrote an excellent book titled, "The One-Minute Workout," where he outlined how effective interval training is at reaching fitness goals.

Interval workouts are simply high-intensity bursts of activity with periods of rest or lower intensity in between to allow for recovery before the next interval. An example interval workout from our MOTTIV training plans looks like this:

What really sets interval training apart from regular cardio is the ability to shock the body's metabolic system. While traditional cardio maintains a steady pace, interval training pushes athletes towards extreme exertion for short bursts. This intense part of the intervals creates a training stimulus that's so intense it helps athletes training for running races or triathlons get faster, and it helps general fitness enthusiasts lose weight and improve their overall health in a time-efficient way.

Interval Training vs Steady State Cardio

There are a lot of differences between interval training, like an interval run workout, and steady-state cardio, like a long, easy jog. This table will explain the differences between the two.

Factor Interval Running Steady-State Jog
Intense Intervals (aka Work Period) Intense Activity ranging from 15 seconds to 8 minutes. For example: 4 repeats of 4 minutes fast No intervals, just moderate effort level held for the entire duration of the workout
Recovery Periods Recovery periods of 1-4 minutes between the intense intervals to rest before the next interval No recovery periods
Interesting Workouts Workouts tend to be more interesting because they're broken up Workouts can sometimes feel like a bit of a long slog
Caloric Burn Burns a lot of calories in the workout because of the high-intensity, and continues to burn calories after the workout is complete Moderate calorie burn that only occurs while you're in the workout, no afterburn effect
Time Efficiency More time efficient, workouts can be very effective with just 30-60 minutes Requires longer sessions for similar caloric burn. These are commonly the weekly long run
Fat Loss Studies show they more effective at fat loss and losing belly fat Effective at burning calories, which leads to fat loss, but not as effective at fat loss overall
Metabolic Impact Significantly boosts metabolism post-workout Less impact on metabolism post-workout
Adaptability Can be adjusted to meet fitness levels by adjusting the length, intensity, and number of intervals completed Less variation and adaptability of workouts because it's just a steady moderate intensity that won't change much from workout to workout

How Interval Training Boosts Metabolism to Help You Lose Weight

The true power of interval training in weight loss lies in its metabolic impact. The high-intensity nature of an interval workout leads to something called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC), which can allow you to burn calories for up to 48 hours after an interval workout is complete.

Researchers have found that HIIT training is superior to steady-state cardio both for weight loss and possibly even losing body fat. So, with interval training, you burn more calories and you burn more fat!

The Basics of Running Intervals for Weight Loss

Before diving into exactly how you perform interval running workouts, let's outline the specific benefits of running intervals.

Benefits of Running for Weight Loss

  1. Calorie Cruncher: Running is one of the most effective exercises when it comes to burning calories. Whether you're doing a gentle jog or sprinting during a running interval, you're expending energy, and with every step, you're inching closer to that calorie deficit needed for fat loss.
  2. Metabolic Booster: Ever finished a run and felt like you were still wired hours later? That's an afterburn effect called Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (or EPOC) at work! After high-intensity interval training, like during an interval run, your body continues to consume oxygen and burn calories as it recovers.
  3. Ready, Set, Go Anywhere: One of running's best features is its simplicity. There is no need for fancy equipment or expensive gym memberships. All you need is a pair of running shoes, and you're set to go. This accessibility makes it easier to stick to a fat-burning exercise routine.
  4. Variety is the Spice of Life, And the secret to sustained fitness improvements and long-term weight management is avoiding plateaus! Mixing up your runs with intervals, long jogs, hills, or sprints keeps your body guessing and your mind engaged.

