Let’s get started with understanding the basics - what interval running is all about and how is it different from regular running. Interval running encompasses a preset defined as a sequence of distances or lengths of time to be run within between breaks for recovery. These breaks are either for recovering or slowing down the running speed. Interval running is not only about running at the highest speed possible but more speed than the regular aerobic pace. Interestingly, to know if you are aerobically running or not, you can check if you can talk in complete sentences. This is where interval running steps up from regular running. It requires more huffing and is done for a set number of repetitions. It simply does not mean running at the highest intensity.
The intervals play a very significant role. They are there to enhance the supply and efficiency of the oxygen delivery system to the muscles. You basically push yourself to run at a speed that peaks your heart rate briefly and then lower it down with a slow jog. As time progresses, you will be able to notice improvements in speed, endurance, and capacity. Given that you are fit as a fiddle and can sustain continuous running for 30 minutes on a regular basis, interval training could be the way to make your fitness game get better, develop your running economy as well as be able to run faster. Even if you aren’t an athlete and are just prepping for your next big marathon.
We got to talking about interval running to runner and marathoner Ashish Viswakumar and he explained it just right - Interval run is basically a short distance run at an almost maximum effort followed by a short recovery, repeated multiple times. Examples are 100 meters runs, 200, 400, 800, 1 km, and so on. The recovery can be a minute or 2 of rest or an easy jog. A maximum effort is a pace that one can only hold for a short time.
Ashish started his running journey in 2013 and till now has done a lot of 10km and half marathon races, 5 full marathons, and a 50km ultra run. He also participated and completed a running challenge conducted by NEB Sports called Run To The Moon. The target of the event was to run a distance of 3,84,400km collectively from 27th June till 30th July (35 days) 2021.
What is interval running good for?
Aim at faster weight loss
Interval running does not work only on your performance and speed but can also lead to faster weight loss. Running intervals can potentially help you burn three times the calories when compared to regular running. There is a very logical reasoning to it. You run for the same time but because of the fast segments, the body ends up burning more energy. It now has to move more mass at a higher speed. The fast twitch muscle fibers also begin to work during short, fast sprints. These burn a higher amount of energy than the other muscle fibers because they work explosively.
Expect more afterburn
Interval running leads to an afterburn effect which is almost negligible if you run the same distance normally. The afterburn can be as long as 48 hours after completing the interval workout. This means that the body is still able to benefit from the training and is working on it.
Expect better performance
As you continue to make interval running a part of your fitness routine, your body will adapt to it and will become comfortable doing it. With this, the impact will lower down because the body does not need to push itself to achieve a new challenge. The progress will reach a plateau. To not let this happen and improve the cardiovascular system and metabolism, a newer and tougher objective needs to be set and achieved. This is very much possible with this form of running. Fast interval sprints enhance the body’s maximum oxygen absorption, transportation (heart), capacity (lungs), and utilization (cells). Altogether, this dramatically enhances your body’s performance, allowing you to run faster and further for longer.
Here are some interval running plans for beginner, intermediate, and advanced level runners suggested by Ashish. This will also help you figure out how long the running intervals should last.
Start with 100m fast 100m recovery *15 for the first week, 200m fast 200m recovery * 10 for a second, 400m fast with 2 mins recovery*6, 800m fast with 2-3 mins recovery*5. Then repeat the routine
400m fast with 90 seconds recovery *12, 800m fast with 2 mins recovery*8, 1200m fast with 2-3 mins recovery*6, 1600m fast with 2-3 mins recovery*4. Repeat the routine.
400m fast 400m slow*15, 800m fast 400m slow*12, 1200m fast 400m slow*8 1600m fast 400m slow* 6. 2km fast with 2-3 mins recovery*5. Repeat the routine.
Ashish also outlines some important things to keep in mind as one advances into this form of running - With interval run, you are loading a lot of weight on your legs which increases the chances of injury. So start off with a 15 mins warm-up, followed by some dynamic stretching. This will help in loosening up the muscles and running better. Also, do a cooldown of 10-15 mins and static stretching afterward. This will help in recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
If done correctly, it helps you to improve your running form, your cardiovascular endurance, speed, and overall running. As it is an intense workout, it should be done only once a week else it would lead to injury. High-intensity runs will help in burning more fat.
