Interval Workout Training Benefits

The interval workout is great mental and physical training and so should be a staple workout for runners of every level. Intervals are basically defined as periods of fast paced running, followed by periods of brief recovery. Intervals can be performed on a treadmill, outside on a running route or most commonly at an outdoor track . Like all types of speed work, intervals are designed to cause adaptations in your body that result in you running faster. Intervals provide the following benefits:

  • A strong cardiovascular stimulus
  • Rapid muscle firing – promoting quick leg turnover
  • High calorie consumption
  • Mental toughness
These workouts translate into you being a leaner faster runner. Why? Strong stimulus (tough workouts), when followed by an appropriate period of recovery, cause your body to adapt to the increase in speed and work making you faster. In a nutshell, these work! Unlike other forms of speed workouts such as fartlek training , intervals are measured and typically quite regimented. Following a sufficient warm up period and active stretching, the length and goal time of each interval is laid out before hand as prescribed in your training plan. This allows you to set the goal for what needs to be accomplished that day and mentally prepare for it. While intervals are over fairly quickly, they are intense and when done correctly can be very uncomfortable. So the more focus you can add to the mix the better your results can be.

What Intervals Are Right for You?

The length of intervals as well as the number of repeats that you should do depend on a number of factors including your newness to this type of workout, the running goal that you’re training for as well as the specific focus of the training week that you are currently in. Whether you’re following one of the Running Goals training programs or building your own, they should always be placed within your training week where adequate recovery is allotted both before and after the interval day. In other words, care should be taken to avoid having any of your speed workouts the day before or after another hard effort such as a long run. This will ensure that you are getting adequate recovery from your previous hard effort and will be as fresh as possible for your interval session.

Shorter and faster repeats such as 100s, 200s and 400s are typically more beneficial to work on your 'raw speed' for races 5k and shorter in distance. A longer interval workout such as 800, 1 km and even mile repeats done at a more gradual pace are more beneficial for stimulating a positive change in your Vo2 max levels, and so are great for building speed for 5k and up to half and full marathon goals. The reason has to do with the adaptation that this type of interval workout causes in your body. Since 5ks and up require a mix of speed and endurance, running shorter fast repeats only gets your body used to accumulating large amounts of lactate for a very brief period. Repeats that are 800 meters in length should be run at your projected 5k pace to produce the right stimulus to this end. Faster pace and hence shorter duration is not ideal training for longer distance where a combination of aerobic ability and lactate buffering capabilities will be demanded of you. The longer the race above 5k, the more lactate buffering capabilities (enhanced through regular tempo runs ) will come into play as well as aerobic capacity. For example, the pace at which you can run the first 14 miles of a marathon doesn't matter a whole lot if you can't finish the run or must walk the last 12.2!

Interval Workout Frequency

Intervals are indeed effective in helping you to get fast, but make sure that you don’t run intervals more than once a week if you are a newer runner, or twice a week if you are a veteran runner. They are very taxing physiologically and so you run a high risk of injury if attention is not given to warm up, stretching and adequate recovery.

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