How to Interval Train

HOW TO DO INTERVAL TRAINING

Intervals are a sure-fire way to boost your condition and see big gains.  If you’ve joined us to train for a running goal, you’ve likely got interval training on your plan. Whether or not your training plan includes intervals, we suggest giving it a go. Here’s some guidance to help you get started and make the most of your interval sessions.

WHAT ARE INTERVALS

Interval training is alternating between “work” and “rest” during a workout — or a harder effort and an easier effort — for a given number of repetitions. In running, the work portion is often the run portion of the interval and the pace can vary depending on the specific purpose of the workout. Intervals can be used in beginner training sessions, speed training workouts, long-distance training, rehab running, and also active recovery running sessions.  Many runners even chose to do run-walk intervals for the majority of their long-distance training and running, popularized by Jeff Galloway. His method suggests that walk breaks allow us to run stronger for a longer period of time while reducing injury.

WHY DO WE DO INTERVALS

Interval training is practiced in various sports and can help us quickly boost our condition by permitting our bodies to give more effort during a training session because of intervals of rest. Intervals allow you to do more of the “work” portion of your workout by building in recovery time.  They can test your limits and allow you to reach “peak performance” for shorts bursts, then recovering and going again. And the more you practice, the longer you can sustain these efforts and the easier it gets. For beginners or runners recovering from injury, this means that you can do more with less stress on your body because you build the recovery time into your workout. For experienced runners interested in improvement, you can test your speed by practicing a greater effort while helping your body adapt to new demands and get stronger.

WHO ARE INTERVALS FOR

Intervals are for all types of runners and we highly recommend them as a way to mix up your workouts and add variety to your training program. They’re great for speed work if you’re interested in getting faster. Though we recommend building a solid foundation before adding demanding speed work to your program. They’re also a great way to get started or restart, helping prevent overdoing it.  Intervals can even be helpful for runners returning from injury, helping keep the stress low while your body heals. Lastly, intervals are a nice way to take on distances that your body isn’t ready for.  If you’re interested in participating in an event and perhaps haven’t put in the proper training.  You could try running intervals for your event, something like 5:1 or 9:1 (ex. 5 minutes running with 1 minute walking recovery).

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO DO INTERVALS

We recommend planning intervals in your training program so that your weekly progression is gradual.

For speed work

It’s helpful to do them when your body is well rested from previous workouts, usually following a rest day and before any significant strength work or cross training sessions that day.  We also recommend allowing time for adequate recovery before carrying on with your next running workout and especially before another hard effort.  This often means taking a rest day before picking back up again but every runner’s recovery needs and time will vary.

For beginners, restarters, or runners returning from injury

We recommend starting or restarting with easy intervals, alternating running and walking. Adding rest intervals will allow you to do more to build or maintain your condition without overdoing it and in turn, will help you (re)strengthen your foundation and see gains more quickly.

interval training

HOW TO DO INTERVALS

Don’t skip your warm up

We recommend starting an interval session with a proper warm up, helping your body transition from one activity to another. A warm up will help make this a smooth transition and reduce chances of injury from not being well prepared for the demand. Depending on the intensity of your work out, you could start with either 5 to 10 minutes of walking or easy jogging followed by some dynamic stretches. For speed intervals, a longer warm up of 10 to 20 minutes with jogging and dynamic stretching exercises will help you better transition to more speed.  You could also start with easy paced intervals before picking up the pace to harder, faster running. Beginners and restarters could get going with a walking warm up first before transitioning to easy running intervals.

The “work” portion of interval sessions

Intervals can either be measured in time or distance.  For example, 1 minute work with 1 minute rest, or 200 meters work with 200 meters rest. You can also combine both, such as 1 km work with 2 minutes rest.  This is usually repeated a number of times for the duration of your workout. For most intervals, you’ll want to be able to give the same effort from the start to finish of your workout. If you can’t maintain the same effort and tire toward the end, you’ve probably gone out too fast.  If this happens, trying slowing it down a bit the next time until you find a pace that you can maintain.

The “work” portion of interval sessions- Speed intervals

In our longer-distance training programs, we often recommend running your speed interval sessions at about 85% – 90% effort.  This can be measured by targeting 85% of your max heart rate or you can estimate by feel. If you don’t train by heart rate and you’re not sure what 85% effort is, try running about the same or a bit faster than you’d run a 5K at your best effort. With practice, you can improve this effort too. More experienced runners and certain speed workouts might ask for an even greater effort.  Just remember that the harder the effort, the greater the stress on your body and the more recovery your body will need.  It’s better to take on demanding speed work once you’ve established a solid foundation of general condition, strength and running.

The “work” portion of interval sessions – Strength, Distance, or practice Intervals

Intervals can also be done on hills, stairs, trails, or any other terrain that you’d like to incorporate into your training. If you’re trying to build strength, hills or stairs could be beneficial interval sessions.  Distance intervals can help you practice a specific race pace or effort during your training runs. You can also use intervals to introduce and train your body on new terrain, such as trails.  We even like intervals for gait retraining, mindfulness work, or practicing various breathing techniques.

Rest

Rest intervals are for recovery.  For many, easy walking will do a better job of getting your heart rate recovered enough to go back at it and keep the same effort. Those with a naturally faster pace might be able to slow jog as rest. For more advanced runners who do their “work” portion at a very high intensity will require more of a full stop, although we usually recommend that you keep moving for a few seconds and avoid coming to a complete stand still immediately after your run portion. You’ll get the most benefit from the workout if you fully recover after each run interval. So choose a walk or jog recovery interval based on your body’s response. With (lots of) practice, your recovery will speed up.

Cool down

Finish up your interval session with a proper cool down. Depending on your experience and the intensity of your workout, this could be 5 to 10 minutes of easy jogging or walking.  We recommend following that up with some runner’s strength and mobility exercises.  And for a complete workout, add in two to five minutes of cortisol-lowering breathing exercises and some self-massage or rolling with a foam roller or therapy ball.

Refuel & rehydrate

Thank your body for the hard work and take care of it by rehydrating and refueling with a nutrient dense snack or meal that includes some carbs and protein within 30 minutes of your workout. And remember, train hard but recover harder.

How do you do intervals? What are your favorite interval workouts? Got some tips that have helped you get started?  We’d love for you to share with us in the comments below.