Contents

Interval Training Tips for Runners

Assuming that you are in good physical condition and have built a reasonable aerobic base (you’re comfortable at sustained running for 30 minutes or more on a regular basis), interval training can be your best choice for improving fitness, developing running economy, and getting faster.

You do not need to be a competitive athlete to make effective use of intervals in your training. Interval training can improve your running ability whether you run a 10-minute mile or a 20-minute 5K.

More: 27 Ways to Run Better Everyday

Running an interval involves running at a faster pace than your usual aerobic pace. You know you are running aerobically if you are able to talk in complete sentences while you’re running. A pace that requires more huffing and puffing, a step up from your aerobic pace, is run for a predetermined length of time, with a recovery jog interval, and repeated for a set number of repetitions.

These are intervals and they serve to improve the efficiency of the oxygen delivery system to your muscles. The result over time will be measurable improvements in speed, endurance, and efficiency.

More: 4 Ways to Build Speed Workouts Into Your Runs

According to Jack Daniels, Ph.D., interval mileage should be capped at 8 percent of your total weekly mileage in any given quality workout. If you are running 25 miles a week, devoting a couple of miles to a quality workout with intervals a couple of times a week is reasonable and will produce results.

If you are new to interval training, try this workout twice a week in place of your regular run for four weeks. After four weeks you can increase the interval length to two minutes. Always remember to warm up and cool down adequately.

More: 4 Tweaks to Run Like the Elites

  • Warm up for 10 minutes at an easy jog.
  • Run at interval pace (a step up from your usual pace) for one minute.
  • Jog for a two-minute recovery interval.
  • Repeat four times.
  • Cool down for five minutes and stretch.

If you are a more experienced runner with a higher mileage base, your intervals can be easily adjusted for your fitness level. Remembering the 8 percent cap on interval mileage, interval pace can be about your 5K pace, faster for shorter intervals, slower for longer intervals ranging from 30 seconds to five minutes. As a rule of thumb, your recovery interval should take about as much time as your working interval.

More: 5 Ways to Run Past Your Mental Blocks

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Running & Fitnews, Volume 20, Number 1
Copyright, The American Running Association

3 Interval Training Plans to Build Fitness Fast

Less time in the gym doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice fitness if you know this secret: Interval training. Research shows that interval training—workouts in which you alternate periods of high-intensity exercise with low-intensity recovery period—increases fitness and burns more calories over a short period of time than steady-state cardio (you know: just doing the same thing for your whole workout time).

So how do you get the most out of interval training, and how long should each push and recovery be? One of the many great things about intervals is that there’s no single hard-and-fast rule. Different lengths of work and recovery bring different benefits—and they’re all good.

Start with these three interval training plans. Just know this: Interval training is tough, so if you’re just starting to work out, spend a few weeks to a month building your stamina with cardio workouts before adding interval training to your routine. Add these interval training plans to your gym routine once a week to burn more calories, build more fitness, and get out of the gym faster.

1. Cardio Blaster

This is one of the best interval training workouts you can do to improve fitness. It burns lots of calories in a short amount of time.

How to do it:

  • Warm up for 15 minutes.
  • Then run, bike, or row for 3 minutes at 90 to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate (should feel like 8.5 or 9 on a scale of one to 10). Take three minutes active recovery (you’re still moving, but at an easy pace) and repeat the 3 on/3 off pattern three to four more times.
  • Finish with a 10-minute cooldown.

Bonus benefit: This workout is like weight training for your heart—it strengthens your cardiovascular system, which improves your overall health.

2. Speedplay

Sprinting is great for tightening and toning your legs, glutes, and core. It increases your muscle power, which helps you push harder and makes your non-interval training workouts feel easier so you can challenge yourself and burn even more calories.

How to do it:

  • Warm up for 15 minutes, adding a few 20-second bursts at the end to prepare for the workout.
  • Run, bike, or row for 30 seconds at a nearly all-out effort. Take three minutes active recovery and repeat the 30 on/3 off pattern five or six more times.
  • Finish with a 10-minute cooldown.

3. Cardio-Sprint Pyramid

This adds sprint interval training for a fast and fun workout. Here, after each burst of hard work, you’ll recover for the same amount of time.

How to do it:

  • Warm up for 15 minutes, adding a few 20-second bursts at the end to prepare for the workout.
  • Run, bike, or row: During the work periods, you should have a rate of perceived exertion (RPE of 8 to 10, followed by 30 seconds of active recovery.

Build and taper the workout like this:

30 seconds sprint/30 seconds recover
1 minute sprint/1 minute recover
2 minutes sprint/2 minutes recover
4 minutes sprint/4 minutes recover
2 minutes sprint/2 minutes recover
1 minute sprint/1 minute recover
30 seconds sprint/30 seconds recover

  • Finish with a 10-minute cooldown.

Bonus benefit: This major calorie-burning interval training plan gives you the best of both worlds—high-octane cardio and muscle-sculpting sprints.

This article originally appeared on Shape.com.

See more fitness training tips or find an exercise class near you.

Jason Karp, PhD is an exercise physiologist, a nationally-recognized running coach and founder of Dr. Karp’s Run-Fit Boot Camp in San Diego. He is the author of 101 Developmental Concepts and Workouts for Cross Country Runners and the forthcoming Women’s Running Bible.

Find more stories like this on diets, fitness, healthy eating and recipes at Shape.com

This High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) guide is probably the best interval training guide in the galaxy.

My justification for such a bold claim?

We’re really good at this stuff, AND we have dinosaurs and Muppets.

Plus, lots of great gifs:

We build custom interval training programs just like the ones in this guide for our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Clients, including workouts for at home, the gym, or even while traveling.

Want a HIIT workout program you’ll actually enjoy? Learn more:

In this Ultimate Guide to Interval Training, we’ll cover:

  • What is interval training? What is HIIT?
  • What are the benefits of HIIT? Why should you do interval training?
  • What’s an example of interval training? How to do interval running.
  • How do HIIT workouts work?
  • What are the best HIIT exercises?
  • Is HIIT good for losing weight?
  • Getting started with interval training.
  • Mistakes to avoid when doing HIIT.
  • HIIT timer recommendations.
  • Our interval training workout recommendation.

What is Interval Training? What is HIIT?

In 2018, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) was ranked the number one fitness trend by American College of Sports Medicine.

Essentially, HIIT is just following a specific regimen where you vary your speeds and intensity throughout a shorter run, swim, bike, or row.

Any exercise can be a form of HIIT, but here’s a common routine:

  • Jogging lightly for three minutes.
  • Pushing yourself harder for a minute (run or sprint).
  • Repeating this cycle 4 more times.

Because everybody is busy and overwhelmed, fast results in the least amount of time leads to most people discovering HIIT.

You may be asking, “Steve, just how short and intense are we talking about here? Also your new haircut looks spiffy.”

Thank you, you’re very kind.

So let’s explore the pros and cons of intervals.

What are the Benefits of HIIT? Why Should You Do Interval Training?

The 1996 landmark Tabata study demonstrated the benefits of extreme HIIT.

Dr. Izumi Tabata, from Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports, was obsessed with interval training.

The doctor sought to see exactly what kind of gains were obtained from short, intense, periods of exercise. He conducted an experiment with Olympic athletes on stationary bikes and put them through intense bouts of exercise followed by short periods of rest.

The results were fascinating.

Compared to regular cardio, HIIT had a greater impact on improving BOTH:

  • Aerobic increases (endurance).
  • Anaerobic increases (power).

Even crazier? Tabata was able to demonstrate improvements in his athletes with just four minute bursts.

So what’s happening here?

Simple: your heart is a muscle.

If you keep your heart beating at a constant rate, never expanding it outside of its comfort zone, it will never grow stronger.

By introducing chaos and pushing your muscles outside of their comfort zone, they must adapt and grow more resilient in order to survive.

Intense interval training challenges your heart by constantly forcing it outside of its comfort zone.

In other words: progressive overload – the same concept behind building strength.

Since Tabata’s 1996 study, many other trials have shown the positive impact of interval training.

Here are some of the benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training:

HIIT for Weight loss. A study in the Journal of Obesity found participants were able to lose more body fat following a HIIT program compared to regular cardio.

This makes sense, because other studies suggest high intensity interval training burns more calories than a “steady state” workout.

Revving up your effort requires more out of you, including calories. If you’re interested in HIIT for weight loss, you might be on the right track.

Plus, interval training can take less time than steady state cardio.

The average interval training workout is 20 minutes or less.

However, I should note that a meta-study (a review of multiple studies) found no real difference in fat loss between HIIT and steady-state cardio. We’ll talk about this, and the impact of diet for weight loss later.

HIIT for lowering blood sugar. Managing blood sugar is really important for health, and not just for diabetics.

Those trying to lose fat should be aware of their blood sugar and corresponding insulin levels.

The good news for our current discussion? HIIT has been shown to help lower and manage blood sugar levels.

HIIT for heart health. Touching on the “antifragile” topic again, HIIT has been shown to help with overall cardiovascular health.

It does so in the same way traditional endurance training does, but at a fraction of the time (almost half).

Sold? Me too.

Let’s chat about how to actually do some interval training.

What’s an example of Interval Training? How to do interval running

The key to HIIT is being able to go from “easy” to “difficult.” All sorts of different exercises can get you there:

  • Aerobic (cardio).
  • Bodyweight (strength training).
  • Resistance (weight training).

HIIT is generally associated with running (aerobic), so we’ll devote this section to just that.

The easiest way to experiment with HIIT would be to run.

Here’s how to start with a basic HIIT running workout. Go to a park in your neighborhood. Warm up with some light jogging, high knees and mobility – leg swings, arm swings, etc,

And then begin your workout!

  • Run/jog at a brisk pace for 30 seconds.
  • Jog/walk at a slower pace for 2 minutes.
  • After your rest, shoot for another 30 second run/jog.
  • Continue until you get tired or after about ten “push/rest” intervals.

And BAM! You just did HIIT.

Don’t get disheartened if you find yourself stopping a lot during your first week of HIIT training.

You’ll be surprised how quickly you get better at this!

Also, “running” or “jogging” is subjective. Whatever walking fast means to you is great. Do that for your periods of intensity.

It should be noted, that the entire “Couch to 5K” concept rests on interval training through running.

It’s all broken down into “walking,” “jogging” and “running.”

If you’re curious, check out our in-depth Couch to 5k review. If want to start interval training, “Couch to 5K” could be a good way to do it.

More of an indoor person?

Consider a treadmill, where it actually sets intervals for you based on your desired difficulty. We’ll be talking about machines a lot more in the next section, but a treadmill is all you need to do a HIIT workout.

Experiment with the speed and incline to find a setting that you would consider “intense.” Many machines can be programed to flip between this and an “easy” setting.

And you know what that means… boom! It’s built for HIIT.

Want us to just tell you EXACTLY what to do and how to train? Awesome. This is what we do for a living, and we’re really good at.

Working out doesn’t have to suck. Let us build a fun workout for you:

How do HIIT Workouts Work? (More HIIT cardio to choose from)

There are a lot of different aerobic exercises for HIIT cardio.

For example, you could jump on a bike, which is like HIIT running but with wheels (duh):

Every spin class is based on HIIT cycling (SoulCycle, Flywheel, or even your local gym now has spin classes).

