How to Do Interval Running

how to do interval running
So, you want to know how to do interval running? Well, you landed in the right spot!

Intervals are a great way to add variety to your running AND improve your running performance.

Now, let's explore this question of 'how to do interval running', together.

How to Do Interval Running - The Basics


It sounds complicated, but it's as easy as pie. Well, easier even, because you don't even need an oven. Interval running simply means alternating between periods of high-intensity running and low-intensity recovery periods.

For instance, you might run at a higher speed for a minute, then walk or jog for two. You're doing a workout, but you're taking breaks. How cool is that?

Benefits of Interval Running


how to do interval running
Intervals are pretty tough. So, why the hell do them? Well, let's get to the juicy part, the benefits of interval running.

Improve oxygen delivery to the muscles
One major benefit is that running at interval intensity improves the oxygen delivery to your muscles. Intervals put a certain amount of stress on your body. Just try running at interval intensity for longer than five minutes! Very hard! Those peak intensity spurts condition your cardiovascular system to work more efficiently. Which eventually means you can run faster and go for longer. Not bad, huh?

More calories burned
Interval running also burns more calories than steady-state running. High intensity spurts fire up metabolism, leading to more calories burned even after your workout thanks to a phenomenon called 'afterburn'. It's like eating a slice of cake without feeling the guilt. Right on!

Improve performance
how to do interval running
From a performance perspective, intervals help runners improve their running speed over time. These short bursts teach the body to cope with lactate threshold (the point at which muscles fatigue during high-intensity exercise) and enhance the body's energy usage. You are actually getting faster!

Improve mental resilience
Excitingly, interval training also supports mental resilience. It cultivates a mindset of breaking boundaries and tolerating discomfort. This definitely helps on race day. But when you become more resilient and mentally tough, it can also transfer to other areas of your life.

Added variety
Need another reason to try interval running? Consider this: it adds variety to your workouts, helping to fight the boredom that can set in with regular jog sessions. Mixing higher and lower intensity running can provide a welcome break from more monotonous runs.

Very time-efficient
Furthermore, you don’t need to devote a massive chunk of your day to intervals, you could fit your training into a busy schedule as it’s time-efficient. A short but intense workout can yield similar benefits to a longer, steady workout. Now that's what I call a productivity hack!

Starting Interval Running as a Beginner


how to do interval running
So, how about starting interval running as a beginner? No worries, this isn't rocket science.

Start with a warm-up with light jogging or fast walking. This warms your muscles up and preps them for the workout. Think of it as the appetizer before the main course!

A good starting point for interval workouts is a 1:2 ratio of work vs recovery. Run at a higher intensity for a minute, then recover at a lower intensity for two minutes.

That may still feel very tough as a beginner. You can adjust the work:rest ratio accordingly. You could start off with a work:rest ratio of 1:3. Then as you get more used to it, move to 1:2 and eventually a ratio of 1:1, i.e. your intervals take just as long as your recovery periods.

You will find that as you progress, you'll be able to stay at high intensity for longer intervals, and need less recovery time in between.

Fartlek Running - The Ideal Intro to Intervals


how to do interval running
Now, the type of structure we discussed before with set work:rest ratios might not be for you. So, let's talk about something called "fartlek running"... It doesn't sound that appetising. However, fartlek, a Swedish term, stands for "speed play". It allows you to sprinkle some spontaneity into your interval running.

In practice, fartlek running might involve sprinting to the next mailbox, then jogging to the third lamppost. There's no formal structure, you just decide on the spot. Its fluid nature makes it the perfect way to gently immerse yourself in interval running. Also see the fartlek workouts page for more information.

Advanced Interval Workouts


Now, let’s move on to advanced workouts, as progress is part of the running journey! Once you've mastered the basics and started to feel comfortable, you can start to add more complex interval workouts. Don't be afraid, you've got this!

how to do interval running
Shorter to Longer and Reducing the Work:Rest Ratio
As discussed before, when you are starting to do intervals, you might start with unstructured fartleks. Then you might progress to short intervals with a low work:rest ratio. E.g. 30 seconds hard / 2 minutes recovery; 1 minute hard / 2-3 minutes recovery.

As you progress, you can play with two variables:
  • The length of a single interval - I'd recommend starting out with short intervals, e.g. 30 seconds. You can then build up to longer intervals as you progress.
  • The Work:Rest Ratio - The other element you can adjust as you advance is the work:rest ratio. Start with a work:rest ratio of 1:2 or 1:3 and move towards a work:rest ratio of 1:1.

  • Pyramids or Ladders
    Fancy variations include pyramid or ladder intervals. These involve starting with a short high-intensity period, then gradually increasing the duration, before decreasing it again, much like the shape of a pyramid. For instance, you could run at higher speed for 1, 2, 3, 2, and 1 minute intervals, with similar recovery periods in between.

    Combination with other types of running
    A more advanced workout is one in which you combine tempo and interval running in the one workout. Examples of workouts I use (excluding description of warm-up and cooldown):
  • Tempo-Interval-Tempo - 10 to 15 minutes tempo; 5 min recovery; 5-10 x intervals 1 min hard/1 min easy; 5 min recovery; 10 to 15 minutes tempo.
  • Tempo-Intervals - 20 minutes tempo; 5 min recovery; 8 x 400m hard / 90 sec easy.

  • There are countless variations you can design, but the above workouts are some of the ones I use.

    Conclusion and Further Recommended Reading


    how to do interval running
    And there you have it - the lowdown on how to do interval running. Start slow, make it fun, keep it safe, and you're all set! Take my word, it’s not just about running away from our problems. Many times, it's about running towards a more capable, confident, and healthier version of ourselves!

    Sure, you may experience a hurdle or two along the way as you adjust to this newfound technique. But you're a runner, you're built to overcome hurdles. Plus, with every stride you take, you're making progress.

    In the end, it's all about making your workouts enjoyable and effective. By understanding how to do interval running, you're ahead of the game. So I encourage you to give interval workouts a crack! You've got this!

    Can I also recommend you read part 2 of this article. In that article I cover off some more advanced information such as:

  • How to properly warm up before starting interval running

  • The signs of overexertion to look out for during interval running

  • How to cool down after an interval running session

  • What kind of terrain is best suited for interval running

  • How to incorporate interval running into a weekly running schedule

  • Common mistakes to avoid when doing interval running.


  • Click the link to check out How to Do Interval Running Part 2!

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