The Truth About Interval Training Running

Looking for the real lowdown on interval training running? Tired of reading unrealistic claims about burning off 800 calories in 20 minutes? Today, I want to tell the truth about interval training running. This type of exercise is a great way to boost the metabolism and increase strength and endurance whilst also burning fat. However, dodgy claims and optimistic articles about its effectiveness sometimes put people off giving interval training running a shot.

Below, I’m going to explain how it all works in detail, in layman’s terms.

By the end you’ll be raring to get stuck into a running interval training plan!

What is Interval Training Running?

Ok, here’s the first and most important truth – interval training running is not just suitable for intermediate and advanced runners. Anyone can use the speed up, slow down principle to boost cardio fitness levels, including beginners. It’s all to do with intensity.

A running interval training plan can be something as simple as combining walking with jogging for a couple of weeks. Alternatively, it can be intense and involve rolling hills and mile repeats – great for intermediate runners looking to smash a personal best.

At the top end of the difficulty spectrum,  you’ve got high intensity interval training (HIIT). Now, this is hardcore stuff and involves maximum effort.

I just want to make one thing absolutely clear:


It’s an incredibly adaptable form or running training. Put simply, it just involves combining hard and more moderate bouts of running. Routines can be adapted according to your current running level. Take a look at the iPod Workouts and you’ll see where I’m coming from. They can be tailored to suit your goals and pace. You progress at a pace you’re happy with.

The trick is to incorporate interval training in your running from the word go, that way you can progress up the difficulty levels naturally and become a well-rounded runner. Beginners can start by combining walking with jogging, then move up to jogging with running. Intermediates can play around with pace and start combining fast and more moderately paced running. Advanced runners can explore workouts based on short but intense sprint intervals and hill workouts.

Right, moving on….

How Does Interval Training Running Work?

On a simple level, a running interval training plan operates by working both the aerobic and anaerobic systems.

Anaerobic means ‘without oxygen’. Anaerobic exercise uses the fast twitch muscle fibers and is great for improving speed, strength and power. It’s short in duration (lasting from 10 seconds to 2 minutes) and high in intensity. Anaerobic exercise helps to raise the lactate threshold. This simply means that more lactic acid will be accumulated in the bloodstream, which is great news for distance runners. Both long and short distance runners can benefit from anaerobic exercise.

Aerobic means ‘living in air’. Aerobic exercise is lower intensity and takes place over longer periods of time. Oxygen is metered out by the body to cope with energy demands.

Interval training running blends the two forms of exercise to create one supercharged workout. Why settle for one when you could have the best of both worlds and maximise the time spent training?

Now I want to talk about another key term vital to understanding what a running interval training plan can help you achieve.

What isVO2 Max?

Here’s a term you’ll encounter often as you start to progress from intermediate to advanced runner. I’ll try and keep the explanation as easy to swallow as possible! Think of VO2 max in terms of exercise zones. At the bottom of the pyramid, you’ve got light exercise such as walking and jogging. The next level is moderate effort and helps you control weight and increase general fitness to a degree. Now we’re getting serious! The third level is aerobic exercise – cardio an endurance work. The fourth is where it starts to get hardcore – this is where anaerobic training comes in.

The top level is known as VO2 max – which simply means ‘maximum effort’ exercise.

The name is derived from the combination of volume, oxygen and maximum. If you’ve ever undergone a fitness test, chances are that your VO2 max will have been measured as it’s a great way to determine an individual’s level of cardiovascular fitness.

Interval training running at advanced level requires maximum effort. It can help you achieve the holy grail of running – improving the way in which the body transports and uses oxygen. The more efficient the body becomes at delivering oxygen to the muscles, the faster and further you can run. This makes interval training running a must for those looking to achieve a sub 4-hour marathon race time. You’re highly unlikely to be able to achieve such a race time by distance running training alone. Speed work is essential.

Interval Training Workouts

There are plenty of interval training running workouts to choose from. Whichever you select, remember to never skip the warm up and cool down sections! Alternate routines and you’ll beat boredom and become a more well-rounded runner who is able to handle both long and shorter distances.

You’re likely to encounter the following workout types as part of a running interval training plan:

Repeats – this type of workout features a set pattern that simply repeats itself. For example, you could be required to sprint for 400m then jog for 200m and repeat the pattern 8 times. Alternatively, you may want to look at mile repeats, which are great for maintaining a faster race pace.

Ladders – this type of routine features an incremental change. Ladder workouts can ascend or descend by distance or time.

Pyramids – another type of routine that features an incremental change. However, unlike ladders, pyramids build up then return to the interval level from which you started. You could perform a routine based on increasing incline or speed. Hill training is a great way to boost endurance.

On a final note…

Don’t forget to take a break! Rest days are vital. Also, don’t perform intervals and nothing else. Interval training running works best when combined with other forms of exercise.

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