They’re popular for a reason, and you can make a friend or two!

Here are some more examples of interval training:

  1. Elliptical. If it has a dial for resistance, it can be used for interval training. For a couple minutes, go on low resistance (0-2 level). Then crank up the resistance for one minute (up to 8-10). Repeat this process 12 times, which will give you a 20 minute workout.
  2. Stair Climber. Much like the elliptical, alternate between periods of low intensity for two minutes, then one minute for high intensity. The difference with the climber is the dial will control the speed of the stairs. Be careful.
  3. Rowing machine. Start with a two minute warm up. On minute three however, row like you’re being chased by the Kraken for a full 60 seconds. Then catch your breath. The rowing machine might be hard to do for a full 20 minutes, since it’s a lot of upper body. Shoot for ten minutes at first.
  4. Jumping rope. Jumping rope is a full body exercise. Also, it’s fun. There’s no dial here, your own body controls the pace of the jump. Follow the same two minute easy, one minute intense as above. Jump rope can also be done with friends!

So far we’ve just been talking about aerobic exercises.

Let’s cover our other categories, of bodyweight and resistance.

What Are the Best HIIT Exercises? (Two Other Forms of Interval Training)

“Steve, this all sounds great. But I hate running!”

Confession: So do I.

So I get my cardio in other forms!

Here are some bodyweight exercises to get going on HIIT:

  • Burpees. Stand up, then squat down, kick your legs out, do a push-up, bring your legs back in, and explode up into a jump. Try to do 20 repetitions, then rest for two minutes. Repeat until you hate yourself:
  • Push-ups. For 20 seconds, do as many push-ups as possible. Rest. Then do it again. If you’re worried about proper form, check out our push-up guide and watch this:
  • Pull-ups. Same idea as above, do pull-ups for 20 seconds, then rest. If you can’t do a pull-up, we got you covered in our pull-up progression guide:

Let’s now chat some Weight Training Examples for HIIT:

  1. Kettlebell swing. For ten minutes, do 20 kettlebell swings on every minute. This will be intense, and worthy of congratulations when you’re done. Check out our 20 Minute Beginner Kettlebell Workout for everything you’ve ever wanted to know about kettlebells.
  2. Battle ropes. If your gym has battle ropes, they’ll be a great tool for HIIT. For intensity, the amount of slack in the rope determines the load. The more slack on the rope the tougher, and more intense, the workout. Also, don’t get stuck in just up and down movements. Variation will target different muscles.
  3. Weight lifting. The critical piece will be moving from one exercise to another, for example the bench press to the lat bar: we call this circuit training!

You can also do circuit training as a form of HIIT.

Circuit training is going through a sequence of exercises, or stations, back to back.

Push-ups to pull-ups, back to push-ups, only resting briefly from one exercise to another.

Circuit training would be perfect to mix into a HIIT workout, since you can design your circuit to be very intense.

Check out our post for 15 Circuit Training Routines to choose from.

Plus, there’s a Batman workout hidden in there. You’re welcome.

We create custom HIIT programs for busy people like you that are ACTUALLY fun. If you’re looking for a supportive coach to guide you and tell you exactly what to do each day, we got you covered!

Exercise doesn’t have to suck. Learn more about our coaching program!

If you just want a beginner circuit to get started with, you can try out our Beginner Bodyweight Workout Routine. Plus you can download a free worksheet to track your progress with this circuit when you join the Rebellion below:

Grab Your Beginner Bodyweight Routine Worksheet. No Gym Required!

  • Complete this workout at home, no equipment required
  • Avoid the common mistakes everybody makes when doing bodyweight exercises
  • Learn how to finally get your first pull-up

Oh what’s that? You want to have even MORE fun while getting the benefits of HIIT? Let’s think outside the box:

Basketball, tennis, soccer, and Ultimate (frisbee) are AMAZING styles of exercise that use interval training (it’s all start and stop!).

Run here, catch this, and wait for the next round to start.

That’s what we’re looking for in a HIIT workout.

So pick a form of FUN exercise that gets your heart racing faster and slower throughout the activity (yes, I suppose even THAT activity would count).

Is HIIT Good for Losing Weight? Is Interval Training Good for Losing Weight?

My guess is that you’re reading this article because you’re trying to get the most efficient “bang for your buck” when it comes to getting in shape.

And HIIT is a great form of exercise and COULD help with weight loss.

I will, however, lower some of these outlandish claims that exist in the media.

For example, Time magazine calls HIIT “miraculous” in one article.

That’s a little much, even for me, who writes for a living on why you should work out and likes using hyperbole for effect.

Seriously, I’m better at it than ANYBODY ON THE PLANET.

Ahem.

Cardio, strength training, and HIIT all have many benefits.

HIIT deserves praise, but exercise in general deserves praise. As we discussed in our “Cardio vs HIIT vs Weights” post, all three forms of training have their place, and the best one for you is the one you actually do.

And strength training. Always strength training.

So to answer your question, is HIIT the secret and only weapon for weight loss?

Nah, it’s just great exercise.

And exercise is important.

But If you want to lose body fat, how you eat will be responsible for 80% of your success or failure.

This means that I don’t care how many intervals you do, it’s not gonna help you lose weight if you don’t also fix your nutrition.

You can read our Beginner’s Guide to Nutrition if you want more information.

And if you want to download our free 10-level Nutrition Guide to help you fix your diet starting today, you can do so by signing up in the box below:

Download our free weight loss guide THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life

  • Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
  • What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
  • 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target

Getting Started with Interval Training

When it’s time to advance your high intensity interval training, think about the following:

  1. Frequency. This would be the number of intervals in your workout.
  2. Intensity. How hard are you going in each interval.
  3. Time. How long are your intervals, resting periods, etc.

Maybe you start out doing 3 intervals of intense running.

Once it becomes routine, bring it up to 4.

Maybe you crank the resistance on your stationary bike to “8” during your intense interval. When it becomes normal, bring it up to “10.”

Maybe you do pull-ups for 20 seconds. When you’ve got a good handle on that, aim for 30 seconds.

This mindset will keep you advancing in interval training.

Consistency is the name of the game. Even just doing a HIIT workout once a week will help you progress in all three categories.

Want a program that adapts to your progress each month? Learn more:

Mistakes to Avoid When Doing High Intensity Interval Training

There’s a lot to consider when embarking on a HIIT practice.

No matter which routine you end up starting with, make sure you follow these words of wisdom:

  1. Ease into it. As the saying goes, “you must walk before you can run.” The importance is building a HIIT practice. If you need to go “less intense” before progressing to “intense,” that’s fine. It’ll help build your aerobic capabilities (endurance), which will be important when working on intensity. Start with walking.
  2. Keep proper form. Doing your movements correctly will help prevent injury. Here’s how to run properly. This is even more important in your later intervals, where you may be exhausted and tired. If you find yourself breaking form, go ahead and slow down. Intense isn’t worth an injury.
  3. Get rest. Our bodies actually build muscle while we are resting. So take some “off days” from your HIIT practice. Want to stay active on these days? Do some fun exercise!

Take it easy, focus on your form, and make sure to prioritize rest.

HIIT Timer Recommendations

HIIT centers on doing intervals.

One moment it’s intense, the next you’re onto a short rest break.

A good way to know when it’s time to go from one sequence to the next is a timer. A loud “beep” can tell you when it’s okay to catch your breath or when you have to kick it in gear.

Here are 5 HIIT timers you can try out:

  1. Runtastic. Don’t let the name fool you, this free app is for more than just running. You can customize for many different interval workouts, depending on what exercise you go with. And the interface looks slick.
  2. Seconds. It’s free and customizable to any form of HIIT. It can also integrate with your music, which is pretty sweet.
  3. Seven. If you’re new to HIIT, Seven would be a good app for you. It’s free, plus it has illustrations for exercises. You also get to customize your own virtual personal trainer, which may be the future of fitness. The bots are coming…
  4. Sworkit. First off, it’s a clever name (taken from “Simply Work It.”) Second, it’s free. Third, it can display your workout, goals, and calories burned. I like it.
  5. J&J Official Seven Minute Workout. This free app from Johnson & Johnson is actually really awesome. It has premade workouts you can choose form based on your fitness level, or tweak them to make it your own.

Also, we need to talk about interval timers. Most of the apps referenced are completely customizable.

For example, you can change the intense interval from 120 seconds to 90 seconds.

This is critical, because it’s up to you to decide how long you can do intense vs. rest.

Generally, folks recommend one minute of intensity and then two for rest when doing HIIT.

However, this all depends on the individual, and exercises performed. Burpees are tougher to do than jumping over a rope.

So feel free to make changes like 30 seconds of intensity and three minutes of rest. Make it your own.

Whatever way you chose to do HIIT, is fine, as long as you actually do it. The benefits of HIIT kick in when going HARD for you.

In other words, you don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to get the benefits of HIIT.

A light jog totally works. Just don’t do it in a mascot costume.

As we discussed, if you’re consistent, you’ll improve.

So don’t stress on where you have to start.

For now, download an app and get going.

I hate multiple choice. Pick a HIIT workout for me!

Let’s power walk as our form of HIIT.

This is an example of a beginner HIIT workout we might prescribe for our Coaching Clients who are starting to train for their first 5K.

Let’s do seven intervals, two minutes each:

  1. Warm-up. For three minutes, walk at an easy pace.
  2. Intervals. For the first 60 seconds, power walk, like you’re trying to beat someone to the front of the line at Starbucks.
  3. For the next 60 seconds, just walk.
  4. Repeat six more times.
  5. Cool down. You can do some more light walking, or a little bit of stretching here would be great.

Total time: 20 minutes.

I want to stress, that you can do just about any exercise in exchange for this routine. Just minus “power walk” and add “push-ups and bodyweight squats”

It’ll still be a great HIIT workout.

“But Steve, that’s still multiple choice!”

Right, right… sorry. Stick to power walking! Done!

How to Start Interval Training now

Do our power walking routine above. It’s a great place to start.

Remember, our goal at this stage is “build the habit.”

We can work on “whoa, that was intense” later.

If you’re looking for EVEN MORE stuff to do, we have a few options for ya:

1) Check out our popular 1-on-1 coaching program. You’ll work with our certified NF instructors who will get to know you better than you know yourself and program your workouts and nutrition for you.

Our coaching program kicks ass. Let us help you reach your goals!

2) Our self-paced online course, the Nerd Fitness Academy.

The Academy has 20+ workouts for both bodyweight or weight training, a benchmark test to determine your starting workout, HD demonstrations of every movement, boss battles, a questing system, and supportive community.

One payment, lifetime access: Join the Academy!

There’s a zillion ways to do HIIT, so don’t let the options paralyze you.

Pick one, anyone, and get to it.

Interval training, in any form, is a solid fitness choice and a great practice to have in the workout arsenal.

Any questions?

Which HIIT workout style is your favorite?

Leave it in the comments below!

-Steve

PS: Make sure check out the rest of our content on interval training:

  1. The HIIT Workout for Home
  2. How to Do Tabata Sprints
  3. Should You Do Couch to 5K?

All photo credits can be found in this footnote.

The Ideal HIIT Conditioning Workout For Runners

When aiming to improve their running, the first tactic most people try is to run more. It’s an intuitive, and largely wise, move. After that, they might try changing up their sessions, mixing in hill or sprint work. Again, that’s a good move.