Benefits of Running Intervals Beyond Weight Loss

  1. Heart Hero: Regular running strengthens your heart and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A strong heart is not just about endurance; it's about a healthier, longer life.
  2. Mood Elevator: The "runner's high" isn't a myth. Studies have shown that running can significantly boost your mood and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety.
  3. Bone Builder: Worried about joint and bone health? Running has been proven, especially when done with proper form and incrementally increased intensity, can actually strengthen your bones and joints.
  4. Breath of Fresh Air: Running increases lung capacity and strengthens the respiratory muscles. It's not just about breathing easier during runs but enhancing overall respiratory health.
  5. Longevity Leader: Studies consistently show that running can reduce the likelihood of premature death by as much as 25-40%. Running is not just a part of life; it adds life to your years!
MOTTIV app user Brett Faro running down the finish chute of a race!

How to Get Started Interval Running for the Beginner Runner

If you're sold on the idea of high-intensity interval training, here is how beginner runners should go about getting started:

  1. STEP 1. Learn to Run: Follow a learn-to-run program for four to six weeks that will gradually build up your ability to run continuously.
  2. STEP 2. Develop Good Running Technique: A good learn-to-run program will also teach you to run with good, efficient running form while you're building up your endurance.
  3. STEP 3. Short Intervals of Moderate Intensity: Once you can run continuously for 30 minutes straight, you can start doing short and moderate-effort running intervals of 30-60 seconds.
  4. STEP 4. Build Up Intervals Very Gradually: Over 2-3 months, you can build up from 30-60 second intervals to 1-4 minute intervals. However, when in doubt, go slower and easier than you think you're capable of.

Your heart and lungs will adapt to running very quickly, but your musculoskeletal structure takes much longer and can get injured if you push too hard too soon. So, build up running intervals very gradually.

How to Design Effective Running Workouts for Losing Weight

Designing an effective workout for weight loss is about finding the right balance between the intensity of the intervals, the overall duration of the running session, and the intensity of the intervals.

The workouts below are examples of different types of interval running workouts you can use in your training plan.

Sprint Interval Training (Super High-Intensity Training SHIIT)

Sprint Interval Training, super high-intensity interval training, or SHIIT, involves very short and intense bursts of sprinting followed by extremely long periods of rest or low-intensity exercise. This form of training is incredibly effective at rapidly burning fat and improving top-end speed; hill sprints would be a good example of SHIIT training.

The workout below is a good example of sprint interval training. You can see that fast efforts are very short (typically ranging from 15-60 seconds), and rest intervals are relatively very long (ranging from 2-4 minutes for full recovery).

High-Intensity Interval Workouts (HIIT Training)

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training, where you alternate between high-intensity exercises and brief periods of rest. This method is not only effective for weight loss but also improves Vo2 max, which is one of the most essential elements of interval training for athletes competing in running races.

The workout below is a good example of high-intensity interval training. You can see that fast efforts are short but longer than SHIIT training (typically ranging from 1-4 minutes), and rest intervals are much shorter than in SHIIT training (ranging from 1-4 minutes).

How Often Should You Do Interval Workouts in a Running Plan for Weight Loss

Interval running workouts are extremely intense and very hard on the body; that's why we recommend doing just one interval run each week. Below is an example of a half-marathon training plan from our app with four workouts per week; you can see that we have just one Intense Run scheduled.

What Heart Rate Should You Be In to Run for Weight Loss?

For optimal weight loss, targeting heart rate zones 4 and 5 during interval runs is key. These zones, representing 80-90% and 90-100% of your maximum heart rate, are where you'll experience the most significant calorie burn.

The Five Training Zones:

  • Zone 1: Very Light (50-60% of max heart rate) - Ideal for warm-ups and cool-downs.
  • Zone 2: Light (60-70%) - Builds basic endurance and aids in fat burning.
  • Zone 3: Moderate (70-80%) - The aerobic zone, improving cardiovascular health.
  • Zone 4: Hard (80-90%) - Increases Vo2 Max and improves top-end aerobic capacity.
  • Zone 5: Max (90-100%) - Develops maximum performance and speed.

How Long Should Running Workouts to Help With Weight Loss Be?

