Run Faster and Stronger with Interval Training

As the saying goes, you have to train fast to race fast, and interval training is a great way to improve your overall speed and endurance.

This involves alternating periods of high intensity effort with lower intensity recovery periods, or to put it simply, fast running interspersed with slower running. Incorporating regular interval sessions into your training will help you to run faster and stronger. The downside to this? You’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you’re working hard and it won’t feel easy!

How does Interval Training Work?

As your muscles work harder during exercise, they produce lactic acid. If you’re training at a comfortable pace, the body has plenty of time to break lactic acid down and flush it away. However as the body works harder, it can’t do this quickly enough, therefore lactic acid builds up, leaving you with burning muscles and fatigue. This is your “Lactate Threshold.” Interval training works repeatedly on the aerobic and anaerobic systems to offset this point, gradually enabling you to run faster for longer.

During interval training:

  • The anaerobic system metabolises energy stored in the muscles (glycogen) for short bursts of intense activity without needing oxygen.

  • Lactic acid builds up as a by-product and the runner experiences oxygen debt.

  • During the recovery period, the body is then allowed to recover with the heart and lungs working together to give back this oxygen and to break down the lactic acid.

  • The aerobic system takes over, using oxygen to convert stored carbohydrates into energy.


Photo by Isaac Wendland on Unsplash

Benefits of Interval Training

Faster, stronger, longer:

The body responds to interval training by growing extra capillaries to transport more oxygen to the muscles including the the heart, improving the efficiency of oxygen delivery. The combination of an improved cardiovascular system with muscles that can tolerate lactic acid build-up significantly improves performance.

Calorie Burn:

High intensity intervals burn carbs fast, while the lower intensity intervals kick start your body’s repair system, burning fat to produce energy for recovery. This continues for hours after training, which can significantly aid weight loss.

Train Less for More:

There is a consistent and growing body of evidence to suggest that high intensity interval training might be as effective, if not more so, than training for longer at moderate intensity. While your long slow run remains key to your endurance training, integrating this with a weekly interval session will benefit your overall speed, endurance and efficiency.

Reduced Physical and Mental Burnout

Provided you build up slowly and carefully, injuries associated with long-term, repetitive exercise can be significantly reduced due to lack of overtraining or burn-out. Varying your training pattern in this way also helps break up training monotony, whilst training at speed with the reward of recovery allows you a glimpse of your potential.

How to Get Started

There are lots of variations of interval sessions depending on you, your pace, how fit you are already, your goal race, and distance etc. Interval training can be tough on the body so you should already have a good base of fitness and a good few months of steady mileage (min 16-20 miles a week) behind you before you start interval training.

When you approach interval training, think back to when you first started running – you probably followed a run/walk programme. Interval training is based on exactly the same principles, and the idea is to build up gradually in exactly the same way.

Example sessions:

1. 2 minutes effort, 1 minute recovery – repeat x 5

2. 400m with 60 second recoveries x 10

3. Pyramid (this one is tough)

-30 second effort with 30 second recovery

– 1 minute effort with 1 minute recovery

– 2 minute effort with 2 minute recovery

– 4 minute effort with 4 minute recovery

– 2 minute effort with 2 minute recovery

– 1 minute effort with 1 minute recovery

– 30 second effort with 30 second recovery

Choose interval lengths to suit you and your ability. You can also mix up sessions and do a different one each week for variety. Thirty second intervals combined with 1-2 minutes rest are a good place for novices to start.

Your pace needs to be tough enough to push you above your comfort threshold; you’ll feel like you’re gasping for breath and you shouldn’t be able to easily maintain a conversation. Your 5K pace is a good starting point, or for more experienced runners about 85% of your working heart rate.

Key Tips for Interval Training

  • Start slowly and build up towards longer and faster intervals to provide better results

  • Maintain a consistent but challenging pace throughout the interval. You should aim to finish your last interval at the same pace as your first.

  • To build up, increase the intensity or duration of intervals, but not both at once.

  • Aim to reduce your heart rate to 100-110 bpm during the recovery interval.

  • Mix up your sessions for variety – this can include hill training sessions

  • If you’re struggling with structure or motivation, get down to your local running club. Most run interval sessions once a week for all abilities.

  • Always warm up and cool down to avoid injury.

Looking for some training tips and advice? Then head over to our Training category where our athletes and experts explain everything you need to know.


Welcome to the SportsShoes Training Hub! We’ve teamed up with athletes and experts to bring you the very best advice on how to maximise your workouts and achieve your best results.

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