At a certain point, though, to keep improving you need to look beyond running, as Sean Lerwill – Maximuscle personal trainer and former Royal Marines training instructor – explains. “The most common mistake I see runners make is one that I made myself years ago: to get better and quicker at running, you just run. And run. And run. And then wonder why the times aren’t coming down.

“The reason is you aren’t paying any attention to strength and conditioning. Without strengthening the muscles required for running, and then conditioning them for stamina and endurance specific to running, you’re unlikely to see better results.”

RECOMMENDED: Strength Training For Runners

You can never accuse Coach of just identifying a problem without offering solutions. We also asked Lerwill to provide a HIIT workout that will help improve your running by focusing on your conditioning.

“The idea of a HIIT workout is to work the cardiovascular system and the muscles at high intensity,” explains Lerwill. “That means it helps with conditioning rather than strength, so it is worth doing some separate strength sessions.”

The HIIT Workout For Runners

The five stages in this session work the heart, then the legs, the core and the legs again with a final interval for the heart to finish. The workout should last around 40 minutes, including warm-up and warm-down. Make sure you don’t take more than a quick drink between stages.

“In terms of muscles used, the heart is obviously given a good workout during the majority of this,” says Lerwill.

“All of the legs, from calves to glutes, get a good thrashing in the jump squats. The glutes, quads and hamstrings are worked on the split squats and the glute bridge hits the hamstrings and glutes.

“The planks give the core and shoulders some training, and the sprints at the beginning and end work pretty much everything else a runner needs to worry about.”

Warm-up

Start with a light jog for 2-3min, then mobilise and dynamically stretch the muscles before another 2-3min jog, speeding up over the last minute to a decent pace.

1 150m sprint

Reps 5 Rest 45sec

Do five 150m sprints with 45sec rest between them. Each should be an all-out sprint – imagine you’re coming round the bend into the home straight in a race.

2 Tabata jump squat

Sets 8 Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Lower into a squat and then jump as high as you can. Land softly and bend the knees back into the squat position, then go straight into the next rep. Use Tabata timings so you do 20sec work followed by 10sec rest. If you have problems cushioning the knees properly, touch the floor with the hands beside the feet after each rep.

3 Tabata pulse split squat

Sets 8 Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Place one foot on a bench or step behind you and the other in front of you. Squat down on the front leg, keeping your torso upright. At the bottom, pulse (a small down-and-up movement) and then return to the top position. Then repeat for the next rep. This is Tabata again, so after 20sec of squats, rest for 10sec and switch to the other leg for the next set. Continue alternating legs.

4 Tabata pulse one-leg glute bridge

Sets 8 Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Lie on your back with the head away from the step or bench, and place one foot onto the step and raise the other into the air. Drive down through the heel on the step to raise your hips until your shoulder, hip and knee are in line. Pulse at the top before returning to the start position and then go straight into the next rep. Again, this uses Tabata timings, so after 20sec rest for 10sec rest, then continue with the other leg and keep alternating with each set.

5 Tabata plank

Sets 8 Time 20sec Rest 10sec

Get into a plank position – forearms supporting you, body straight – and hold for 20sec, then rest for 10sec. If that’s too easy, try figure of eight planks instead: keeping the toes and elbows fixed in place, move the ankles over the toes in a figure of eight shape, thus moving the upper body over the arms in a figure of 8 as well.

6 100m sprint

Reps 5 Rest 50sec

Five 100m sprints with 50sec rest between them. As with the 150m sprints, these should be all-out efforts – imagine the finish line is in sight and you’re within reach of a PB.

Warm down and stretch

Take 1-2min to walk around with your hands on the lower part of your chest. Then perform a stretch routine either indoors (or, if outdoors, once you’ve put on more clothing to stay warm).

RECOMMENDED: How To Warm Up For A Run And Cool Down Afterwards

Visit maximuscle.com for more training plans and advice

Improve your fitness in no time with these crazy-hard “high-intensity interval-training” workouts designed for runners.

3 Effective HIIT Workouts

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most effective ways to work out—period. By incorporating a HIIT session once or twice a week (on top of your normal running), you’ll see your cardiovascular fitness improve dramatically and your athletic capacity increase. A study published in Sports Medicine showed that HIIT was superior to endurance training at improving oxygen capacity during exercise (otherwise known as VO2 max), and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence indicating that it’s the secret sauce to nailing a PR.

So what is HIIT exactly? Also known as sprint interval training, HIIT workouts alternate between short bursts of intense exercise intended to increase your heart rate and periods of recovery. The intervals can take the form of running, cycling, strength-training moves, rowing, elliptical—you name it. Best of all, you don’t need a lot of time!

The workouts here are all under 20 minutes and designed specifically with runners in mind. You can choose from a running-only workout, a body-weight workout (perfect for traveling!) and a kettlebell workout (warning: you will be sore the next day). Be sure to really push yourself during each interval and then fully recover to be able to go as hard as you can again.

Here we offer three options to get your heart rate pumping and reap the benefits of HIIT. Before doing the following workouts, perform a 10-minute warm-up, including light jogging or fast walking to increasing your body temperature and a few dynamic stretches to improve range of motion.

Tip: While these workouts use time as a measurement for your exercise and rest periods, using a heart-rate monitor (HRM) is even more effective. If you have access to an HRM, perform the “sprint” or kettlebell/active intervals until your heart rate is 85 percent of your max and rest until it drops to 65 percent of your max. The more in shape you are, the longer it will take to achieve 85 percent and the shorter you will need to rest. This will guarantee you are getting the absolute most effective HIIT workout you can.

Related:

Build Speed In 20 Minutes With A HIIT Treadmill Workout

Get A Great Workout In Only 20 Minutes

Workout #1: Speed Up

This running workout may look easy on paper, but you will be shocked at how difficult it is! If you suffer from knee pain, perform the sprint intervals up a hill (or on a treadmill at a 7 percent incline) to reduce joint stress.

Circuit 1:

  • 45 seconds sprinting (push as hard as you can)
  • 45 seconds walking
  • Repeat above five times.

Circuit 2:

  • 30 seconds sprinting
  • 60 seconds walking
  • Repeat above four times.

Circuit 3:

  • 15 seconds sprinting
  • 75 seconds walking
  • Repeat above three times.

Related:

The Best Cross-Training For Runners

You Don’t Have To Choose: Run And Strength Train At Once!

Workout #2: Body Weight Challenge

This sweat session combines running and strength-training exercises for a head-to-toe workout. Because it requires no weights and little space, it’s great to do while traveling or at home if you’re crunched for time. You can perform the sprints on a treadmill, outdoors or up a flight of stairs.

Perform the following one after the other.

  • 30 seconds sprinting
  • 60 seconds walking
  • 30 seconds squats
  • 60 seconds walking
  • 30 seconds sprinting
  • 60 seconds walking
  • 30 seconds mountain climbers
  • 60 seconds walking
  • 30 seconds sprinting
  • 60 seconds walking
  • 30 seconds alternating lateral lunges
  • 2 minutes walking
  • Repeat from the top one more time.

Squats:

Stand tall with feet wider than shoulder-width, toes pointing slightly out and hands behind your head. Think about pulling your hips backward and down as you lower into a squat, while keeping your heels planted on the ground and your chest lifted. As you stand back up, engage your glutes and return to the start position.

Mountain Climbers:

  1. Start in a pushup position with your hands gripping the floor and your head, upper back, hips and ankles in a straight line. Bring your right knee toward your chest, keeping your right foot close to the ground.
  2. Return the right leg and repeat on the left leg. Alternate back and forth as quickly as possible while maintaining your body position.

Alternating Lateral Lunges:

  1. Take a wide step out with your right leg. Bending at the hip, reach for your right foot with your left hand. Keep your chest up and back in a neutral, flat position.
  2. Drive off of your right leg to come to a standing position.
  3. Repeat on the left leg.

Related:

The Do’s And Don’ts Of Cross-Training For Runners

This Is How To Make Cross-Training Less Daunting

Workout #3: Kettlebell Killer

Thanks to an easy-to-grip handle and an extended center of mass, kettlebells are one of the best weighted tools to use while performing cardio exercise. This workout will get your heart rate sky-high. If you don’t have a kettlebell handy, you can use a dumbbell.

  • 30 seconds kettlebell squat thrusts
  • 60 seconds marching recovery
  • 30 seconds power step-ups
  • 60 seconds marching recovery
  • 30 seconds kettlebell swings
  • 60 seconds marching recovery
  • Repeat four times.

Kettlebell Squat Thrusts:

  1. Hold a kettlebell with both hands, feet wider than shoulder-width.
  2. Lower into a squat, pulling your hips back and down.
  3. As you stand up, use the momentum to drive the kettlebell overhead while pushing your hips forward and up. Return to the start position and repeat.

Power Step-Ups:

  1. Place one foot on a small step. Put your weight on that foot and
  2. drive yourself up with a jump, switching legs in mid-air and
  3. landing with the opposite foot on the step. Repeat.

Kettlebell Swings

Start by holding a kettlebell in front of you with both hands, feet wider than shoulder-
width.

  1. Bend your hips back, and let the kettlebell drop between your legs.
  2. Straighten your legs, and use the snap of your hips to drive the kettlebell out in front of you, keeping your arms straight until the weight is at eye level. As it swings back through your legs, be sure to bend from the hips. Repeat.

Related:

3 Track Workouts To Get Faster, Run Longer And Lose Weight

4 Ways To Squeeze In Short And “Sweat” Workouts

How This Popular HIIT Workout Majorly Improved My Running

Right now, it’s cold and icy where I live and my running motivation is seriously lagging. I know that sometimes the way to get back into a running groove is to spice things up with intervals and speed play, especially when you’re confined to the treadmill.

I’d been hearing the buzzword “Tabata” for a few years now, and I wondered how I could use it to reenergize my routine. I knew it was a type of high-intensity interval training, but I’ve also heard it’s no ordinary HITT workout. Friends said they saw gains in power and speed quickly with Tabata—and that it was scientifically proven. A few days ago, I hopped on the treadmill to give it a go.

What Is Tabata Training?

So what is Tabata and how do you get started? The Tabata routine gets its name from Dr. Izumi Tabata, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan. In 1990, Dr. Tabata was hired as a coach for the Japanese speed skating team. The professor saw that the team was having success with interval training, so he decided to conduct research on the team’s regimen of 20 seconds hard, 10 seconds rest.

In 1996, Tabata published a study showing that this specific form of training was not only highly efficient, but it worked both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Tabata Training

Why is that important? Well, the body utilizes two different types of fuel systems, aerobic and anaerobic. You tap into the aerobic system when you run easy or long (think: half-marathons, marathons, normal miles). The anaerobic system comes into play during power efforts, like short track races or your finish line sprint at the end of a race. Targeting both systems at once allows athletes to improve in a shorter amount of time.

Quick Tip

When it comes to specifics, a Tabata routine calls for eight sets of 20 seconds “on” (hard effort), 10 seconds off (recovery or rest).

How to Do a Tabata Workout

When it comes to specifics, a Tabata routine calls for eight sets of 20 seconds “on” (hard effort), 10 seconds off (recovery or rest). One complete round of Tabata lasts just 4 minutes, but this brief workout is a mighty calorie burner. You could use just about any exercise in a Tabata routine, but running might be one of the easiest ways to get started.

