How to Rest During Interval Workouts
One of the questions I get asked most often, from both new and experienced runners alike, is what to doing the rest period between hard interval repeats.
Do you stand around, walk for a bit, or just keep right on running?
It’s a great question, and to be honest, it wasn’t something that I thought about very deeply until the same query kept reemerging in my inbox. (Note: Most of my blog topics are derived from the questions I receive from the runners I coach. I am always looking for things to write about, so don’t hesitate to email me questions or chime in with a comment)
The answer to the question about rest isn’t as simple as it may seem, which is why I wanted to dedicate a blog post to the topic.
In my opinion, unless otherwise indicated on your training schedule, what you do during the rest portion of your interval sessions should be based on how you feel. Since there are three things you can do during rest – stand, walk, or jog – I will cover each one specifically and demonstrate when it would be best used.
Standing, or more accurately depicted as the hunched-over, hands-on-your-knees, sucking air pose, is not a resting position of choice. However, when you’re doing some intense intervals, choice isn’t always available. I wouldn’t really call gasping for air something you should try to accomplish, but it does happen on occasion, and when the time comes, you just have to do your best to catch your breath and get back to the starting line for the next repeat.
If your rest is pitifully short, say 30 -60 seconds. Sometimes you only have a few seconds after you catch your breath before you have to get back to running hard. In this case, standing for 15-30 seconds is a fine option, especially if you’re having a tough time with the workout. You should use the brief time between intervals to take a deep breath, calm your breathing, and pump yourself up for another hard effort.
Walking is usually the best option for rest periods between 1 and 3 minutes. After the initial fatigue from finishing the previous repeat dissipates, begin to walk around slowly to help keep the blood flowing to your muscles. If you’re still gasping for air, stand-up straight and put your hands on your head. Keeping upright helps open the diaphragm, letting in precious oxygen. Walking also makes it easier to catch your breath once your up off the hands and knees position.
Sometimes you might have a rest that is anywhere from 3-5 minutes long, in which case a very slow jog after you’ve caught your breath is the best option. Like walking, a slow jog helps keep the blood flowing through your legs and body, which will make the start of the next repeat a little less jarring on the body.
For some intervals, you’ll find that you don’t finish all that out of breath and don’t feel that fatigued (this can be by design). If this is the case, and you have longer than 90 seconds to rest, jogging is a good way to stay moving and make the workout feel more continuous.
In terms of pace, the jog should be more like a shuffle than a run. You’re not trying to set records or prove how tough you are – your goal is to get as recovered as possible for the next repeat. I often find that a pace about 1 or 2 minutes slower than your normal easy pace is a good fit.
What if the workout isn’t going well?
If the workout isn’t going well – you’re not able to hit the paces, your feeling terrible, or you just don’t have enough time to recover between repeats – you have a few options: (1) slow down during the hard interval; (2) lengthen the rest; or (3) quit altogether.
Unless you feel that you’re going to die if you keep going, or you really know something is off, I don’t suggest quitting on the workout. If you do have to bag it, don’t be too hard on yourself, it happens to the best of us. The important thing is to put the workout behind you and not dwell on it. Don’t try to squeeze it in later in the week or make it up on another run. If the workout went bad enough for you to have to stop, it means your body was giving you a sign. If you have a coach, tell him or her and readjust the game plan if needed.
Contrary to our intuition, in most cases, I think the best option is so slow down the repeat. Unless the sole purpose of the workout is to develop your speed or to practice running at a certain pace, slowing down the interval and keeping the rest the same will better ensure that the workout hits the proper physiological systems.
Remember, when a coach or training plan assigns a pace to a workout, it’s merely an approximation or guide for the effort you need to put in. If the effort feels too hard, adjust the pace, not the rest.
So now that you’ve got the hard part down, it’s on to the easy portion of the workout – the hard repeats…Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.