Owing to its ability to help you work out more efficiently and see faster results, interval training has gained well-deserved popularity with runners at all levels of experience.
In addition, run/walk intervals have proven to be the best way for beginners to learn to run. This method, popularized by Jeff Galloway, is used in most Couch to 5k (C25k) beginner training programs.
Unfortunately, it can be challenging to keep track of when it’s time to switch between intervals while trying to focus on your run. Electronic interval timers and apps can help by taking care of the logistics, leaving you to reap the benefits of interval training with less pressure.
Interval timers are small, wearable devices. If a compact, lightweight device that won’t interfere with your motion is a priority for you, a wearable interval timer might be a great choice.
Timer apps for mobile devices are also versatile and easy to use. An app can be a convenient option if you already tend to carry your phone while working out, or if you prefer to keep your fitness and general data contained on one device.
Each option has its benefits and drawbacks, so we’ve compiled a detailed list of picks for the best interval timers and apps to help you determine which one might be right for you.
Top 3 Best and Favorites
Garmin Forerunner 45
These are physical timers or watches that you wear when doing run/walk intervals or HIIT workouts.
1. Gymboss miniMAX
The miniMAX offers great programmability that lets you set your favorite interval sequences once and use them over and over. You can save up to 25 separate interval patterns and 20 full workout programs. The repeat feature lets you loop your intervals or entire workout sequence up to 99 times.
You can choose a vibration, audible beep or both to let you know when each interval is up, and you can set the alarm length to last one, two, five or nine seconds.
With six color options and three finishes to choose from, you should be able to find one you like. Measuring 1.75 inches tall and 2.25 inches wide, this timer takes up a minimum of space and shouldn’t get in your way during any activity.
An included clip lets you attach your timer to your belt, pocket or collar. However, the miniMAX doesn’t always handle a fall well, so be sure to clip it on carefully. You can also purchase a Gymboss lanyard, wristband or armband for a more secure fit.
- Compact design won’t impede your motion
- Several interval and workout program options
- Bright colors and finishes look great
- May break easily
2. Garmin Forerunner 45
The Forerunner 45 is Garmin’s entry-level running watch, but it still comes packed with features. A touch screen and multiple options are a few of the convenient features this model has to offer.
The touch screen lets you easily select your desired settings with just a few taps. You can set high-intensity and rest intervals for any time or distance threshold that you want, and you also have the option of selecting warm-up or cool-down intervals.
As long as you have the sound turned on, you can choose between a vibrating or audible alert to let you know when to switch your intensity level. If you have the sound turned completely off, the watch face will display a text alert when your interval ends.
In addition to interval timing, the Forerunner 45 also boasts GPS tracking, Bluetooth capability, heart rate monitoring and many other features. However, the Forerunner 45’s software seems to be a bit glitch-prone, and you may find yourself having to reboot or reestablish connectivity more frequently than you’d like.
- Dual interval settings for both time and distance
- Multiple additional features
- Easy-to-use touch screen
- Tends to have software glitches
- Costs more than other options
3. Garmin Forerunner 25 and Forerunner 35 (pictured)
The Forerunner 25 and 35 are the predecessors of the FR45. Although a bit dated, they still offer the functionality to structure and track interval workouts, and at a substantially lower cost. These running watches share many similarities in construction and capability, so we’ll cover them together and point out a couple of the differences.
Both models have a large face surrounded by four control buttons. The face has a clear, high-contrast display, so you can check how much time you have left on your interval even when you’re on the move.
You can set your intervals for whatever times you like, but you can only set a single time ratio to repeat over and over. An audible alert will let you know when it’s time to switch to your next interval, and the 35 also offers a vibrating alert.
In addition to interval timing, the Forerunner 25 and 35 offer GPS distance and pace tracking, heart rate monitoring, step counting and much more.
While the features are fairly comparable, the two models differ in looks. The 25 has a sporty, chunky design while the 35 has a sleek, high-tech style.
- The large face is easy to see
- Selecting your settings is fast
- GPS tracking and device connectivity
- You can’t set increasing or decreasing interval times
- Interval times limited to 30 second increments
4. Fitbit Inspire & Inspire HR (pictured)
With the exceptions of differing band styles and the Inspire HR’s additional features of continuous heart rate monitoring and GPS capability, the Inspire and Inspire HR are nearly identical fitness watches.
Both models offer a default interval setting of 30 seconds high-intensity and 10 seconds low-intensity, but you can create any custom interval sequence you like using the Fitbit app on a synced device. When you’re ready to use your routine, the Inspire’s touch screen makes it easy to find and launch your sequence, and a vibration alert will let you know when it’s time to switch to the next interval.
Thanks to a long-life battery, you should be able to get up to five days per charge with normal usage, so you can look forward to fewer charging sessions.
Both Inspire models sync with most Apple, Android and Windows devices, so you can manage your workout data and access Fitbit features from your phone, tablet or computer. However, you might have intermittent problems either establishing an initial connection or dealing with dropped connections.
- Long battery life
- Custom intervals are easy to set
- Syncs to a variety of devices
- Connectivity tends to lapse frequently
5. Timex Ironman Sleek 50
Timex included several helpful features that make this running watch especially ideal for interval training.