Related: The Case for the Morning Run

After a few miles of warm-up, it was time for me to Tabata. I only completed one round, but that half-mile or so was TOUGH. The hard 20-second portion was close to my max effort (approximately my mile race time), while the 10-second recovery was a very easy jog. The intervals made the time fly, but changing the speed on the treadmill every 10-20 seconds was challenging. There was no time to think about anything else.

I know athletes who’ve also had success using Tabata intervals on the track. Setting a timer to beep when your 20 seconds is up, then a second timer to beep after your 10-second break makes the workout particularly streamlined.

In future workouts, I will consider slowing down the 20-second portions and shoot for something closer to a 3K or 5K pace. Hopefully, that will leave me with enough energy to do more than one round. The best part of this training method is the simplicity and the feeling that, over time, I might improve my speed in shorter races.

Types of Tabata Running Workouts

Looking to add Tabata to your running routine? Try one of these workouts:

20-Minute Beginner Workout

Warm-up for 8 minutes

Complete a Tabata round (4 minutes total)

Cool-down for 8 minutes

30-Minute Intermediate Workout

Warm-up for 10 minutes

Complete a Tabata round (4 minutes total)

Jog for 2 minutes

Complete another Tabata round (4 minutes total)

Cool-down for 10 minutes

45-Minute Advanced Workout

Warm-up for 10 minutes

Complete 4 rounds of Tabata (4 minutes each)

Jog for 2-3 minutes after each round

Cool-down for 10 minutes

Get Ready: Find Your Next Race

Run, Rest, Repeat: How Interval Training Can Make You a Better Runner

Switch out your constant pace for heart-pumping interval runs instead. Learn why interval training can help you pump up the volume on every workout.

What are your limits, and when’s the last time you pushed them?

If you find yourself shuffling your feet, coasting along your regular route, it might be time to revitalize your workout regimen with interval training running.

An interval running plan will help you torch calories and shred fat.

Even if you’re a well-seasoned runner with an impressive BMI, intervals will amp up your fitness to the max—delivering a number of bonus benefits along the way.

Not sure what an interval running program is, or how to get a plan started? That’s what we’re here for. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about interval training and prepare to take your workouts to new heights.

Looking for specific tips? Use the links below to jump to any section:

  • What is Interval Training Running?
  • High Intensity Interval Training Running: the Benefits
  • Interval Running for Beginners
  • Interval Training on a Treadmill
  • Speed Interval Training
  • Tempo Interval Training
  • Interval Training for Marathons
  • Different Types of Interval Running
  • Cautions of High Intensity Interval Training Running

What is Interval Training Running?

An interval running plan alternates between periods of intense, fast paces followed by less intense recovery periods.

You push yourself close to your peak heart rate during a brief sprint, then allow it to fall back down as you slow to a jog.

High intensity interval training (or HIIT, as you may have heard it called in the gym) is a hot fitness trend—promoted by personal trainers and fitness bloggers galore—but few people actually understand the mechanics behind this form of exercise and why it’s so effective.

Travel back in time to circa 1930, when German coach Waldemer Gerschler teamed up with physiologist Hans Reindell on a mission to increase fitness in his track athletes. “Repetition training” had been a thing since the early 1900s, but these two were determined to figure out exactly why intermittent exercise worked so well.

They were convinced that the recovery period in between bursts of hard work was vital to the training effect—and they were right.

Stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped by the left ventricle of the heart in one contraction) peaks during the recovery interval; the higher the volume, the more your heart goes into overload, and the stronger it gets.

Multiple recovery intervals means multiple stroke volume peaks and maximum stimulus to the heart.

Gerschler and Reindell created the first official interval running plan. Their method consisted of 30 to 70 second periods of running at an intensity that elevates the heart rate to 170 to 180 beats per minutes (bpm). These would then be followed with sufficient enough recovery time for the heart rate to drop to 120 bpm, which signifies readiness for the next work period.

Note: The results were incredible, but these numbers aren’t definitive. As you begin an interval running program, it’s important to consider your own abilities. Use your age and fitness level to determine your target heart rate for interval running.

Take a look at the chart below to see where you clock in.

High Intensity Interval Training Running: the Benefits

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits offered by interval training running before explaining how you can create a workout plan of your own.

Greater Anaerobic Capacity

Anaerobic capacity is the point at which your body turns to anaerobic metabolism to generate energy. During high intensity interval training, your aerobic system can’t keep up with the demand, and your body is forced to use anaerobic energy pathways to make ATP, the chemical that provides energy to cells.

As a result, lactic acid builds up in the bloodstream—that’s that burning feeling you know and love oh-so-much. This explains why high intensity interval training is so fatiguing, and why rest intervals are definitely necessary between work periods.

However, this also means that by doing regular interval runs, your body becomes more efficient at removing lactic acid. You expand your anaerobic threshold, or the intensity at which you can exercise without building up lactic acid (measured as a V02 max).

Interval training running requires you to give it your all for repeated periods of time, and even the best runners in the world are susceptible to fatigue.

The next time you think about quitting, remember these benefits and what they offer.

It might hurt now, but you’ll thank yourself later.

Better Performance

Your body is pretty awesome. It adapts impressively fast to the continuous stress of training, such as long distance running. Although it’s great that our bodies can evolve to keep up with us, it also means that the effect of your regular workout will fade over time.

In essence, you plateau in terms of progress and performance—which is where interval training running comes in.

To improve your cardiovascular system and speed up your metabolism, you need to incorporate new challenges into your workout, and interval running is the perfect fit. Interval running keeps your body guessing, and doesn’t let it get accustomed to a routine.

Fast interval sprints enhance the body’s maximum oxygen absorption, transportation (heart), capacity (lungs), and utilization (cells). Altogether, this dramatically enhances your body’s performance, allowing you to run faster and further for longer.

Marathon runners: don’t discount interval training running.

Adding these workouts to your regular routine can effectively lower your lactic acid levels. You’ll have better endurance and will be able to log even more miles without feeling the added stress and fatigue. Say goodbye to those awful muscle cramps that always seem to plague you on your final stretch.

Time Efficiency

Some people love slapping on their running shoes and taking off for a steady jog that spans over an hour or more.

Other people shove those begrudging feet into their trainers and force themselves out the door to get their prescribed exercise in.

Whichever camp you fall into (no judgment either way!), interval running allows you to pack a ton of exercise into a shorter amount of time. A 30-minute interval run with repetitive high intensity bursts accomplishes the same effect as your leisurely, lengthy jog.

If cruising on a stroll is your thing, more power to you, but sometimes life just doesn’t afford such indulgences and forces you to get your run in quickly. If running altogether sounds more like torture than a treat, great news: interval training running lets you get more done in a shorter amount of time.

Your workouts will fly by—we’re willing to wager that you might even start to enjoy it.

Faster Weight Loss

A proper interval running plan significantly boosts weight loss by burning more calories than you would on a comfortable run. During work periods, your body is spending more energy to move the same mass but at a higher speed.

Your fast twitch muscle fibers come into play, which burn a higher amount of energy than other muscle fibers because they work so explosively. Burn 50 percent more calories in 50 percent less time? Yes, please.

More Afterburn

Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC): a long-winded term for what’s generally referred to as “afterburn,” the legendary effect that allows you to burn calories long after your run has ended.

Burning fat and torching calories all day long might sound like the next empty promise from a fad diet pill, but there are no gimmicks here. It all comes down to oxygen deficit and composition.

During the work periods of your interval training running, your muscles start to burn and you feel out of breath. What’s really happening is the buildup of lactic acid depletion of the body’s oxygen stores.

Your body is then forced to work harder to replenish its depleted oxygen—for a period of 16-24 hours post-work out, according to research. You burn more calories paying back your oxygen debt than you would burn from a lower intensity exercise.

Activated Hormones

If you’re looking to change your body’s appearance, hormones are the driving force. Catecholamines are hormones that are activated thank to the intense nature of interval training running. These guys are important because they mobilize fat stores to be used as fuel, helping you blast calories. High intensity interval running also maximizes the release of the fat-burning growth hormone.

If you’re looking for interval training running for weight loss, you’ll be happy to hear that these workouts might help curb cravings.

The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine reports that people who perform cardio in intervals eat about 500 less calories per day than those who perform cardio from one day to the next. And thanks to the massive amount of calories you burn during interval running, you can afford to answer those cravings if you so choose.

Less Stress

This one’s true of exercise in all shapes and sizes, but applies to interval training running as well. A good workout can help significantly decrease stress hormones in the body. Conversely, when you perform sustained exercise for an hour or more, your cortisol level actually rises.

You don’t want that. Cortisol is responsible for breaking down muscle tissue, increasing your appetite as well as cravings for high-carb foods. People with high cortisol levels also put on more belly fat—not ideal in your quest to shed pounds. An interval training running weight loss program helps reduce cortisol and curbs those concerns.

Not only will you stress less, but you’ll feel great too once those floodgates open and your endorphins are released. When you keep up with a high intensity interval training running routine, you’ll stay active, which can help solve any sleep woes. Just your motivation in general will go a long way on your body and mind.

Interval Running for Beginners

Anyone can start an interval running program. In fact, it’s the perfect way to ease yourself into the world of running if you’re more of the couch potato-type. However, the intensity of your interval running training will be key.

Taking off too fast, or too soon, can lead to injury. You need to start slow and build up your endurance before you can knock out fast sprints, and always be mindful for signs of dehydration.

Below are several different types of interval running plans you can try on for size, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned vet. Trust us when we say that these intervals will definitely keep you from getting bored.

Note: When you start interval training running, you’ll feel a few things happen. At first, the muscles in your legs will probably start to burn. Soon you’ll feel out of breath and be ready to double over. Breathe. Keep pushing just a few seconds longer. This pain is good.

Interval Training on a Treadmill

The treadmill is a great place to start your high intensity interval training running. If you’re a beginning runner, hopping on a treadmill allows you to begin at a slow pace and work your way to higher fitness. You can still get an interval workout in by just walking if you vary the incline on the machine. Start by warming up with a slow stroll then increasing your pace to a slightly brisk walk at an incline of 1. From there, increase the elevation for a short interval up to 1.5 for one minute, then drop back down into a recovery period.

  • Walk for 3:00 at 0 elevation
  • Walk for 3:00 at 1 elevation
  • Walk for 2:00 at 1.5 elevation
  • Repeat intervals for 3 sets
  • Walk for 3:00 at 0 elevation

As your fitness improves, you can make your interval running plan more rigorous by increasing the incline. Even advanced runners enjoy incline interval running, as hills are fantastic at strengthening leg muscles.

Ideally, the intervals should last for 15 to 20 minutes. Always remember to cool down afterwards, naturally letting your heart rate fall by walking it off—it’s crucial for avoiding injuries.

Speed Interval Training

If your interval running plan takes place on a treadmill, you can incorporate work period by changing the speed settings. In most cases, you’ll want to warm up with a leisurely walk or slow jog. Then slightly increase the speed to a pace that you can sustain for a prolonged period of time. Hang out here for a while, then increase the speed by half a mile per hour (mph) for two minutes before returning to your base speed.

  • Walk for 3:00 at 3 mph
  • Run for 5:00 at 5 mph
  • Sprint for 2:00 at 5.5 mph
  • Repeat intervals for 3 sets
  • Walk for 3:00 at 3 mph

More experienced runners can increase their speed setting by one or two miles during their work period. As you get more involved with interval training running, you can increase your work period speed to all-out sprints.

