Interval Training Guide

The concept of interval training has become increasingly popular in recent years – especially with the explosion of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) programmes. For runners, interval training offers countless benefits and should be included as part of your race preparation. Read our interval training guide to find out all you need to know about this essential workout.

What is interval training in running?

Interval training is a kind of exercise which combines alternating periods of high-intensity activity and low-intensity activity/rest. If you’re training for a longer race, you might assume that interval training isn’t for you – after all, you’ll mainly be focusing on building up your stamina doing long, slow runs. However, mixing some interval training into your programme will help with your general fitness and can also improve your speed.

Thanks to HIIT, many people think of interval training in terms of burpees, lunges, squats and other compound exercises. While runners can certainly benefit from HIIT, interval training in running actually has a long history and focuses principally on periods of sprinting followed by jogging or rest. Interval training was first developed in 1930s Germany and has long been used by professional athletes to increase their fitness, speed and endurance.

What are the benefits of interval training workouts?

Interval training offers runners numerous benefits. These include:

  • A highly precise measure of fitness: Since most interval training workouts combine specific distances and time frames, you’re able to clearly benchmark your progress.
  • Increases anaerobic capacity: When you do high-speed or intensity training, your body’s aerobic system can’t keep up with the demands you’re putting on it, so it creates energy in the absence of oxygen – which results in the ‘burning’ sensation of lactic acid build-up. The more interval training you do, the better your body gets at clearing lactic acid – and that means you can run farther, faster.
  • Lose weight faster: Interval training burns significantly more calories than a leisurely jog in the same amount of time, thereby helping you to lose weight.
  • Improves performance: We’ve all reached plateaus in our training – levels where we find we’re not able to continue to improve. Interval training can help launch you up to your next fitness level by increasing your body’s efficiency.

Sample interval training running exercises

Try using some of the following interval training workouts during your next running session. You might find it easier to do interval training either on a track or a treadmill, simply because you’ll have a simpler, possibly more accurate way to measure distance. That said, you might be able to find a consistent distance at your local park that you can use as a measure – perhaps following the lines round a football pitch, for instance.

You’re also going to benefit from using a stopwatch of some sort – most sports watches will provide a stopwatch and a splits feature that can be a big help. You can also use a running app to record your times.

Here are five popular interval training running workouts:

  • Lap repeats: Lap repeats are the classic interval training method. Go to your local running track or any other 400-metre distance, and aim to run this distance as fast as you can. On completion, stop and rest – wait until your heart rate is down to at least 120 BPM before repeating. Record each lap’s time, and over a few weeks, you should notice that you can increase your speed while reducing the time it takes to complete the lap, even after a few repeats. You can make it more intense by reducing your recovery time too.
  • Ladders: Ladders are a way of building up the intensity of your interval training. Begin by doing a 200-metre sprint, before recovering for one minute and then increasing to 400 metres, recovering for one minute, and repeating again, this time for 600 metres, then 800 metres, and then a full kilometre.
  • Pyramids: An alternative to ‘standard’ ladders, in pyramids you might start on 200 metres, increase to 400 metres, and then 600 metres, before going back down to 400 metres, then 200 metres, and repeating.
  • Ins and outs: Visit your local track and aim to run for at least one mile in total. For ins and outs, you sprint the ‘straights’ on the track, then drop down to a jog along the bends, before increasing to a sprint on the next straight.
  • Fartlek training: Fartlek training isn’t strictly interval training, but it borrows some of the ideas and is especially useful if you’re not a member of a track or gym, or if you prefer running in the great outdoors. Essentially, this is unstructured interval training where you choose various objects in your line of sight and alternately sprint or jog towards them. Visit a local park and, after warming up, sprint to a nearby tree. Drop off the pace and jog over to a different bush, before jumping into a sprint again and racing towards a goal post, and so on.

Use this interval training guide to spice up your general running routine. Besides various fitness benefits, interval training for running is often more exciting and challenging than long-distance jogs!