Time management and efficiency
The long and short of interval running is doing more in less time. If you find yourself hard-pressed for time but still want to keep the fitness workouts going, this could definitely be the way to it. A 30-minute interval run with repetitive high-intensity bursts accomplishes the same effect as your leisurely, lengthy jog. If cruising on a stroll is your thing, nothing like it, just keep it on, but sometimes life just doesn’t always allow such indulgences and forces you to get your run in quickly. So interval running could be a savior.
Reduce stress levels
By now, the advent of pandemic into the face of this earth has made all of us realize the value and importance of staying active and healthy. And exercising is the key to a healthy life. It is the most essential component if you are looking to lead an active lifestyle. Running is one of the best fitness activities that one can adapt to. An activity like interval running, which is a high-intensity training routine, not only helps you stay active but also helps you sleep better. You will find yourself feeling more motivated to go about your day. All will be good in the hood eventually as the state of your mind and body will improve.
Can interval running be done indoors on a treadmill?
If for some reason you are unable to go out for the jog, interval running on a treadmill is a great place to start. Being a beginner, you can start at a slow pace and ladder up your way. For an interval workout, start by walking and varying the incline on the machine. Start with a warm-up - a slow stroll and then increase the pace to be able to slightly brisk walk at an incline of 1. Then onwards, gradually increase the elevation for a period of 90 seconds. Revert into a recovery period. Here it is if you would like to look at it more mathematically:
- Walk for 3:00 at 0 elevation
- Walk for 3:00 at 1 elevation
- Walk for 2:00 at 1.5 elevation
- Repeat intervals for 3 sets
- Walk for 3:00 at 0 elevation
As you become fitter, you may make your interval running plan more challenging by increasing the incline. This can also help in strengthening leg muscles since you are acting up against the force of gravity. The intervals should last for 15 to 20 minutes. Remember to cool down afterward to avoid injuries.
What are the different types of interval running?
You may either gear up for a nice run outside or choose to tread upon your treadmill, continue to use the standard work/rest concept. There are quite a few variations that you can try. The idea is to mix it up when it comes to distance, repetition, and duration. Moreover, this way it becomes exciting too. Here is some combination of the above that have been really popular among the runners:
- Ladders: Move from short to longer repetitions
- Pyramids: Going up and down ladders
- Ins-and-Outs: Accelerate straight ways and jog the turns
- Cut-downs: Perform increasingly shorter but faster reps
It may be fun to gather a bunch of friends, make a gang, and plunge into interval running. It could turn into a fruitful social activity. Doing this will also make it more enjoyable and responsible. Help each other!
Is interval running good for beginners? Who is it for?
Anyone who has a knack for running can run intervals. The intensity variation is the key. Interval running is good for beginners. You must always start with a basic level of endurance before taking up the faster intervals. At the optimum intensity, interval running is suitable for everyone. Interval training can be tailored to any individual and their goals and needs. It’s the most effective way to run and will get you to your goals faster, helping you to enjoy running more along the way.
Is interval running better than jogging?
That actually depends on your fitness goals. If you are just looking to get a healthy body and not have a sedentary lifestyle, jogging is good. Whereas, if you want to improve both endurance and anaerobic performance, interval running will be effective. There are a number of other benefits too. Firstly, it is nearly costless because no special equipment is needed. Secondly, this method can be used nearly anywhere because only 30 m of continuous space is required.
What you should know about recovery periods of interval running?
In order to get the most out of your interval training, you should take the recovery between bursts of effort seriously. Recovery between intervals shouldn't cost you the energy you need to come back strong into your next quality block of work. If the recovery time between intervals ranges to less than one minute, a static standing recovery is fine. Beyond 60 seconds, standing still gives your muscles the opportunity to tend to tighten. If you keep moving, not aggressively, in your off-moments, your muscles receive better oxygen and blood flow. A walk or easy jog would provide the highest benefit and the lowest negative impact on the body to be able to come back into the next interval comfortably recovered.
Ito S. (2019). High-intensity interval training for health benefits and care of cardiac diseases - The key to an efficient exercise protocol. World journal of cardiology, 11(7), 171–188. https://doi.org/10.4330/wjc.v11.i7.171