Switch things up in your interval running program and vary the length of each work period. If you’re brand new to exercise, we recommend starting at 30 seconds of intensity. Those with high fitness levels might stretch their periods of intensity all the way to five minutes.

Remember to keep our friends Gerschler and Reindell in mind, though. Cardiovascular improvement from interval training running comes from the rest period when stroke volume is at its peak, so don’t forget to lower your bpm on clockwork. Rest periods can be shortened as fitness improves, but it should never be less than one minute. You have to make sure your body receives the time it needs to slow down and recover before you put it back into overdrive.

Tempo Interval Training

Those practicing a high intensity interval training running in preparation of a 10K or a half marathon will benefit from tempo runs (also known as “threshold training”). Your goal for this style of interval running is to maintain a pace that keeps your heart just below your anaerobic level.

Tempo interval running breaks your work periods into bite-sized segments in order to help you run longer at your threshold pace, or as an opportunity to run faster than you would for a normal run. They help improve your lactate threshold and make your training times more efficient, allowing you to accomplish more in during each session.

Get creative with your tempo interval training running. Breaking your work portions into smaller intervals will keep you engaged and make your training time fly by. Here’s an example workout:

  • Warm up by walking for 3:00
  • Run for 5:00 at a moderate pace
  • Run for 5:00 at tempo
  • Jog for 2:00 at a light pace
  • Repeat intervals for 4 sets
  • Cool down by walking for 3:00

“Tempo” effort is best described as comfortably hard. By the end of a tempo interval run, you should feel stronger and fitter.

Interval Training for Marathons

Some distance runners are under the misguided notion that they don’t need interval training running. Think again. If you want a higher V02 max and better running performance, you need to amp up the intensity every once in a while. Amongst other research, a recent study from the University of Copenhagen showed dramatic improvements in athletes after implementing interval training running. They reduced their mileage by 50 percent and added three interval sessions per week. Across the board, all participants improved their 5K times by nearly a minute—and this is all while they were running less.

Marathon runners looking for an interval running plan should try the 10-20-30 method.

  • Warm up by jogging a mile
  • Jog for 0:30 at a light pace
  • Run for 0:20 at a training pace
  • Sprint for 0:10 at a fast pace
  • Jog for 2:00
  • Repeat intervals for 2 or 3 sets
  • Cool down by jogging a mile

If you add interval training running to your regular routine, you can shave minutes off your time and increase your performance. Better yet, you won’t be left feeling as exhausted when you cross that finish line.

When you’re interval training running, your goal is to hit your target heart rate, then drop back down to a resting rate. First, you need to determine your maximum, which can be calculated by subtracting your age from 220.

Once you’ve got your maximum heart rate in hand, it’s time to determine your target heart rate range—typically, you’ll want to aim for a rate that lands between 85 and 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Different Types of Interval Running

Whether you’re gearing up for your next race or just interval training running for weight loss, the options are endless. Using the standard work/rest principle, there are a number of different interval variations you can try on the track or treadmill. Play around with distance, repetition, and duration to keep your interval running fun and stave off boredom. These are a few common styles of intervals that runners love and swear by:

  • Ladders—progress from short to longer repetitions
  • Pyramids—up and down ladders
  • Ins-and-Outs”—accelerate straight ways, jog the turns
  • Cut-downs—preform increasingly shorter, faster reps

Interval running is also wonderful to do with friends! Use those rest times to chat and help push each other during sprints. By turning interval running into a social activity, exercise will be even more enjoyable and easier to stick with.

Cautions of High Intensity Interval Training Running

You might fall in love with the feeling of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, of putting in your maximum effort, but don’t overdo it. You should enjoy the benefits of interval runs in moderation, on average three times per week. Warm ups and cool downs are always required, and stretching is something you can’t skimp out on. No torn muscles here.

As with any type of run, the right equipment is required. Wear men’s cross training shoes or proper ladies sneakers that will provide your feet with the cushioned support they’ll need during your interval runs. And don’t forget to stay hydrated!

If you’re stuck in a standard running route, revamp your routine with interval running. An interval training running program is a super-efficient way to boost your speed and endurance, plus it’s great for weight loss and does wonders for your heart. High intensity interval training runs keep working long after you do, ensuring you get the most out of your effort—and then some. So get out there and turn the dial up on the intensity notch!

We asked USAT Coach of the Year Mike Ricci from D3 Multisport to share his insights on interval training for runners. In this article he’ll show you how to introduce intervals into your training and teach you how to safely increase the load each week.

First of all, let’s define what an interval is. According to the internet, an interval is an intervening period. This may mean the time of work, or the time of rest, distance or active recovery.

Interval training is composed of hard work phases and easier rest phases. One way to determine what is hard and what is easy is your personal heart rate zones. There are a few ways to determine your personal heart rate training zones. Polar uses your maximum heart rate to calculate the five heart rate zones that correspond to your level of effort.

You can estimate your maximum heart rate in several ways. One way to determine your zones would be to do a field test. There are two field tests used for determining your zones.

Field test for beginners

If you are a complete beginner, go to a flat path or track and run for about 30 minutes at conversational pace. This doesn’t mean you could have a conversation with one word answers, but more in complete sentences. Watch your heart rate and see where it settles for the 30 minutes.

You aren’t trying to run a certain pace, but run at an ‘effort’ that allows you to hold a conversation for the entire time. The number you see on your heart rate monitor would be within your ‘zone 2 heart rate’ or what I like to call your ‘all day effort’.

Field test for experienced runners

If you are an experienced runner and have been running for a year or more, then we’ll give you a thirty minute test to see your lactate threshold. You can use a 5K or 10K for this test, or you can choose to run as fast and as long as you can for thirty minutes. If I had my choice, I’d rather jump into a race and try to race some others and push myself naturally vs. trying to beat myself up for 30 minutes on a solo run.

The average of your heart rate for the 5K or the last 25–30 minutes of the 10K, would be around your LT or lactate threshold. The estimated LT that you get with this field test should be near the boundary between zone 4 or zone 5, either above or below depending on how fit you are.

A 12-week interval workout plan for beginners

Now that you know your heart rate zones, you can follow this 12-week workout plan to introduce interval training to your training and complement your running plan. For beginners, the following set of intervals would be your progression over 12 weeks.

Week 1

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 10 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes at zone 1 or zone 2. If you have to stop dead in your tracks after your 10 minute interval, then you went too hard. Keep in mind, it’s a slight shift in effort, not an all out blistering pace to catch a robber.

Week 2

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 12 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zones 1 or 2.

Week 3

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 15 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zones 1 or 2.

Week 4

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 18 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zones 1 or 2.

Week 5

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 20 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 6

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2×12 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 7

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2×15 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, , with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 8

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2×18 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 9

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2×20 minutes zone 3 heart rate, with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 10

Run 15 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 3 minutes at zone 4. You’ll follow the 3 minutes hard with 3 minutes easy at zone 2, and you’ll repeat this three more times. In a running sense this will look like 4×3’ (minutes) at LT, with 3’ recovery. Don’t forget to end with 10 minutes at an aerobic pace.

Week 11

Run 15 minutes of aerobic threshold, followed by 3 minutes at zone 4. Follow the 3 minutes hard with 3 minutes easy at zone 2 and repeat this four more times. In a running sense this will look like 5×3’ at LT, with 3’ recovery. Don’t forget to end with 10 minutes at an aerobic pace.

Week 12

Run 15 minutes of aerobic threshold, followed by 3 minutes at zone 4. Follow the 3 minutes hard with 3 minutes easy at zone 2 and repeat this five more times. In a running sense this will look like 6×3’ at LT, with 3’ recovery. Don’t forget to end with 10 minutes at an aerobic pace.

A 12-week interval workout plan for more experienced runners

For the seasoned runner, the progression would look something like this:

15’ (minute) warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 15’ of tempo running (zone 3), or about -12 beats below your LT from your run test. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ (minute) warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 20’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 25’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 30’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 35’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 40’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 4×5’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 5×5’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 6×5’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 3×8’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 3×9’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 3×10’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Listen to your body

It’s important to build your progression at an intensity and volume that you can handle. Only use the above as a guideline and be smart and listen to your body. If you like to take your morning heart rate and see that it’s high on the day you are supposed to be running one of these interval workouts, wait another day for your body to recover some and try again, once your HR is back to a normal level.

I hope this helps you get started on intervals and your running improves over the next 12 weeks, no matter what level runner you are!

Mike Ricci, USAT Level III Certified Coach and Coach of the Year, is the owner and founder of the D3 Multisport coaching group, through which they coach all levels of athletes (from beginner to elite). Mike’s coaching resume includes 4 consecutive collegiate National Championship titles as the head coach for the Colorado Buffaloes, Kona qualifiers, USAT National Champions, Ironman winners and and many podium athletes.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals or physicians. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

When did running get so complicated?

I ask myself that all the time, usually when frustrated by a tough workout on my training plan or a confusing training concept.

Running is such a simple act — exactly what drew me to it in the first place — until you complicate it with drills, exercises, and complex workouts.

Of course, it probably comes as no surprise that the workouts on your training plan aren’t there to punish or frustrate you — they’re included to help you run stronger, faster, and for longer distances.

Plus, once you get to know them, they’re not so confusing, and can actually be a lot of fun.

So today I’m going to break down eight common running workouts, and share real-life examples I use with my coaching client. Plus, how they can fit within your week of training.

The Importance of Variety

Before we start wading through the details, let’s first talk about variety. More specifically, why variety in your training is so important.

There’s a little running phenomenon I like to call “Single Speed Running,” where a runner logs nearly all of his or her miles at the exact same effort. Day after day. That speed is usually around 75 percent of max effort — not fast enough to really make your body work hard and adapt, but too fast to build much endurance or count as a “recovery” run.

Sound familiar?

Chances are it does, since that’s exactly what most runners do, whether they’re training for a 5K, marathon, or ultramarathon.

Not only does Single Speed Running keep you from getting stronger; it also significantly increases the risk of injury: our bodies need variety.

We need uber slow runs just as much as we need Lightning Bolt style sprints. The variety works the cardiovascular system and muscles in different ways, and makes room for both strength-building and recovery.

By understanding the importance of each workout, you’re more likely to begin incorporating a variety into your training, and in return, reaping the benefits.

But first, those workouts need to become less daunting and confusing … the goal of this post.

8 Common Running Workouts, Explained (With Examples)

Below you’ll find a description of eight common running workouts for endurance runners. With each explanation, I’ve also included examples for a variety of levels of how to put the workout to use.

Let’s start with the easiest:

1. The Easy Run

I’m putting the easy run first because it’s often the forgotten workout. But it’s also one of the most important.

Running at an easy pace builds endurance, promotes proper form, establishes routine and base mileage, and facilitates recovery. This type of run should be your most common, making up about 65-80% of your mileage (the percentage will vary depending your running philosophy).

The easy run is your aerobic workout, staying within heart-rate zones 1 and 2. If you’re unsure where that is for you, ask yourself this question when you’re running:

Can I keep a conversation going, speaking in paragraphs with full sentences?

Ask it out loud if you’re really unsure … just maybe not when others are within earshot.

