Why Every Runner Can Benefit from Interval Workouts

This guest post was written by Runtastic

It’s not surprising that interval training is one of the most popular training methods out there. Interval running for beginners to running for weight loss to advanced runners, everyone can benefit in some way from running intervals.

It is not a new type of training either:

In competitive sports, interval training was first incorporated into training programs at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Czechoslovakian runner Emil Zatopek (3 gold medals at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games) was the most famous athlete to make intervals a regular part of his training for the 5k, 10k, and while he followed his marathon training schedule.

Over the last 20 years, interval training has found its way into recreational sports, too.

Today we are going to answer six of the most common questions runners have about interval training and show you how to do interval running effectively. Interval running has benefits for beginners, advanced, and even the best runners in the world, and it can help you run faster, lose weight faster, and get into shape faster than you ever have before:

Why Every Runner Can Benefit from Interval Workouts

What is a Intervals Running Workout?

Interval training is a type of training in which short periods of high-intensity effort alternate with less-intense recovery periods.

Intervals are considered to be one of the most efficient methods for enhancing athletic performance, which can get you to that big PR on race day.

The big advantage of interval training is that the total duration of work at maximum effort is greater than for one continuous run.

Or in other words, you can work out for a longer period of time at high intensity.

Look at it this way:

If you run for four minutes as fast as you can.

You have completed four minutes of hard running, but likely two minutes of faster running, followed by two minutes of just trying to survive.

Don’t worry, we have all been there!

But consider this:

During your next training session, if you run two minute intervals at the same intensity and two minutes of recovery in between, you can probably run faster in each of those intervals than you could in the four minutes straight you ran last time.

This also means you have run a total of eight minutes, with four at a much higher intensity, while running for twice as long as the continuous run.

Is Interval Training Only for Advanced Runners?

Short answer: No.

Here’s why:

Everyone from cardiac patients to high-performance athletes can engage in interval training.

People often falsely assume that interval training is synonymous with high intensity and is thus very strenuous.

But actually, the overall burden on the body can be controlled quite well.

There are two ways to do this:

  1. By adjusting the duration and the intensity of the work and recovery periods.
  2. By carefully selecting the total number of intervals.


If you run intervals at a 5k race pace, then it makes a big difference if you do one minute of work and two minutes of recovery compared to one minute of work and only 30 seconds of recovery.

The intervals with shorter breaks are much more strenuous.

Intervals are also a good idea for beginner runners who have difficulty running for extended duration.

Short walks between each run help reduce the overall intensity and strain on the body, and are nothing to be embarrassed about. 

Even the best runners in the world walk between their repetitions of interval training.

What are the Main Training Effects of Interval Running?

Studies have compared intense interval running with moderate continuous running.

There is evidence showing that much greater training effects can be achieved with interval running within the same period of training time.

Intense intervals improve your aerobic and anaerobic endurance, increases your VO2 max and improves your running performance.

Plus, the training stimulus on the muscles is higher in the case of intense interval runs.

This means that the muscles require a lot of energy for repairing and building muscle tissue during the recovery phase.

The post-workout “afterburn” effect also burns additional calories.

Great news if you are trying to lose weight safely.

What are the Most Common Mistakes Runners Make With Interval Training?

The biggest mistake people make with interval training is choosing the wrong intensity or not taking enough time to recover between intervals.

Beginner runners, in particular, often adopt a pace too fast for their current fitness and thus overtax themselves.

As a new runner, you don’t have any points of reference like your own personal training zones or race paces over various differences that you can use to develop your training plan.

That is why aerobic intervals are best for beginner runners to help them build up their basic endurance.

As a new runner:

The work period should not exceed 30 seconds and the recovery period should be twice as long.

Choose the pace of your intervals so you can maintain a consistent level of intensity and you can still run the last interval at the same speed as the first one.

It is also very important to warm up before starting to run intervals.

A proper warm-up routine is essential before intense efforts.

Even a 15-minute run at moderate intensity is enough to get your body ready to benefit from the positive effects of training and to reduce the risk of injury.

What Happens if You Overdo it?

People who are not used to interval running often start off way too fast. This means they may have to quit in the middle of a workout due to exhaustion.

It is important to incorporate intervals into your training routine gradually.

You should definitely avoid running intense intervals on several days in a row.

Otherwise, you run the risk of overuse injuries due to the high demand on your muscles and a lack of sufficient recovery time.

At the beginning, once a week is enough to get you accustomed to interval training.

Is There a Best Type of Interval Training for Different Distances? Or is it the Same for All Runners?

The individual intervals are determined based on your training goal and the distance of the race you are training for.

5k and 10k Training

High-intensity intervals are particularly good for preparing for short race distances like 5k and 10k.

For a 5k race, an appropriate interval workout would be:

5 x 3 minutes at 5k race pace with 3 minutes of jogging between runs.

For a 10k race, an appropriate interval workout would be:

4 x 5 minutes at 10k race pace with 3 minutes of jogging between runs.

Half Marathon and Marathon Training

Intervals are also an important and effective training method for runners training for a half marathon and following a marathon training schedule.

The difference lies in the length of the intervals and their intensity.

We discussed this further in our article on tempo intervals and how they can prepare you for your next marathon or half marathon race.

How do You Know How Much Rest to Take Between Intervals?

New runners should start with aerobic intervals with a work-to-rest ratio of 1:2.

What does this mean?

20 seconds of submaximal sprinting (approx. 85 % of your maximum sprint speed) followed by 40 seconds of walking.

The whole workout should last 20 minutes, or in other words, consist of 20 intervals in total.

What’s the bottom line?

Interval training is a highly effective training method.

When done properly, it is suitable for both beginning runners and professionals.

It can be used for a wide range of purposes; lose weight, boost performance or improve running form.

Therefore, it should be a regular part of every training program.

logo_main_blue_rgbWhether you’re looking to shed a few pounds, squeeze some exercise into your day or improve the quality of your sleep, you’re sure to find plenty of tips and tricks on the Runtastic blog! Runtastic’s content team is a high-powered mix of dietitians, certified personal trainers, running coaches and former professional athletes, all ready & eager to help boost your motivation and enhance your performance.

Runtastic is a content partner of Runners Connect.

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