Interval running sessions for weight loss are most effective when they last between 30 to 75 minutes. This duration ensures a significant calorie burn while keeping the workout manageable and preventing burnout.

FAQ Common Questions About Interval Running for Weight Loss

Q: What are the benefits of interval running for weight loss and fat loss?

A: Interval running is beneficial for weight loss as it increases the "afterburn effect," known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). This leads to continued fat-burning even after the workout. Research shows that interval training is the best way to burn fat and improve cardiovascular fitness.

Interval running is the best way to lose fat, as it requires a lot of energy. The "afterburn effect" of intense interval training sessions means that your muscles require a lot of energy even after the training session, leading to increased fat burning.

Q: What are aerobic intervals in a running workout?

A: "Aerobic intervals" in a running workout with "tempo intervals," which is running at a moderate pace for longer than you should for a HIIT workout. Tempo intervals are typically 10-30 minutes long. This type of training is good for the final couple of months before a half marathon or marathon.

Q: What is the recommended running plan to lose weight using interval workouts?

A: Here is an example weekly training plan for people who want to lose weight:

Day Training Details
Monday Rest -
Tuesday Interval Run 30-75 minute run with intervals of 15 seconds to 8 minutes. Adjust the number of intervals and recovery interval weekly.
Wednesday Rest -
Thursday Moderate Tempo Run 30-75 minute run with intervals of 8 to 30 minutes. Adjust the intervals and rest periods weekly.
Friday Rest -
Saturday Easy Long Run 45 minute to two hour run done at very low intensity. Performing this on trails will add variety.
Sunday Strength Training 30-60 minutes of strength training designed to maintain muscle mass.

Q: How much should I run during a fat loss HIIT workout?

A: The amount you should run during a fat loss HIIT workout depends on your fitness level and goals. Performing anywhere from 4-30 minutes of total "work intervals" over a 45-60 minute workout is ideal.

Q: What are the best types of interval training for fat loss?

A: Anaerobic high-intensity interval training (HIIT) of 1-4 minute intervals and super high-intensity interval training (SHIIT) of 15-60 second intervals are the best for weight loss. When it comes to running and weight loss, no workouts are better.

Q: How does interval running compare to steady-state running for fat loss?

A: Interval running is more effective for fat loss and losing belly fat when compared to steady-state running. The intensity and variation in interval running leads to increased calorie burning and fat loss, making it a more efficient workout for weight loss.

Q: What are some tips for maximizing fat loss during interval running?

A: To maximize fat loss during interval running, you simply need to do interval workouts regularly and avoid injuries. Focus on maintaining proper form, staying consistent with your training, ensuring adequate rest between sessions, wearing appropriate running shoes, and following a well-designed running plan to lose weight effectively.

Q: Can interval running help improve my running performance in races?

A: Yes, interval running can help improve your running performance in races. It can lead to improved aerobic capacity, speed, and endurance, which can contribute to achieving a 5k personal best or 10k personal best and even improve your endurance for races as long as half-marathons and marathons.


Interval running offers an incredibly effective approach to weight loss and improving overall health. By combining the high-intensity bursts of interval training with the calorie-burning nature of running, you can achieve faster and more significant weight loss results in less time than you can with steady cardiovascular exercise.

However, keep in mind that interval training is much more intense than just jogging or walking, so beginner runners need to learn to run faster with a well-designed training plan gradually. Only once you have built up good running technique and can run for 30 minutes continuously should you start to include interval runs into your program.

Remember, the journey to improved health and weight loss is as much about consistency and dedication as it is about the right workout plan. Embrace the challenge, enjoy the process, and watch as interval running takes your fitness to new heights.

Get a free run training plan

Sign Up for Free

Taren Gesell

| Author

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MOTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast, Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.

With Mottiv, you're ready

The only app with personalized training plans designed specifically for real people who want to accomplish something amazing in endurance sports.

Try free now