If the answer is yes, you’re running in that aerobic, or easy zone, where your body and muscles have the energy and oxygen they need. For most runners, this is also where they should run the majority of their long run miles.

Sample Workouts

Beginner:

  1. Workout: 45 minutes at an easy pace. With this variation, distance doesn’t matter. You’re running for time instead of distance, so there’s no pressure to hit certain mileage.

Advanced:

  1. Workout: 6-10 miles at an easy, conversational pace. There should be no set structure or fluctuations in speed, but the hardest part will be resisting the temptation to speed up.
  2. Mid-week easy longer run: 10 miles at easy pace, positioned in the middle of the week between weekend long runs.

2. The Tempo Run

The tempo run’s pace is often called comfortably hard. Difficult enough to require pushing, but comfortable enough to where you can sustain the effort. This is often around 85-90% of your max heart-rate, or just a hair slower than your 10K race pace, where short sentences are possible, but a full-blown conversation isn’t.

If you’re unsure of your paces, check out this pace predictor. It isn’t perfect, but will give you a ballpark pace to aim for.

We run tempo workouts to increase our lactate threshold, or that point at which your body switches from its aerobic system to its anaerobic system, and quickly fatigues thereafter. The higher your threshold at a certain pace, the longer you can sustain that given pace and build strength, speed, and endurance.

Beginner:

  1. Workout: 40 minute run with 3 x 5 minutes at tempo pace, and a 3 minute recovery in between. For this style workout, you’ll start the 40-minute run with an easy warmup, once warm, begin five minute tempo intervals with three minutes of rest, and repeat three times. Allow for time at the end to cool down.

Advanced:

  1. Workout: 90 minute run with 3 x 15 minutes at tempo pace, and an 8 minute recovery in between. A workout like this, with longer tempo intervals, is great for marathon racing speed.
  2. Workout: 60 minute run with 3 x 8 minutes at a tempo pace, and a 4 minute recovery, include hills during tempo sections. Tempo workouts can also include hill training, which is particularly helpful while training for a hilly race.

3. The Progression Workout

A progression workout is one of my favorites, and commonly found in marathon training plans. The idea is simple:

Start slow, finish fast.

Over the course of your workout, you’ll increase in pace by starting easy and finishing hard.

This progression in pace gives you a complete workout, using both your aerobic and anaerobic systems, without over-straining your body or requiring the same recovery time as a traditional speed workout.

  1. Thirds Workout: 15 minutes at an easy pace, 15 minutes at a comfortably hard pace, 15 minutes at a hard pace. In this workout, you’ll increase speed at every 15 minute increment throughout the run, starting at an easy pace and making your way up to a hard pace.
  2. Fast Finish Workout: 45 minutes at a comfortably easy pace, 10 minutes at a hard pace, 5 minutes all out. Here you’re maintaining the easy pace throughout most of the run, until the final 15 minutes when you increase to hard and then all out. This a great option for mimicking a late race push.

4. The Hill Workout

Hill workouts are often referred to as “speedwork in disguise,” because they offer many of the same benefits of a traditional speed workout, without having to run at top speed.

Running uphill is all about building that explosive power that promotes speed and improved running economy.

Running downhill works your quads, and builds strength in your tendons and joints.

Both are important to a well-balanced runner, so I recommend incorporating uphill and downhill days into training for any sort of hilly course. Just focus your workout on one at a time to get the biggest benefit and reduce the risk of injury.

Hill workouts can be done through hard, short sprints up (or down) a hill, or by running a sustained, gradual hill.

Beginner and Advanced:

  1. Short Hill Sprints: 8 hill sprint repeats with light jog back down to rest, following a 3-mile easy run. This type of hill repeat will build explosive strength in the legs, and teach you how to attack shorter hills during a race.

Advanced:

  1. Sustained Hill Repeats: 5 x half-mile hill climbs on a gradual incline with easy run back down to rest. This is perfect when training for a hilly race, and builds endurance and strength on climbs and flats.
  2. Sustained Uphill / Downhill Repeats: The same 5 x half-mile climbs on a gradual incline only you’re also going hard on the descent, with 90-120 seconds of rest in between. Each interval then becomes a full mile.

5. The Interval Workout

When you picture the quintessential speed workout, you’re probably thinking of interval training. A set distance, repeated a set number of times, at a set pace. Usually with a short rest period in between. Interval distances can be anywhere from 100 meters to a mile or more. Most marathon training plans focus on distances of 400 meters or longer, but the details are left to the workout creator.

Warning: Don’t piss off your workout creator. Interval workouts will likely be your most painful runs, the ones that leave you doubled over and gasping for air.

Most intervals are designed to build speed and strength by working your anaerobic system, or lactate threshold running, and focus on shorter distances of a mile or less. They can be run on a track or along a set loop.

Beginner:

  1. Workout: 8 x 400 meters on the track with a 400 meter light jog in between. Try to maintain a consistent pace for each of the 400 meter intervals.

Advanced:

  1. Yasso 800s: 10 x 800 meters on the track, with a light jog for the same amount of time it took you to run each 800 in between. The classic “marathon predictor workout.” I don’t believe it’s great at predicting race times, but it’s certainly a solid speed and endurance building option (and very tough).
  2. Workout: 2 x 1,000 meters with 2 minute rest periods + 2 x 800 meters with 90 second rest periods + 2 x 400 meters on the track with 60 second rest periods. In this workout you’re decreasing in the length of each interval, but increasing in pace.
  3. Workout: 4 x 1,600m with 120 seconds recovery in between. This is an endurance building interval workout. Aim to maintain a consistent pace for each mile, or increase slightly in pace over each interval.

6. The Ladder Run

The Ladder Run is a popular form of interval workout which climbs up, down, or both up and down in distance with a short (often 90 seconds or a 400 meter jog) rest period in between each interval. It’s a fantastic way to challenge yourself and mix things up, with a variety of high-intensity running paces and distances, all in a single workout.

On a track, increase in distance to the “top” of the ladder, or the longest distance interval, before decreasing back down. If you’re just descending the ladder, increase in speed as you decrease in distance.

Advanced:

  1. Up and Down: 400 meters x 2, 800 meters x 2, 1,600 meters, 800 meters x 2, 400 meters x 2, with a 400 meter light jog in between each interval. This is an incredibly tough workout, which tests and builds both your endurance and leg speed.
  2. Down: 1,600 meters x 2, 1,200 meters x 2, 800 meters x 2, 400 meters x 2, with a 400 meter light jog in between each interval. As you decrease in distance, you’ll increase in pace.

7. The Fartlek Workout

Ah, the classic Fartlek run. If you’d like to make fun of the name, be sure to pair it with a Jack Daniels joke.

The word fartlek means speed-play in Swedish, and that’s exactly what the workout is. An opportunity to play around with different speeds and distances in a single workout. This was my favorite workout day when I ran cross country in high school, and not just because of the name.

In a sport that requires plenty of structure, the Fartlek run allows your creative juices to flow. The workout is simple as this:

Intermix fast running with slower running, and vary the pace and distance of each interval. It could be as flexible as randomly picking a street corner, tree, car, or lamp post to sprint to, or run at a tempo pace for three minutes, followed by an easy pace for four minutes, and a sprint for one minute, and so on. There are no rules, other than to have variety in your paces and distances.

Beginner:

  1. Unstructured: 5-mile run with the final 4 miles consisting of 4-6 Fartlek intervals. This is probably the most approachable workout in this entire post (other than an easy run), since you have the freedom to do as you please.
  2. Upticks: 45 minute easy run with the last 15 minutes consisting of 5-10 short upticks to a tempo effort. Each uptick should last 15-30 seconds in length.

Advanced:

  1. Structured: 1-mile warmup + 3 miles, including four to six 5-minute surges each followed by a 2- to 3-minute period of easy running + 1-mile cooldown. If you need a little more structure to stay on track, this will still allow for flexibly and play, but is defined by set intervals.

8. The Long Run Workout

Your weekly long run is arguably the most important run of the week. It’s your chance to build endurance, and learn how to handle increased mileage both mentally and physically.

But for most people, that’s where it ends. They view long runs as only an opportunity to go long, not fast. I believe strategically planned long runs throughout your training are a great opportunity to work on late race speed, mimic the final push on race day, and toughen your mind to push through the fatigue.

By adding a workout element to you long runs, you’re giving them more structure and added benefit.

Now a few quick rules I recommend:

  • Don’t run a long run workout every week, but instead begin to integrate them into your training once you’re already comfortable with the distance.
  • Limit your long run workout pace to below a tempo pace, preferable somewhere around your marathon race pace.

During a long run workout, you’ll either increase from an easy pace to your marathon race pace, or alternate between the two.

Advanced:

  1. 1-2-3 Workout: After your warmup, run 1 mile at marathon pace followed my 1 mile easy, then 2 miles at marathon pace and 2 miles easy, 3 miles at marathon pace and 3 miles easy. Alternatively you can structure this with kilometers instead of miles.
  2. Countdown Long Run Workout: Take the difference between your easy pace and race pace and divide that by the number mileage of your run. Increase your pace or “count down” by that set increment each mile, so that by the end of the run you have steady increased your pace from easy to race pace.

Putting it all Together: What a Sample Training Week Actually Looks Like

Now that you’ve got the workouts down, let’s explore what a sample training week — which includes a number of these workouts — could look like. I say could, because training structure depends entirely on your distance and pace goals, skill level, and where you are with your training.

But let’s assume you’re training for a marathon, and roughly 10 weeks into a 16 week training plan. Here’s what your plan could look like:

  • Monday: Rest.
  • Tuesday: Tempo workout — 70 minute run with 3 x 15 minutes at tempo pace, and an 8 minute recovery in between.
  • Wednesday: Easy workout — 45 minutes at an easy pace.
  • Thursday: Track workout — 2 x 1,000 meters with 2 minute rest periods + 2 x 800 meters with 90 second rest periods + 2 x 400 meters on the track with 60 second rest periods.
  • Friday: Rest.
  • Saturday: Long run workout — A 17 mile countdown long run.
  • Sunday: Easy workout — 30-45 minutes at an easy pace.

As you can see, this schedule includes a lot o the variety mentioned above — both in distance, pace, and the types of workouts.

Challenge Yourself With New Workouts

Remember how we said variety was so important earlier?

Now’s your opportunity to take action. It’s easy to get caught up in a monotonous, comfortable rotation of just a few workouts and paces.

Mix it up. Try something new.

The variety just may increase your speed and strength, and reduce your risk of injury.

Which happens to be every runner’s dream come true.

About the Author: Doug is an ultrarunner, coach, and the co-host of NMA Radio. Pick up his free eBook, Why Every Runner Should Be a Trail Runner (And How to Become One).

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  • Thanks a lot. This was a very useful article. I agree wholeheartedly on the need to try to avoid the trap of the same moderate-paced run for every single workout, even though I fall into that trap at times. Do you think there’s ever a time to run what you describe as a typical 75% max effort run during a typical week’s training? Or should all training mileage consist of EITHER “Easy” running to promote those aerobic adaptations, OR “Speed/Hill” work to promote those anaerobic/lactate threshold/VO2 Max adaptations? For the goal of training for a distance race, that is.

    1. Hey John, great question! There is a time and place for 75% max effort run, in the context of different workouts. For example, a progression workout could consist of miles in that zone. Same with a tempo workout. In general, I’d avoid running entire runs at that effort, and make sure it isn’t your “standard” speed.
      Hope that helps!

