Sunday, June 28, 2009

Need an Interval Workout?

After the recent post "The Benefits of Interval Training," many readers contacted me wanting to know more about intervals and what kinds of interval workouts were best. defines an interval as an "intervening period of time." That's really important to remember, because an interval is not just the high-intensity sprint. Equally important is the slower recovery jog/walk interval. It's important not to overlook the recovery jog/walk. It's during this slower interval that the heart and lungs learn to work together to add oxygen back to the muscles helping to break down the lactic acid produced during the sprint interval.

Basically intervals are measured either by time or distance. They can be as short as 15 seconds in activities like HIIT(High Intensity Interval Training) or as long as 20 minutes for aerobic interval training. There are several popular interval workouts favored by runners. Here's a few I've tried:

• Yasso 800s—Created by Bart Yasso, the race services manger at Runner's World, a Yasso 800 workout is directly tied to your marathon goal time. If you want to do a 3:30 marathon, then you run a series of 800m intervals in 3mins:30seconds. Your recovery intervals in between each 800 is the same amount of time as you did your 800. So basically a 3hr:30min marathoner wannabe will run an 800 interval in 3mins:30secs then do a recovery jog at a much slower pace for 3mins:30secs and then repeat with the another 3:30 800. Note: These are tough!

• HIIT(High Intensity Interval Training)— explains that..."the first difference of and HIIT workout is in time, excluding warm ups and warm downs last no longer than 20 minutes. This may seem like a very short space of time but believe me; if you do the workout correctly you will be exhausted by the end of it. The goal of HIIT is to hold an anaerobic state for a long cumulative time (click here to see what this means). It’s designed with rest intervals to allow you to sprint harder for longer. Take this as an example, if you were to sprint for 100 meters, you would go full out for about 15 seconds (depending how fast you were). In an advanced HIIT workout you would probably spend about 7 to 8 minutes going full out in a 15 minute workout. If you are a beginner you should start with 4 to 6 minutes total workout time." provides 30-second HIIT and 60-second HIIT workouts. Both provide workouts for the beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced runner.

• RunnerDude's Workout—Several years ago I used a set of interval workouts I got from a Runner's World Marathon training plan. It kicked my butt, but it helped get me a PR in a half and full marathon that year. The set consists of six different interval workouts and for the most part, the workouts increase in intensity. To begin with, I'd recommend doing the workouts in order (Workout #1 = Week 1, Workout #2 = Week 2, etc.). Later on after completing all six weeks of workouts in order, you can play around with mixing up the workouts however you'd like.
Workout #1—5x1000m @5K race pace with 2-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout #2—6x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout #3—Three sets: 1x1200m @ 10K race pace with 1-minute recovery, 1x400m @5K race pace with a 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between each set
Workout#4—4x1600m @10K race pace with 3-minute recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout#5—8x800m @10K race pace with 90-second recovery (walk or jog) in between
Workout#6—400m @ 5K race pace (30sec recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 1600m @10K race pace (3-min recovery); 1200m @10K race pace (2-min recovery); 800 @ 10K race pace (90-sec recovery); 400m @ 5K race pace

Now if you're completely new to running and this all sounds Greek to you, don't worry. Here's a little cheat sheet:
200m = 1/2 lap (~1/8 mile)
400m = 1 lap (~1/4 mile)
800m = 2 laps (~1/2 mile)
1000m = 2.5 laps (~5/8 mile)
1200m = 3 laps (~3/4 mile)
1600m = 4 laps (~1 mile)

The FIRST marathon training plan lays out exactly what pace to run it's intervals, but many interval workouts just say run this interval distance at your 5K pace or run this interval distance at your 10K pace. Well, have you ever tried to figure out your pace for a 400m interval based on your 5K pace? Makes my brain hurt! If you're a math whiz, you can calculate it out, or you can go to McMillan's Running Calculator and let it do the work for you. Once at the site, simply select 5K (or 10K) and enter your best time and then voila! you have every imaginable distance/time calculated out for you. It actually varies the times for middle-distance runners and long-distance runners. For example, for your speed workout (if your best 5K time is 22:00) you'd run a 400m at 1:34.7 to 1:38.8 (middle-distance runners) and at 1:36.6 to 1:42.2 (long-distance runners).
Keep in mind that it may take a few speed workouts before you're able to run the calculated speed.

It's very important to think of your interval workout as three parts—1. Warm-up, 2. Interval Workout, 3. Cool -down. A 10-20 minute easy jog (1-2 miles) is sufficient to get your muscles warmed-up an limber. Starting an interval workout cold is an injury just waiting to happen. Also, on the back end, you'll recover faster if you give yourself about a 10-minute cool-down.

Remember that it will take some time for your body to get use to speed work. So don't be discouraged if you aren't able to complete some of the workouts, especially early on. Just keep at it and you'll get there. I guarantee you'll be amazed at how your other runs improve both in endurance and in speed.

Don't have a track nearby? I don't either. I found a large parking lot that makes a big loop. One loop equals 800m. Look around, maybe you can find a "makeshift" track near you too or try doing your interval workouts on a treadmill (set the incline at 1% to better replicate outside running).


Bruce said...

Thanks for the suggestions, I actually did workout 6 a few weeks ago. Killer workout. My rest times varied.

Question, would your recovery times vary depending on your speed?

RunnerDude said...

Hey Bruce! #6 is a killer! Good one though. As far as recovery times....good question. The FIRST training plan has all the recovery times the same. I'm thinking that's because even though one runner may doing an 800m at 3:13 pace and another may be doind his 800m at 4:00 pace the intensity may very well be the same for each runner because of thier fitness levels so, the recovery time would be about the same. You don't want the recovery time to be too long because that makes it too hard to get moving again for the next repeat. Now of course you need to listen to your body. If you're about to passout and you need another 30seconds, I'd say take it.