You’re running the same route three times a week at your regular pace – what could be wrong with that? Nothing, but by adding interval training to your routine, you could feel a whole range of benefits, from getting faster and increasing your endurance to fighting belly fat and decreasing your resting heart rate. We’ve rounded up five of the best types of interval training to mix up your running sessions, with simple, easy-to-follow workout plans from PT Dean Hodgkin.
Standard interval repeats
These involve running for a certain distance, followed by a set distance or timed recovery jog, and then repeating this fast run/slow jog combination until the end of the session. The goal is to slowly build up the time you spend running at high levels, which will increase your body’s ability to run at a sustained pace for longer periods of time. PT Davina Lewis explains that interval training helps us to meet the multiple demands on the body when increasing race speed. She says: “The challenge and the benefit of running intervals are deeply routed in controlling the recovery time, not running faster. In general, you will be ready to ramp up your interval workouts when you have successfully run your current workout for three to four weeks.” Standard interval repeats work for both sprinters and marathon runners, as they will help you to sustain your current pace.
Four to five reps of one mile with a four minute recovery time in between each, or alternatively 12 reps of 400m with a two or three minute recovery time between each one.
Also known as ladders, a pyramid session is a variation on standard interval repeats and is perfect if you’re planning a few track races and need a little help to get started. A workout involves running increasingly longer intervals followed by progressively shorter ones, so that your times form a pyramid shape. It can be done frequently and runners of all abilities can use it – advanced runners can simply add more, longer intervals to increase the difficulty. Pyramid training is a great way to mentally train yourself to push through fatigue and to keep motivated, even when you don’t want to, and they are perfect for when you’re travelling, as they can be completed almost anywhere.
Begin by running for two minutes at your 5k pace with a one minute recovery. Then run for four minutes at your 5k pace with a one minute recovery time, followed by eight minutes of running at a 10k race pace and a one minute recovery time. Complete another eight minutes at a 10k race pace with a one minute recovery time, then slow back down to running four minutes at a 5k race pace with a one minute recovery time, before finishing with a two minute run at a 5k race pace.
Running with a group, but still want to use interval training in your session? Try Indian running, which is a modified version of fartlek training (see #4) and can be used anywhere. You’ll need at least four runners, but the bigger the group, the better the workout. When you’ve all warmed up, start running in single file at a pace that works for everyone. Then, the runner at the back increases their speed to run to the front of the line, settling back to the required pace. As soon as they are in place, the next runner from the back runs forward to be in front. Continue this for the entire run, which can be over a set distance or time.
We all know the pain of turning a corner on a run and being faced with a sudden steep incline – it breaks your rhythm, slows you down and puts strain on your body. However, you can turn this around by incorporating them into your routine with hill repeats, which involve running up a gradient for a set distance or time, and then jogging back down as recovery. Not only will it improve your leg-muscle strength and quicken your stride, it’ll also help you to develop your cardiovascular system and protect you against soreness. Live somewhere flat? Never fear, you can either use a treadmill to simulate a hill session, or if that’s not possible, you can use stairs (try three or four floors of an office building). If you do find hills challenging, remember to shorten your stride, don’t try to maintain the pace you were running at on the flat, and keep your posture upright – don’t lean forward or back.
The first option is a short session involving 10-15 reps of 150- 300m up a moderate incline at around a 5k pace with a jog down recovery. The second option is five to 10 reps of 400- 1000m up a gentle slope at around a 10k pace, then a jog down to recover.
Don’t laugh – fartlek means ‘speed play’ in Swedish! Developed by athlete and coach Gosta Holmer in 1937, this training method combines continuous training with intervals and is completely unstructured. You can tailor the intensity and speed to your own needs and a stopwatch isn’t necessary, so it’s easy to do. Fartlek is simply a mixture of periods of fast and slower running or jogging, and it’s all up to you, depending on how you feel during your workout – for example, you could choose to sprint to the next corner, followed by a jog to the next telegraph pole and then a sprint to the postbox. This is a great, fun way to add variety to your run in a manner that suits you, meaning that it can be used by everyone and will eventually lead to faster speeds and an improved anaerobic threshold. It’s especially good for beginners as it is easily adjustable, can be done anywhere and is not so demanding.
Sprint for 30 seconds when you pass a stop sign. Run hard, then jog between alternate street lights. If you’re running with a slower partner, sprint ahead for one minute, then sprint back to join them and continue at their pace.
Dean Hodgkin is a PT for Ragdale Hall and TRIB3. Find him online at deanhodgkin.com