      1. Thanks Doug, that does make a lot of sense to me.

  • Love this article! Thanks for posting and breaking it down!

    1. Thanks Amy! Breaking it down makes speed work much more approachable.

  • This is not news, yet it is a great reminder. Over the years I get distracted. It is always good to be reminded that there are basics. Thanks for the post, Doug. Your (with Matt) podcast was great to run to also.)

  • 7 Running Workouts to Build Strength and Endurance

  • Thanks Doug! After listening to the NMA podcast earlier this week, I tried my first Fartlek workout this morning. I started with alternating between lamp posts and then switched to running fast during the chorus of each song. What a fun way to start the day! And my overall time for my run was faster than usual.
    Thanks!!

  • Interval training is definitely my favorite kind. I wish I had known about it sooner! I feel like it’s something they should teach in school, considering they always make you run a mile for time in gym class. If you were a chubby non-athletic kid in school like I was, that was always a very frustrating event, and you would think they would teach you how to do it well if they’re going to test you on it!

  • Amazing article. Thank you! Any advice on how to incorporate these different techniques into a running week? Does it matter? Or is variety just the key?

  • Hey Doug! Just wanted to ask when the article was posted? 🙂

  • This is really amazing, am so happy coming across this post, i think right now am on the track. Thanks a lot.

  • Thanks Doug, for all this time I think my zone 2 has been too slow. Great article all round to share with others.

  • Keep inspiring us. LLL thanks on your sweat!

  • I’ve always been one to say that you need to have variety in your workouts to get stronger and better. Your body can easily get used to something when you do it over and over again. The only way to really improve is to push your body and one of the easiest ways to do this is to switch it up every once in a while.
    Keeping your body guessing forces it to adapt to different situations making it stronger in the process.
    Thank you for this updated post.

  • My Avg Cadence during interval, tempo or Long slow runs vary between 174 to 178. If I am conscious, I can increase my cadence upto 182. My Stride length varies between 1.35 to 1.48meters. My best FM pace is around 3h 16mins.
    Unbelievable that Bekele could increase his cadence from 190 to 216.
    Any tips on how to increase the Cadence? Thanks in advance.

  • JOIN THE CONVERSATION

    Whether you adore running or despise it, discovering interval training for the first time can feel straight-up serendipitous. After all, the number one complaint about pounding pavement is usually that it’s “so boring.” But that just isn’t the case with interval running, which keeps your body guessing mile after mile.

    “Interval running pushes your body to work through short bursts of tough efforts and to recover within a restricted amount of time. Then, it recruiting the body (and mind!!) to push you to that tough spot again,” says Melissa Wolfe, a coach at New York City’s Mile High Run Club. “The perception of tough efforts may be created using speed, hills, ratio of work to recovery, or a combination of those things.”

    “Interval running pushes your body to work through short bursts of tough efforts and to recover within a restricted amount of time. Then, it recruiting the body (and mind!!) to push you to that tough spot again.” —Melissa Wolfe, coach at Mile High Run Club

    On a physical level, interval-style workouts work head-to-toe magic. “Cardiovascular function improves, post-workout metabolism increases for an extended amount of time, muscle fibers build resiliency and quicker response, and you’ll experience increased endurance both aerobically and anaerobically. Simply put, interval training is an effective way to build your body’s tolerance to the demands of your goals—regardless of whether they’re distance, time, or overall fitness-based,” explains the runner.

    Those bodily benefits may be enticing enough to convince you to sprint for the treadmill, but they’re really just scratching the surface. According to Wolfe, the brain benefits of the training modality may be even better. “I think there’s a giant—and very undervalued—psychological benefit to interval training as well,” she says. It takes mental fortitude to propel yourself into another hill repeat when you’d rather flop onto the couch and morn your aching glutes. Interval training helps you get in the habit of breaking down that psychological wall.

    “I like to approach interval training in any form—whether it’s intervals of speed or hills—with this mindset: use the challenge of tougher circumstances to your advantage. Be grateful for the speed that feels impossibly challenging in the moment, or for those hills that feel never-ending, because they’re the reason that your easier paces feel easy and downhills and flat ground feel so good,” says the running coach. “Use each time you make it through an interval as an opportunity to throw yourself a little party and say ‘I crushed that!’ Then enjoy the benefits of the relief on the other side of the hard work!”

    What are you waiting for? Let’s run.

    4 interval running exercises to crush when you’re trying to run faster, longer—or just taking your first few steps

    Photo: Getty Images/
    Eva Blanco and EyeEm

    1. If you’re just getting started, keep it simple

    The challenge: “Keep it simple! It shouldn’t be a full-out sprint that empties the tank, but it should be a level of effort that would keep you from comfortably being able to speak out loud,” says Wolfe. “As you become more confident in how your challenging level of effort feels, you’ll be able to do more repetitions. Once you’ve made it to 10 repetitions, cut the repetitions back to 5 and increase the duration of time you spend in your challenging efforts: increase to 90 seconds on, 60 seconds off. Over time you’ll be able to increase both speed and duration!”

    Warm up: Spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up with a brisk walk or jog to get your body moving and raise your heart rate.

    Interval: Spend 60 seconds running at a pace that feels challenging, the walk 60 seconds.

    Repeat 5 to 10 times.

    2. Fast and furious 20-minute pyramid run

    The challenge: Push yourself for 20 minutes, then celebrate!

    Warm up: 2-minute easy jog.

    Interval: 2-minute run at 6 out of 10 perceived effort, 2-minute rest (walk or jog); 90-second run at 7 out of 10 perceived effort, 90-second rest; 60-second run at 8 out of10 perceived effort, 60-second rest; 30-second run at 9 out of 10 perceived effort, 30-second rest; 60-second run at 8 out of 10 perceived effort, 60-second rest; 90-second run at 7 out of 10 perceived effort, 90-second rest; 2-minute run at 6 out of 10 perceived effort.

    Cool down.

    3. To up your endurance, try longer intervals

    The challenge: “Follow the repetition, alternating between effort and rest. Your effort pace should be your tempo pace, meaning, it should feel ‘comfortably challenging.’ Try pushing you to the point of only being able to get a few words out, then rest during your easy jog,” says Wolfe.” As time goes on, continue to increase duration and repetitions.

    Warm up: Spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up with a brisk walk or jog to get your body moving and raise your heart rate.

    Interval: Spend 10 minutes running at your tempo pace, then jog for two minutes.

    Repeat 3 times.

    4. To walk/run your first 5K, start here

    The challenge: Run/walk a full 5K!

    Warm up: Walk 5 minutes.

    Interval: Walk one minute, run one minute at a manageable pace.

    Repeat until you’ve reached 3.1 miles

    5. Want to run like the wind? Sprint intervals are for you

    The challenge: “This set progressively loads speed into the duration of the interval and demands the highest speed at the end of the block of work, which teaches your body to step up when it’s already tired,” says Wolfe.

    Warm up: Spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up with a brisk walk or jog to get your body moving and raise your heart rate.

    Interval: 3 minutes at your 10K pace followed by 90 seconds at 5K pace and 45-second full-on sprint. Two-minute recovery.

    Repeat 6 times

    6. To master hilly runs, crank that treadmill up to 5.0

    The challenge: “I’m a big fan of hills for many reasons. If you’re outside, find an incline that either tops out on flat ground or has a nice downhill on the back side and set yourself up to start at a place where it would take you 45- to 60 seconds worth of a very challenging effort to make it to the top. If you’re on a treadmill, you can alternate between an incline in the range of 3.0 to 5.0 and flat ground (1.0),” says Wolfe.

    Warm up: Spend 5 to 10 minutes warming up with a brisk walk or jog to get your body moving and raise your heart rate.

    Interval: Maintain a very challenging pace up your 3.0 to 5.0 hill for 60 seconds, return the treadmill to 1.0 and hold the same pace for 60 seconds, jog for 60 seconds.

    Repeat 6 to 10 times

    A note on recovery

    In order to get the most out of your interval training, Wolfe says you need to take the recovery between bursts of effort seriously. “Recovery between intervals shouldn’t cost you the energy you need to come back strong into your next quality block of work,” she says. “If the recovery time between intervals is less than one minute, a standing recovery is fine. Beyond 60 seconds, standing still gives your muscles the opportunity to start to tighten.” When you keep moving (but take it easy) in your off-moments, your muscles receive better oxygen and blood flow. “A walk or easy jog would provide the highest benefit and the lowest negative impact on the body to be able to come back into the next interval comfortably recovered,” concludes Wolfe.

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    The ultimate walk-run interval training program

    1 / 5

    Walk, run, repeat

    Research shows that interval training can improve cardiovascular health and whip you into shape faster than doing only steady-paced, moderate workouts. With its short bouts of challenging exercise, you crush lots of calories during intervals and sometimes for hours afterwards due to an elevated metabolism, or “after-burn.” “These high-intensity intervals disturb the metabolism to the point where, after the workout, the body is trying to recover and return to homeostasis. This requires energy and calories, which is the after-burn effect,” explains Jon-Erik Kawamoto, a personal trainer and owner of JKConditioning in St. John’s.

    Weaving running and walking together also reduces the risk of overuse injury on muscles and joints. “Intervals are great if you want to pick up the intensity of a workout but you’re not yet ready for running the entire time,” says Kawamoto. Already a runner? Intervals will step up your workouts while saving your joints from extended high-impact activity.

    Choose from our three workouts (see “Pick Your Workout” on the next slide), designed for different fitness levels-and do them on two to three non-consecutive days each week. They’re great for outdoors, but you can always hop on a treadmill, too. Complement these workouts with non-interval sweat sessions, such as cycling, on other days of the week. Weave in strength training as well, either on its own or paired with cardio workouts. As always, check with your doctor before starting a workout program.

    Interval Running Workouts That Will Make You Even Faster

    Photo: wundervisuals / Getty Images

    You know what gets old, fast? Running the same pace, every day, for the same amount of time. Challenging yourself in fitness-whether that means doing more reps, lifting heavier weights, or running faster or farther-is where the magic happens. Translation: You get stronger, faster, and better.

    “Interval running workouts are the opposite of steady-state running (or endurance runs), where you keep the same pace the whole time,” explains Nicole Glor, a certified Precision Running coach at Equinox. “Intervals can vary by the speed of sprints, grades of hills, and the length of the work versus your recovery time.”

    Why All Runners Should Do Interval Running

    What’s the point of changing your pace throughout a run? Interval running workouts-with short bursts of intense exercise followed by lower-intensity recovery periods-net you similar benefits as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), says Glor. “You burn more calories faster, you challenge your strength and endurance, and it helps prepare you for an actual race, where you probably won’t maintain the exact same pace for the whole time.” Science agrees: Interval training improves your performance more than training at moderate intensities, according to research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

    “Runners who are new to interval training will see large and rapid improvements in VO2 max, a marker of cardiovascular health (or how efficiently your body uses oxygen); increased muscle size, strength, and power; and increased overall endurance, and probably improved energy throughout the day,” says Alex Harrison, Ph.D., USA Track & Field–certified run coach and sport performance coach for Renaissance Periodization. Bonus: Because you’re switching things up, you’re a lot less likely to get bored. (Just don’t go overboard. Read about the downsides of HIIT sprint training.)

