How to get progress through interval training?

Interval training is a form of training that varies between intense efforts and pauses. If you are the type of person who are a little bit like that yourself, this type of training can be particularly suitable for you. But be aware that even the fitness level can be quickly improved through interval training, it can disappear just as quickly as it came, unless you have some easy training sessions in between.

Many believe that interval training is a “new discovery” within training. This is not true, because this type of training has been applied for many years. Interval training can be beneficial for most people, but you should not train intervals only. If you do so, you may get very quick progress, but the chance of maintaining the aquired shape is not so good.

To get a good progression, and to ensure that your fitness level shall improve over a long time, it is important that you also perform a good portion of easy sessions. If you shall get the full effect of an interval session, your base level needs to be good, and you need to be able to keep up the concentration throughout the session. In comparison, it is much easier to keep up the concentration on a long run, where you will be working far away from your pain threshold and high pulse.

Interval training is demanding

In some running environments interval training is called “quality training”. This is in my opinion misleading, because it is not only interval training that should be characterised as quality sessions. Other good examples are: Fartlek, fast long run, progressive long run, just to mention some. Anyway, it indicates that interval training requires more from you than a normal long run, which is correct enough.

Control of speed and intensity

As mentioned, interval training varies between sessions with high intensity and pauses. The duration of the intense parts and the pauses depends on the target for the session and what type of runner you are. Summarised, interval training is a matter of controlling speed and intensity, and mastering this is a matter of training for it.

If interval training is new to you, you have to expect to use some time before you can perform intervaL sessions on the optimal level of intensity. There are too many who are starting interval training too hard, meaning that they have too high pulse during the sessions. If you do so, you will not get the desired progress.

Keep speed steady and even

If you are not able to maintain the same speed in the intense parts during the whole session, you have started too hard. A correctly performed interval session shall be done by keeping up the speed/intensity during the whole session.

Different forms of interval training

Interval training is a common term for many types of sessions. You may have long or short intervals, uphill intervals or intervals on a track, threshold intervals or max O2 intervals. There is a number of variants. Unfortunately there is no fixed answer for which of these you should perform, or how they should be done, in order to run fast on a 1500 meter, 5 km or longer runs.


The duration of the pauses varies, but they should be shorter than the duration of the intense parts, at least when you are training with endurance in mind. The pauses should not bee too long if you want to influence your anaerob threshold as much as possible (threshold training). It is quite common to have pauses from 1 to 2 minutes, if the intense parts are long (2-4 min).

Some are having pauses as long as it takes for the pulse to return down to normal intensity. If this takes more than 1,5 – 2 minutes, it is a sign that the intense part is performed with too high speed. With too high intensity you will start accumulationg lactic acid, which is not so smart when doing this type of training.

How many intense runs shall you run within a session?

This should be decided based on you fitness level and you motivation. The total duration of the intense sessions may vary from 12 minutes, up to 50 minutes, all depending on your level.

High load on the legs

When performing intervals, the load on the legs (lower legs in particular), is much higher than during easy runs. The kick from the ground is quicker and harder, and some are running more on the forefoot and toes when the speed is higher. This is also one of the reasons why you should be careful and gradually get used to interval training by gradual progression in the load. You have to test it for yourself, and it can be smart to start on a soft surface and use shoes with good cushioning in the beginning.

Management of training

For those who are already used to interval training, the challenge is to push themselves to the optimum level in each session. Note: Optimum level is NOT the same as maximum level. It seems to me that today’s long distance runners run a lot more than us who were active in the 1980’s. Even so, there are not so many today who run on the same level like we did. I am possibly wrong, but I believe that one of the main reasons is that too many long distance runners are training with too many and too hard interval sessions.

To make sure that the interval training is successful, a certain degree of training management is needed. For this, a pulse watch can be a very good tool, provided that it is used correctly. It is easier to compare sessions if you record the pulse in addition to the speed. Remember that lower pulse with the same speed means better fitness level.

Read more about fitness level and training for running here:

Author: Ingrid Kristiansen

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