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Interval Running - Know The Basics

Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN

interval runningOn this site I place a lot of emphasis on interval running, and for good reason. Interval running has really taken off during the last decade or so because it is a highly effective way to get in shape, lose weight, and increase fitness.

Which is why it enjoys such a prominent position on the site.

Anyone who wants to lose weight or be more competitive when running needs to get into interval training – but understandably, there is a lot of confusion out there regarding what, exactly, interval training is.

Here are the basics to interval running workouts so that you can start incorporating this wonderful tool into your program today.

What Does Interval Running Mean?

Intervals are basically running periods.  Instead of a continuous run of, say, five miles, in which you are constantly moving at a fairly standard and regulated pace, you run shorter distances over shorter periods of time, broken up by periods of rest or slower paces.

Running sprints is an example of how intervals work.  You run as fast as you can for 200, 400 meters – then stop and rest for a few seconds before beginning again.  Each repetition is an interval.  (To be technically correct, the rest period is also an interval, but we’ll avoid that.)

What’s the Point of Interval Running?

An interval running workout is designed for one purpose: offering a more intense exercise than a normal run. Why is this good? Isn’t more intensity, well, bad?

Oh, no. More intensity is good, provided your body is ready for it.  You see, more intensity results in a higher heart rate, which means you burn more calories.  That is why people who are trying to lose weight by running need to use intervals – because they jumpstart your body’s natural fat-burning furnace into action.

The trick is to use periods of rest (or in a fartlek run, periods of relatively-slower running)  to manage the intensity so you are not trying to flat-out sprint 3 miles. 

You also develop your anaerobic capacity with intervals, which is your body’s ability to perform at peak levels without regular oxygen intake.  It is a hallmark of a well-rounded athlete.

How Often Should I Run Intervals?

You shouldn’t run intervals every day.  That much is sure.  Even sprinters don’t run sprint intervals daily.  They mix them up with plyometrics, strength training, and other methods.

You should do the same.  The most common format is to run a normal run at a moderate pace on Mondays and Fridays.  Intervals are on Tuesdays, with an option for more intervals or other speed workouts on Thursday, and a recovery run is on Wednesday.  Generally, try to avoid doing more than two hard interval running workouts a week.

Now you know the basics, and knowing is half the battle.

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