    How to Include Intervals In Your Training

    Not all interval running is the same, and there are several different types you should be doing if you want to get stronger and faster-read on for the four main types to try. But before you start incorporating interval running workouts into your routine, you should have a solid base of three to six weeks of “just running” under your belt, says Harrison. From there, start with a basic interval workout or hill repeats.

    Experts recommend interval training just once a week-maybe twice if you’re experienced and looking to PR in your next race. (So, yes, there’s still room for your LISS workouts.)

    Interval Workouts

    “Intervals running workouts are broadly defined as any defined distance of higher effort. In terms of running, it usually refers to 30-second to five-minute efforts interspersed with active or passive recovery,” says Harrison. During the work interval, you should be running hard enough that you can’t hold a conversation with your running buddy. During the rest period, you should be able to fully recover (even if that means walking!).

    Sample Interval Workout

    • Work: 800 meters at an 8 out of 10 effort
    • Recover: Walk or jog 200m
    • Repeat 3 to 4 times
    • Rest for 3 minutes
    • Repeat the whole thing 2 or 3 times

    Fartlek Workouts

    This funny word means “speed play” in Swedish, says Glor. And that’s what you’re doing: varying your speed throughout a run. “A fartlek is essentially an ‘unstructured’ interval running workout, meaning your work efforts and rest periods are flexible in duration and intensity,” says Harrison. They also improve your speed, VO2 max, lactate threshold (the intensity of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood faster than it can be removed, which will eventually tank your performance), and general aerobic endurance. You don’t need set times or distances for a fartlek. Try upping your pace between two telephone poles, then slowing down between the next two, and so on. (Here’s more about fartlek workouts and three sample workouts to try.)

    Fartlek Workout

    • 4 miles total
    • 8 x 1 minute at a harder (8 out of 10) effort at random times throughout

    Hill Repeats

    This is exactly what it sounds like: You run up a hill, jog back down for recovery, then repeat. “The multiple repetitions of higher intensity efforts are great because they force high consumption of oxygen without making you increase your pace,” says Harrison. They’re even better than interval running workouts on a flat road for building strength and power in athletes who don’t resistance train, he says; that’s because “hills work your calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings more than a flat road,” adds Glor. “It’s almost like adding stairs or squats.” Bonus: More muscle activity means more calorie burn and more work for your heart, which is great for increasing your endurance. (If you want more, try this hill workout for runners.)

    Treadmill Hill Workout

    • Run 1 minute at a 4 to 6 percent incline at a pace you can sustain for four minutes
    • Walk or jog for 60 seconds at a 1 percent incline
    • Repeat for a total of 5 reps
    • Rest for 4 minutes (walking at a 1 percent incline)
    • Repeat the whole circuit once more

    Sprints

    These super-fast efforts shouldn’t last more than 15 to 20 seconds, says Harrison-but they are intense. “A sprint is an effort that is performed at 90 percent or greater of the maximum speed that it could be performed for a one-off effort,” he explains. If you’re doing other interval running, most runners don’t need to do sprints, he says-“your time would probably be better spent running longer interval workouts or just longer distances at faster-sustained paces.” But if you’re an experienced runner who feels limited by your speed, running fast will indeed make you faster. Just make sure you’re a) running way out of your comfort zone for five to 15 seconds, and b) fully recovering after each sprint. (See: How to Make the Most of Your Sprint Workouts)

    Sprint Workout

    • 6 x 50–100m at 93 to 98 percent of max speed
    • 4- to 5-minute walk recovery between each sprint

    OR

    • 4 x 200m at 90 to 95 percent of max speed
    • 5- to 8-minute walk recovery between each sprint
    • By Ashley Mateo @ashleymateo

    Best 30-Minute Running Workouts for Endurance and Speed

    Believe it or not – long runs are not the only running workout that will improve your endurance.

    Similarly, short & fast runs aren’t the only running workout that will improve your speed.

    In fact, varying your running workouts is the best way to improve your running. Take it one step further and add in some strength training and you can really take your running to the next level.

    In this article we’ve got 3 running workouts to improve your endurance, speed, or both.

    3 Running Workouts – An Overview

    The great thing about all 3 running workouts? They can be done anywhere.

    These can all be a track workout, a gym workout, or an outdoor running workout. Our main measurement we’re going to use is perceived effort level.

    Perceived effort is a great metric because it translates to different venues and requires no added equipment to track it.

    For all of these running workouts, we’re going to use a scale from 1-10 to measure perceived effort. 1 is very little effort, you could do it forever, and 10 is your maximum possible effort.

    No need to be exact on this. Just use your best judgment and how you feel as a guide.

    Having said that, if you know your running pace well and want to convert these effort levels into pace times, feel free to be more specific.

    If you’re going to do the workout inside a gym on a treadmill, your effort levels will naturally need to be more exact.

    As a result, treadmill workouts can be a great tool for holding yourself accountable and tracking your improvement.

    If you are focusing on pace, remember that there is no “good running pace.” Instead, effort level can be a great tool to indicate where you are in your training.

    And over time, interval workouts like the ones below will increase your running speed and endurance.

    Be patient, train regularly, and before you know it you will be running at your desired pace – which looks different for everyone.

    30-Minute Interval Workout for Speed

    What You’ll Need

    All you need for this workout is a clock. We are going to measure the intervals in seconds, so be sure your watch or clock shows them.

    Pre Warm Up

    Before we get to the running warm-up, be sure to get your body ready to run properly.

    Pre-run stretches and movements to get the blood flowing are wonderful to prepare you to run injury-free.

    Now that we are ready to run, we’ll get started by warming up with a jog. You’ll take the following:

    Warm Up

    • 2-minute jog at a perceived effort level of 4/10
    • 2-minute jog at a perceived effort level of 5/10
    • 2-minute jog at a perceived effort level of 6/10

    Main Set

    Now onto the main set. You are going to repeat this set 3 times. The general format: decreasing interval time while increasing interval effort.

    We will always be recovering by jogging at 4/10 perceived effort level.

    • 60-second run at 7/10 perceived effort
    • 60-second jogging recovery at 4/10 perceived effort
    • 50-second run at 8/10 perceived effort
    • 50-second jogging recovery at 4/10 perceived effort
    • 40-second run at 9/10 perceived effort
    • 40-second jogging recovery at 4/10 perceived effort
    • 30-second run at 10/10 perceived effort
    • 2-minute FULL RECOVERY

    Remember – we are repeating that set 3 times.

    Once you’re finished, be sure to incorporate a cool down. This helps you reap the benefits of your run, and to avoid injury.

    For a cool down on this interval speed workout, take a 5-minute walk.

    In addition, remember that staying on top of your mobility work is crucial to recover properly and to improve your speed.

    20-Minute Interval Workout for Speed

    If you don’t have time for a 30-minute workout, no worries. We’ve got you covered.

    This interval workout will help you improve your speed. And it only takes 20 minutes.

    Again, we’re working with perceived effort levels here. And be sure to do a proper warm-up before you dive into the running portion below. Here it is!

    What You’ll Need

    Again, all you need here is a clock that displays seconds. This running interval workout is specific to the second so be sure to keep an eye on the clock.

    The Workout

    • 2-minute warm up jog at 3/10 perceived effort
    • 2-minute run at 6/10 perceived effort
    • 2-minute rest (walk or jog)
    • 90-second run at 7/10 perceived effort
    • 90-second rest (walk or jog)
    • 1-minute run at 8/10 perceived effort
    • 1-minute rest (walk or jog)
    • 30-second run at 9/10 perceived effort
    • 30-second rest (walk or jog)
    • 1-minute run at 8/10 perceived effort
    • 1-minute rest (walk or jog)
    • 90-second run at 7/10 perceived effort
    • 90-second rest (walk or jog)
    • 2-minute run at 6/10 perceived effort

    And again, be sure to make time for a cool down here.

    While it may not always feel like it, running injuries are totally preventable. You just need to put in the work to prevent them.

    Take 5 or 10 minutes after your running and strength workouts to mobilize and repair your body.

    A good post-run routine will be crucial in running for a long time.

    20-Minute Treadmill Endurance Running Workout

    If we’re focusing on endurance, incline is a great way to build running stamina. And good news: this one is only 20 minutes as well.

    If you usually aim for 30-minute workouts, 20-minute running workouts are a great way not to fall behind on your mobility.

    A 20-minute running workout will give you 10 extra minutes to be sure you are warming up and cooling down properly.

    And a proper and warm-up and cool down is often more beneficial than additional training in reaching your long term running goals.

    The Workout

    In addition to focusing on perceived effort level here, we’re also going to add a more tangible metric: grade.

    For this workout we will be running and/or walking on incline.

    What You’ll Need

    All you need for this workout is a treadmill. Be sure that your treadmill’s clock displays seconds.

    If you’d like to do this running workout outside, you’ll simply need to find some hills, and bring a stopwatch of some kind.

    You can eyeball grade percentages, or you can use a slope calculator app to measure the hills with your phone if it has that capability. Let’s get into the workout.

    3 Minute Warm-Up:

    • First Minute: 5% grade, 2/10 effort (walk/light jog)
    • Second Minute: 4% grade, 3/10 effort
    • Third Minute: 3% grade, 4/10 effort

    Main Sets:

    • Number 1
      • 90 seconds at 2% grade, 6/10 effort
      • 30 second REST at 2% grade, 3/10 effort
    • Number 2
      • 90 seconds at 2% grade, 6/10 effort
      • 30 second REST at 2% grade, 3/10 effort
    • Number 3
      • 90 seconds at 2% grade, 7/10 effort
      • 30 second REST at 2% grade, 4/10 effort
    • Number 4
      • 90 seconds at 2% grade, 7/10 effort
      • 30 second REST at 2% grade, 3/10 effort
    • Number 5
      • 90 seconds at 2% grade, 7/10 effort
      • 30 second REST at 2% grade, 4/10 effort

    4 Minute Climb:

    Set the treadmill to 3% grade. Use speed to find a 5/10 effort. You won’t touch the speed again over next 4 minutes.

    • First Minute: 3% grade
    • Second Minute: 4% grade
    • Third Minute: 5% grade
    • Fourth Minute: 6% grade

    3 Minute Cool Down:

    • First Minute: 3% grade at 3/10 effort
    • Second Minute: 2% grade at 2/10 effort
    • Third Minute: 1% grade at 1/10 effort (walk/jog)

    Running Workouts for Sustainable Training

    The best approach to running training: aim for sustainability. Whether you are training for a marathon, a half marathon, a 5K, or a one-mile run, sporadic training won’t get you across the finish line.

    As you design your running training plan and incorporate the workouts above, aim for sustainability.

    While it may seem reasonable to mimic race-day conditions often in your training, doing this can actually lead to injuries and burnout.

    On another note, training in the same way all the time can lead to over-use injuries, and under-use weakness.

    While running is a full-body workout, it is a repeated motion. This means that it is not working your muscles in a versatile way, and certain muscle groups can grow weak from neglect.

    30-minute workouts like the ones in this article allow longevity in your training so that you can stay injury-free and regular.

    These small, sustainable improvements will lead to big progress over time.

    Whether you are trying to drop your pace time or up that mileage, don’t count out the 30-minute workout. It is an effective tool for runners of all levels!

    Interval training workout running

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