A Guide to Interval Running

(Article by Kari Fry with Kelly O’Regan)

Running can be a great form of exercise and mixing up the type of runs you do can be to your advantage. One of the ways to do this is to incorporate interval running into your fitness routine.  We asked Study Active assessor and Personal Trainer Kelly O’Regan to take us through some of the key questions someone might ask when wanting to know more about interval running and the benefits it can bring to your fitness goals.

IMPORTANT: The ideas in this article are purely for information only – please do not start an exercise programme until you have completed a PAR-Q and, if necessary, received medical clearance. Always warm up and cool down and never do any exercise that you are unsure of without the support of a qualified professional.

What is interval running?

Interval running is a training method consisting of intermittent varied periods time spent running, jogging, or walking, alternating between higher and lower speed/intensities. Depending on the individuals experience, fitness levels and purpose for training, it may involve working in both aerobic (70-80%MHR), and anaerobic training zones (80-90%MHR).

What are the benefits of doing interval running sessions? And can it benefit weight loss?

Running alone, has many benefits both physical and mental, but interval running can really take your training to the next level. Running is not suitable for everyone due to the high impact on the bones and joints, but if you are new to running, providing you have no pre-existing injuries or illnesses, the interval approach can be a good start as you can alternate between walking and jogging. Over time you can increase the time spent during the running phase, and eventually you will be running continuously. For the more advanced runner, interval running can improve one’s overall speed, power, and performance.

Weight loss can certainly be achieved through interval running, as with all types of exercise involving the working of the CV system. Interval running pushes and elevates the heart rate to the next level, which in turn burn calories at higher rates, so will burn fat quicker.

In short, the main benefits of interval running are:

  • Improvement in cardiovascular health.
  • Increase in speed which will improve running times.
  • Increase in endurance & stamina.
  • Keeps training interesting and reduces tedium.
  • Aids weight loss, burns more calories.
  • Is time efficient, as you would not need to dedicate as long for an interval running session, but still gain maximum benefits.
  • Along with the boost in ‘feel good’ hormones which will improve mood, thus achieving ‘runners high’!

Are there different benefits to doing sprint interval training vs. longer intervals?

Yes, absolutely! With sprint interval training, you will be primarily working within the ‘anaerobic threshold’ for short periods of time. The focus being – increasing ‘power’ output and speed.

With longer intervals, you will be working more at the mid to higher end of the aerobic threshold which means the ‘effort’ period can be longer. The main benefit here would be the increase in stamina and endurance.

How might you put together an interval running workout?

This would depend on the individual, their current fitness levels and running experience. You also need to think about whether it is being done on a treadmill or outside, and plan accordingly. Here is an example of what an interval running workout for someone who has been running continuously for a while but feels they have plateaued and wants to further push themselves and advance their training, may look like…

5 min warm up steady pace (50-60% MHR)

  • Work - 1 min (70-80%MHR), Recovery – 30 secs (60%MHR) x 10
  • 5 mins cool down steady pace (60-50%MHR)

This has been based around time, but you could also use distance as the focus i.e., 200m work/50 metres recovery etc.

What tips would you give for a beginner to interval running? And is there a best method for timing running intervals?

The good thing about interval running, is that it can be easily progressed and regressed to suit the individual. For the beginner you would time the work to recovery ratio’s so that the recovery period is longer than the work period (i.e. work 30 secs, 60 sec recovery). Then gradually this can be progressed to work equal to rest (i.e. 60 secs, recovery 60 secs), and finally moving to “working periods” longer than rest (i.e. work 60 secs, recovery 30 secs). The aim being to increase your endurance in order to sustain the work effort level for longer, and the rest period becoming shorter.

How would you take this further for a more established runner who might be training for long-distance events?

For the more experienced runner, you would be looking at longer interval periods of either time or distance, or even higher Intensity level for the “work phase”. For example, you could be using 5 mins (plus), or keep the duration short but intensities pushing nearer to 90% for the “work phase” (depending on the athlete’s ability), followed by the recovery period ratioed to that of the “work periods” duration. Again, this would be dependant on the athlete’s ability!

This example has been based around time, but you could also use distance as the focus, for example where distance could maybe be 400m work, followed by 100m recovery.

The aim for this is to improve the individual’s cardiovascular strength and endurance, to build and optimise the bodies response to higher intensity running for longer periods of time.

Any final advice for someone wanting to make more of interval running in their workout routines?

Yes, certainly. The important thing to remember is to not push yourself too hard too soon! Like I said before, interval running is a great way to really enhance your exercise regime and training programme, however there are important things to consider before commencing such a high intense activity:

  • As with all exercise, it is important to ensure that you have no injuries or illnesses which could be made worse by performing such high intensity training. If so then, you would need to seek medical advice prior to starting such activity.
  • Correct footwear – It is extremely important to ensure that your footwear is suitable for running, to avoid injury.
  • Fully utilise the recovery periods as this will increase the effectiveness of the training but also reduce risk of injury. This is also an optimal time to hydrate – always carry water!
  • Food for fuel – Ensure that you have adequately fuelled before and after the session, to store and re-store those energy supplies.
  • If new to interval running, educate yourself in the different thresholds of training to ensure that you are reaching your targets, or not pushing yourself over those targets. If in doubt, you should always seek advice from a professional.

Conclusion - Interval Running

Thank you, Kelly for answering our questions and talking us through interval running. It is fantastic to know that there are a number of benefits to including interval running workouts into your exercise routine, and that interval training can be tailored to your abilities, whether as a beginner or a more advanced athlete, to help you reach your fitness goals.

ExercisesFitnessFitness trainingInterval runningRunning

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