Dad Bod

10-20-30 Interval Training Is The Secret To Getting Fitter, Faster

Stop going for runs and try this workout instead.

A man checking his stopwatch while doing 10-20-30 interval training.
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

You don’t have to sprint all-out if you want to get fitter and faster, a new study finds. A particular kind of interval training — 10-20-30 interval training — can bring down your blood pressure and cholesterol and help you reach peak performance, and you never even have to top 80% of your maximum pace. As an added bonus, it’s a relatively quick workout too.

10-20-30 interval training is when a runner first jogs for 30 seconds at a leisurely pace, then speeds up to a moderate pace for 20 seconds, and finally sprints for 10 seconds before repeating the cycle.

For the study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen had experienced runners replace their normal training with 10-20-30 interval training for six weeks. For each training session, they ran either three or four 5-minute blocks of interval training, with breaks to catch their breath between each block. During the 10-second sprint part of the training, half of the participants were instructed to max out on their sprint while the other half were told to sprint at only 80%.

Surprisingly, those who ran at 80% during the sprint made just as much progress in their training as those who went full out. “We think that it is related to the fact that training at 80% of one’s maximum still gets the heart rate up significantly higher than a runner’s typical training. A higher heart rate leads to improvements in heart function and circulation, as evidenced in their times and fitness levels," Dr. Jens Bangsbo, a professor at the University of Copenhagen in nutrition, exercise and sports, who headed the study, said in a press release.

The runners who held back during their sprints improved their 5k time by 42 seconds compared to their time at the start of the six-week trial. The runners who went all out during their 10-second sprints only improved their time by 24 seconds.

In terms of health benefits, however, both groups were equal; they improved maximum oxygen intake, a measure of overall fitness, by 7%.

The only major benefit of doing the sprints at full speed, the researchers found, was that these runners made more mitochondria, which “are important for muscular endurance and the ability of our muscles to engage in long-term work,” Bangsbo said. “So, if you plan on running a half or full marathon, you’ll need to sprint at 100% to achieve the maximum benefit.”

Previous research has shown that 10-20-30 interval training in general is good for lowering blood sugar and reducing dangerous fat around the organs of diabetics after 10 weeks. It also benefits blood pressure and cholesterol.

"Just as with other high intensity exercises that elevate heart rate, 10-20-30 workouts have a positive effect on health,” Bangsbo said. “At the same time, interval training is more effective, because you can get into better shape and improve your health in less time than by running at a constant pace.”

Interval training may also be more fun than just going for a run, encouraging people to keep up with it. "Many people find that interval running is more fun due to the changes in pace,” Bangsbo said.

10-20-30 Interval Training For Beginners

  1. First, make sure you warm-up so you don’t injure yourself with three minutes of front lunges and side lunges.
  2. Get your stopwatch running and jog lightly for 30 seconds, then pick up the pace for 20 seconds. Next, if you’re running for health or to train for short-distance competitions, sprint at 80% for 10 seconds. If you’re training for endurance competitions, however, sprint at full speed for those 10 seconds.
  3. Repeat three to five times in a row, depending on your fitness level (aka how many you can do without feeling like you can’t do any more).
  4. Take a break for 1 to 4 minutes, depending on how long it takes you to catch your breath. Even regular runners will probably need a 3-4 minute break when starting interval training.

If you’re a beginner, you should probably call the workout there. If you have more experience, you can repeat it up to three more times. However, even regular runners may only want to do the interval twice until they get used to it.

As you start improving, you can increase how many intervals you do in a block, decrease the break time between blocks, and increase your speed during the 20-second and 10-second intervals.

To benefit from 10-20-30 interval training, do it at least twice a week — but not more than that at first if you’re a beginner.