Generally, anything you do to intensify a workout will burn more calories. If you sprint for half an hour, for example, you’ll burn many more calories than if you walked slowly. The problem is, most people can’t sprint full-out for 30 seconds, never mind 30 minutes. But alternating running and walking -- interval training -- can speed up your weight loss without wiping you out. If you have any health problems, such as joint disease or a heart condition, discuss your plans with your doctor first.
Interval training can burn more calories than either walking or jogging alone, assuming the overall intensity of your running routine is higher, according to the Mayo Clinic. The key factors for success are achieving the right balance of exertion and duration during the high-intensity portion and taking enough time to catch your breath during the recovery portion.
When it’s time to run fast, run fast -- aim for about a seven on a scale of one to 10 of perceived exertion. Sprinting at that level of intensity should roughly equate to exercising at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, according to the American Council on Exercise. That means your body is getting vigorous aerobic exercise.
The recovery period is all about, well, recovery, so focus on relaxing and preparing yourself for the next sprint. If you’ve got the energy, you can do a light jog instead of walking, but don’t push it. If you tax yourself during the recovery period, you’ll compromise the high-intensity portion of your workout and jeopardize your calorie-burning results.
Beginners should ease into interval training. Test yourself by sprinting for 10 seconds and then walking for one minute. If you haven’t sufficiently recovered at the end of the minute, adjust your routine by either shortening your sprints or lengthening your recovery. When you find the right balance, alternate walking and sprinting as many times as you can, but don’t overtrain or risk injury. If you have trouble designing an effective but safe routine, ask a certified fitness instructor to gauge your abilities and needs.
It might take several weeks, but sooner or later, regularly participating in an interval training program will increase your cardiovascular capacity and muscular endurance. In other words, you’ll be able to sprint for longer periods, which means you will burn increasingly more calories in each workout. Also, the more periods of high-intensity exercise you have in your routine, the better your weight-loss results will be, assuming you also stick to a healthy, low-calorie diet.
Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.