Four control buttons surround the dial face, so selecting your desired settings is quick and easy. A large start button sits at the bottom of the dial, so you can begin your set program or count laps even if you’re already in motion.
Set the interval timer for whatever combination of times you want, and you can also choose to either repeat your desired intervals for a set amount of time or until you reach your repetition goal. Even if you don’t use one of the two timer programs, the Ironman can still maintain a count of your completed intervals. An audible alert lets you know when each interval is up, but you don’t have the option of a vibrating alert.
If you like to get out for a walk or run in the evening or early morning, you can still keep an eye on your remaining interval time or other information with Timex’s signature Indiglo backlit dial.
- Several simple-to-use interval timing options
- The backlit dial is great for low-light environments
- Control buttons are easily accessible
- Audible alert only
If you don’t want to invest in a physical timer and don’t mind bringing your phone with you, there are plenty of apps that will help you track your run/walk intervals. These are the best we found…
This versatile app gives you plenty of options for choosing exactly how to set up your interval workout.
Seconds takes some of the guesswork out of creating an interval routine with pre-made templates of popular interval combinations. You can also choose to enter your preferred settings in whatever combination you want, which can be helpful if you want to build a sequence with increasing or decreasing time ratios.
Audible alerts let you know when your interval comes to an end, and you have your choice of a bell, beep or verbal alert notification. You can also select a setting for a countdown or warning when your interval is nearly over, so you can be prepared for what comes next.
The basic Seconds app is available in the App Store or on Google Play as a free download. But the free version’s timer function is limited and has no memory option. The paid version costs a few dollars, but it’s a good investment if you want to unlock more timer features.
- Choose pre-made interval workout templates or create your own
- Audible guides and reminders can help you stay on track
- The free version has a limited timer function
7. adidas Runtastic
The Runtastic app offers great adaptability and simple controls.
You have the freedom to create as many individual timers as you like, so you can always have your running plan at the ready even if you have different goals for different days. You can create timers with any length of intervals that you wish, and you can also set your goal number of repetitions or laps.
After you’ve built an interval routine that works for you, you can save it on the app to use again and again. The memory feature not only saves you from having to input the same parameters multiple times, but you can also track your distance and speed progress over time.
Voice notifications guide you through your workout and alert you when each interval is over, so you can simply follow the directions and concentrate on your performance. You don’t have any other alert sound options to choose from, though.
- Create unlimited timers with as many individual interval sequences as you want
- Save the timer sequences you create and reuse indefinitely
- Saved timers let you track your progress
- Alert sounds are limited to voice notifications only
8. Interval Timer
This app does one thing but does it well.
You can choose any length of high-intensity and rest times that you like, and you can set them to repeat for as many repetitions as you like. Thanks to large control buttons and a no-frills, intuitive set-up, selecting your settings couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve created your routine, you can save it as a template for future use.
Choose between a vibrating or audible alert to signal the end of each interval. The audible alert is an attention-getting beep, and you don’t have the option of any other sounds.
Each interval has its own full-screen color code and large count-down numbers, so all it takes is a glance at your phone to see exactly where you are in your workout.
The lock-mode function allows Interval Timer to keep working while eliminating the need for you to manually reopen the app or worry about accidentally hitting other functions while your phone is unlocked.
- Simple controls make this app fast and easy to use
- Color coding is easy to see
- Full function even when your phone is locked
- Only one audible alert sound choice
9. Bit Timer
With a simple, straight-forward design, the Bit Timer app’s goal is to let you quickly input your intervals and get your run started in no time.
To set up your parameters, enter your desired high-intensity time, rest time and the number of repetitions, then hit the start button and get moving. You can set a high-intensity time anywhere between five seconds and four minutes, and rest times can be between zero seconds and four minutes. Three different audible tones sound at various points of each interval, and a countdown lets you prepare for your next interval.
While the timer is certainly easy and fast to set up, you don’t have a save function, so you’ll need to enter your parameters again every time you use the app.
With permission, Bit Timer will continue to function even when your phone is locked, so you can focus on your workout with fewer hassles.
One thing to be aware of is that Bit Timer is currently only available for Apple iOS devices.
- Simple controls make it easy and quick to set up your interval sequence
- Can operate when your phone is locked
- Sound options for individual intervals
- Not currently available on Android devices
- You can’t save the timers you create
10. Interval Run
Currently available for Apple iOS, the Interval Run app offers an almost limitless number of ways for customizing your interval running routine.
Interval Run lets you assign activities to each interval, so you can fill your run with periods of sprinting, walking, jogging and resting. You can also set each interval to last as long as you like, and a real-time progress bar lets you keep track of where you are in your sequence.
Selecting your settings is easy with a scrolling menu that lets you tap your desired intensity and duration values. Interval Run also includes several pre-set programs for specific training routines, including Couch 2 5K and One Hour Runner.
If getting verbal feedback is a big motivator for you, this app delivers with amazingly diverse voice coaching and interval alerts. You can pick your favorite from one of the multiple virtual coaches. Each coach has a specific persona and delivers guidance and inspiring statements in their own unique tone.
- Multiple coaching and alert options
- Wide range of customizable run settings
- Pre-set training programs
- The progress bar lets you keep visual tabs on your workout
- Not currently available for Android users