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Interval training for runners - Exercise

Interval training is a highly effective technique for runners to improve their speed.

What is interval training?

An interval training workout involves alternating periods of high-intensity effort with periods of low-intensity effort, which is called the recovery.

For runners, this would typically involve interspersing bouts of fast running with slower running.

What happens to your body during the recovery phase?

The recovery phase is a really important part of interval training.

The stop-start pattern trains your body to recover quickly between bursts of faster running, which over time will gradually increase your ability to run faster for longer.

What are the health benefits of interval training?

The long-term health benefits of interval training are similar to those achieved from most types of longer duration moderate-intensity aerobic exercise.

These include a lower risk of many diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers.

Can interval training help me lose weight?

During the high-intensity phase, your body mainly burns carbohydrates for energy.

But during the recovery, your body mainly burns fat to produce the energy needed to help your body recover from the intense effort.

This process can continue for hours after training. This can help you lose weight, as long as you're also eating healthily.

What research is there on interval training?

There's growing evidence to show that interval training might be as effective, if not more so, than longer moderate-intensity aerobic workouts.

Researchers at McMaster University in Canada found that three 20-minute sessions of interval training a week provided the same benefits as 10 hours of steady exercise over a 2-week period.

How can interval training help my running?

Interval training is an effective exercise for improving speed. Learning to run faster is a gradual process.

Alternating bursts of fast running with a recovery period trains your muscles to work more efficiently and economically at higher speeds.

Another benefit is that your routine moderately paced runs will feel easier.

How often should I do interval training?

Do not do interval training every day. Intervals are hard work and you need to give your body time to recover.

If you do not give your body time to recover, you're likely to lose motivation, tire yourself out and possibly injure yourself.

If you're used to running 3 days a week, you could set aside one of those runs for an interval training session.

For a short interval run, check out Couch to 5K+: speed.

Is interval training safe?

Interval training is hard work on the whole body, but particularly the heart, lungs and muscles.

If you're out of shape or you have not exercised for a while, get the all-clear from your GP before starting.

It's generally advisable to have a good level of overall aerobic fitness before performing high-intensity training of any kind.

Page last reviewed: 1 May 2019
Next review due: 1 May 2022