Interval Training-Improve Your Performance

Variation and progression are key to success in running and to prevent training plateaus. The body adapts to a training stimulus relatively quickly. Difficulty of sessions must be progressed in some form otherwise there is diminishing marginal returns from the workout.

It is extremely important that the progression of the workout is done in a controlled fashion. Gently increasing the difficulty will prevent injury and reduce the risk of over training.

Interval training teaches athletes to be mentally tough and to believe in their ability to extend themselves in a way they had never done before.

The most logical purpose of interval training is to maximise aerobic power (Vo2 max). The best way to improve any bodily function is to stress that function, Intensity has to be at or close to VO2 max and the work-to-rest ratio has to optimize that purpose. It is wise to always try to gain the maximum benefit out of the least amount of stress rather than trying to achieve maximum benefit from the most amount of stress.

What the athlete does during the recovery intervals is crucial and actually has a profound effect on the training of the metabolic energy pathways.

An active roll on running recovery will enable improved performance over all paces and distances. A longer lasting fitness can be achieved if original interval training is combined with sufficient aerobic endurance development to stabilise the improved cardio-respiratory response.

Alternating paces produce massive improvements in running economy, by optimally using lactate around the body. Lactate is a positive and central player in our metabolism and in how we produce energy. When the intensity in the faster sections is increased, lactate production is increased and when intensity is reduced, the lactate is utilised as the preferred fuel for aerobic ATP production and ‘cleared’

There should be a smooth transition back to faster pace of rep after active roll on recovery. As the athlete’s lactate utilisation and clearance abilities develop, their roll-on recoveries will become more active and faster naturally.

4 main parameters used to progress a workout:

1. No. of intervals

2. Pace of intervals

3. Length of intervals

4. Duration of Recovery (incl speed of recovery-walk, steady run etc)

Warm up is extremely important before this type of warm session. Start with an easy 10-15 minute jog and gradually increase the pace. Dynamic warm up exercises before a workout like this will maintain elastic properties of the muscle while also limbering it up for more intense effort.

warm up

Finally all types of interval training are only beneficial when you have laid a solid aerobic foundation first through easy aerobic running, long runs, tempo/threshold runs, strength and conditioning exercises, drills, strides etc. When the aerobic foundation has been laid, we become more robust, can handle more volume and intensity of training and gain more from the interval training. This aerobic work must also be continued or maintained during the interval training period

For most athletes small doses of interval training are all that is needed to produce a good race performance. Too much can have a negative impact-especially when done too intensely. Intervals are not only for speed and anaerobic development; they can be used for aerobic development. It’s all about balance!

And, of course, add in extra recovery for the new stress. Your training stress and your recovery must be in balance. Training involves breakdown, and recovery must be appropriate to rebuild this breakdown otherwise you’ll be on your way to overtraining. The harder you run, the more aerobic recovery work is needed.

Allowing sufficient recovery will maximize your performance improvement and avoid injury or illness from overtraining. It is important to realize that there is not a bottomless pit for training.

Michelle Greaney (MG Coaching)

Athletics Ireland National Level 2 Endurance Coach


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