Interval training – what is it and how does it help your running?

Brooks Shoe Finder

As a beginner, even running for a couple of minutes can feel pretty tough.

But over time, as your stamina and strength starts to build and you take on longer distances, you’re bound to find yourself thinking ‘What’s next?’

Now that you’ve got some miles under your belt, perhaps you’d like to improve your performance – and for lots of new-ish runners, that means working on speed.

Sound relatable? You might want to give interval training a try.

What is interval training?

The clue is in the name. Interval training for runners involves short intervals of high-intensity work – so running with maximum effort – with lower-intensity running or even walking.

There are lots of different strategies you can try. One rule of thumb is the 80/20 approach – going at 80% of your maximum capacity for a set period, before dropping down to 20% for some recovery time.

Many trainers recommend 1:1 intervals – so start short with 30 second intervals (30 seconds at full throttle, followed by 30 seconds at recovery level) before building up to 2 minute intervals and then 4 minute intervals.

If you know anything about interval training for runners, you’ve probably heard of fartlek. This amusing-sounding technique (Swedish for ‘speed play’) takes a similar approach to the above, except you, the runner, choose where you’re going to run to and at what level. Pick a marker – a tree, a streetlamp, a junction – and go for it, followed by a recovery period. Again, you choose the marker to head to before it’s time to pick up the pace again.

This playful approach to interval training keeps things fun and interesting – and it’s great for building your speed endurance when you’re training for medium and longer distances. 10k and half marathon runners, we’re looking at you!

How often should you be adding interval training into your workouts? Well, that’s up to you. Start with a session a week; then, when you start feeling more comfortable with those increased levels of effort, think about adding another.

It’s all about avoiding the plateau – so if things start to feel like they’re getting steady, mix it up: shorten your rest time, lengthen your high-intensity intervals, stay out for longer, seek out some hills or try some different terrain.

What are the benefits of interval training?

Put simply, interval training builds speed endurance. With regular, consistent interval training you’ll find you can run faster for longer – helpful if you’re training for an event and have a goal time or new personal best in mind.

You might want to be able to run 5k in 30 minutes but find it impossible to sustain 6 minute kilometres – the magic pace required. Never fear – break your goal down into intervals. Try running 500 metres in three minutes, then walking for three minutes. Then repeat until you’ve completed 5k, running half of it and walking the other half.

Over time, by lengthening your work periods and cutting your rest time, you’ll find yourself getting closer to your goal – and the target that once seemed impossible will be within your reach.

If weight loss is one of your goals, interval training will also help you burn more calories – and you’ll keep burning energy even after your workout is finished.

Not only will interval training help you physically, breaking distances and goals down will help you get over the mental hurdle – and it’ll also bring fun and variety to your sessions. What more reason could you need to give it a go?

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our Run/Walk training plans.

Get More Great Tips & Advice

Want more like this? Sign up to get the latest training articles filled with our best tips delivered straight to your inbox.

We’ll treat your information with the utmost care and you can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Add a Little Greatness
To Your Inbox

We’ll send you useful running information and guidance, special offers, training advice, top tips, and exclusive event updates. You’ll be inspired to take your place on a Great Run start line, and when you do – we’ll support you all the way to the finish.

  • We’ll treat your information with the utmost care and you can unsubscribe at any time. View our privacy policy here.

Thank you for signing up