An Introduction To Interval Training

The phrase ‘interval training’ has a number of associations for me, namely pain, gasping and vomit.

It’s also a phrase that raises a lot of questions with newcomers to running – so I decided to write this introduction to the subject in order to answer a few questions.

What is Interval Training?

tiredSimply put, interval training consists of high intensity work for a set period of time, followed by lower intensity (recovery) work for a set period of time.

Or even more simply put, you run fast for a bit then slow for a bit.

These sets are then repeated… usually until you want to curl into the fetal position and die.

The distance, speed and recovery length can be tailored to meet your level of fitnesss/goals.

It’s a type of workout favoured by coaches across the sporting spectrum to get their athletes into peak physical condition, as it’s one of the most effective ways to improve speed and endurance.

And just like a session of top notch bonking or a good pub crawl, it requires high levels of effort, good timekeeping and a sick bucket to hand.

Why is Interval Training so effective?

The stop-start pattern of this workout trains your body to recover quickly and adapt between your high-intensity bursts.

Over time, this will allow your body to train faster and harder for longer.

There has been a lot of research in recent years that shows higher-intensity work to be a more effective way of improving fitness levels.

In particular, studies have found that high intensity interval training improves both you aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

In addition, interval training will improve the form and economy of your running while boosting your mind-body co-ordination.

How often should I do Interval Training?

Interval training is not something that you should be doing every day.

When done properly, this form of training is extremely taxing, and your body will need time to recover.

Plus, like any hard workout, if you do it every day you will come to despise it.

If you are just starting out – or are a newcomer to interval training – it’s generally a good idea to stick to one session a week.

Examples of Interval Training

There are a number of different types of interval workout which you can try.

Traditional Interval Training

This involves sets of race pace speed of 400m or more, with recovery sets equal to or less than the race pace distance.

This is an approach favoured by many runners, and a great way for improving speed over time.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

This involves shorter and faster intervals, with repeats of around 10-60 seconds in length.

The high intensity bursts should be run at max effort, and the recovery sets should last between 1-4 times the duration of the max burst.


Fartlek is a less regimented form on interval training.

For more information, read our introduction to Fartlek Training.

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Not just running…

The interval training mindset can be applied to any number of disciplines and scenarios to produce better results.

This article in the New York Times, for example, posits the notion that interval training can be applied to office work.

And if you’re looking to get drunk quicker, interval set those beers!

What are your experiences with Interval Training?

If you have any thoughts or comments on interval training – or any experiences that you’d like to share – sound off in the comments below!

Until then, run fast and run strong!