The purpose of the interval run is to increase your speed, improve your running economy and teach your body to increase or “push back” your anaerobic threshold. During your interval workout, you should combine shorter periods of high intensity of extreme effort with recovery periods of jogging or walking.
The pace of your high intensity period should be based on perceived effort levels, and you should feel the need to gasp and grab your knees at the end of the high intensity period to get the full effect (but not so much that you can’t complete it).
You can also vary your recovery period; by either standing, walking or jogging depending upon the duration and intensity of the high intensity effort as well as your level of fitness.
If you’ve not done interval training before, you should consider easing into it with shorter high intensity periods and longer recovery periods; below are some recommended interval workouts for beginner, intermediate and advanced runners.
Interval Workouts for Beginner Runners
In each of these workouts, you should start with some dynamic stretching as well as a 10 minute warm up run and follow each of the interval sessions with a 10 minute cool down session. A beginner runner or a runner whose fitness level is below average should be able to handle any of the interval sessions below, but a good rule of thumb is to progress through them until you feel fully comfortable advancing to the next interval session and, ultimately, to the Intermediate workouts.
- Run 10 sets of 1 minute at high intensity, with 2 – 3 minutes of walk recovery
- Run 5 sets of 2 minutes at high intensity, with 90 seconds – 2 minutes of walk recovery
- Run 3 sets of 5 minutes at high intensity, with 4 – 5 minutes of walk recovery
- Run 3 sets of 3, 2 and 1 minute high intensity repetitions with 2 – 3 minutes of walk recovery between each repetition
Interval Workouts for Intermediate Runners
- 10 – 12 sets of 1 minute at high intensity, with 90 second – 2 minute recovery (walk or jog)
- 6 – 8 sets of 2 minutes at high intensity, with 1 minute recovery (walk or jog)
- 4 – 5 sets of 3 minutes at high intensity, with 2 minute recovery (walk or jog)
- Run 3 sets of 3, 2 and 1 minute high intensity repetitions, with 1 – 3 minute recovery between each repetition (walk or jog)
Interval Workouts for Advanced Runners
- 12 – 15 sets of 1 minute at high intensity, with 1 minute recovery jog
- 8 – 10 sets of 2 minutes of high intensity, with 1 minute recovery jog
- 4 sets of 5 minutes at high intensity, with 90 seconds recovery jog
- Run 4 sets of 4, 3, 2 and 1 minute high intensity repetitions, with 1 – 3 minute recovery jog
To clarify, when you run the sets with varying intensity repetitions it should look like this using the Beginner Runner workout as an example.
- Set 1 = 3 minutes at high intensity, 3 minute walk recovery
- Set 2 = 2 minutes at high intensity, 2 minute walk recovery
- Set 3 = 1 minute at high intensity, begin cool down after Set 3
You should learn from my mistakes, and not go out too fast the first time you do an interval workout; your high intensity for the 10 sets of 1 minute should be at about the same pace so don’t over-tax yourself early in the repetitions. Ultimately, you’ll get a feel for this and be able to pace your interval runs just like you pace your base runs or long runs.
Also, I try to do interval training like this every two weeks or so while I’m training recognizing that 80% of my runs should be at an easy pace building my aerobic endurance. Here are some other runs you can try during your training week.
Finally, one of the great things about interval training is the high intensity repetitions help mirror the exhaustion you feel at the end of a race building your confidence of pushing through those tough times during a race.
Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.