Three Things To Know About Intervals For Beginning Runners
- Do unstructured speed work for the fun of it. Start with strides and fartleks.
- When you do the intervals, go as hard as you can consistently for the time or distance.
- Only do two interval sessions per week. Doing more can set you up for injuries.
You’ve finished your first race, and now you want to beat your time.
To get faster, high-intensity intervals are the best tool to maximize your training effort in a minimum amount of time.
There’s a lot of research that suggests regular “high-intensity interval training” HIIT workouts are highly effective at improving your speed, overall performance, and running economy.
But how much faster and how often do you have to run to make the optimal improvements.
The answer, as almost always, is it depends: on your current fitness, your goals, and your experience.
Improve Your 5k or 10k Times Through Interval Training
If you are already running five or six-minute miles and love using precise time splits for your training, this article is not for you!
But if you’re trying to improve your 5k or 10k times, we’ll discuss some guidelines for your interval training.
In general, my guidelines to all my everyday runners is to do one long run a week, no more than two HIIT sessions of different intensities, and perhaps one moderate day.
This is in addition to regular strength training and yoga practice each week.
Setting Up A Program To Have Fun And Go Fast
My client, Moriah, started running last year during the pandemic to deal with the stress.
We started working together a few months ago, and we set up a program of just running three to four miles four to five days a week for fun.
The fun and stress relief were really all she wanted.
But then she did a few races for fun, and realized she had a little bit of speed inside and wanted to go faster.
We Started With Stride Intervals And Added Fartleks
We started with simple strides or unstructured mini-sprints where she would just run faster for a block.
She liked those, so we added some fartleks, or speed play.
Fartleks are like longer strides, just some unstructured sections where she runs faster.
How much faster?
At that point, it was as fast as she felt she wanted to go.
The key with fartleks, though, was to keep running at an easy pace after the surge.
Remember, our whole goal was to maintain the fun and stress-relief of running!
We did the speed work once or twice a week when it worked in her schedule.
Moriah Is Ready For More Structured Work With Intervals
Moriah has a bit more drive now to improve her speed.
So we’ve added some more specific HIIT work to her program.
Again, we’re keeping it a little unstructured.
We’re looking to do around 400 meter HIIT sessions.
So she’s finding a roughly square block in her city and running as fast around it as she can in an effort that lasts two to four minutes.
That’s the key.
As fast as possible, but consistently.
Start a little slower than you think you can manage, then speed up.
She’ll take a break to bring her breathing back to sort of normal, then go again.
We started with two of these, and we’re building up to five or six.
High-Intensity Intervals Have Big Positive Effects For New Runners
These HIIT sessions have several positive effects for a beginning runner.
First, the increased speed forces you to work on your running stride – known as your efficiency or economy.
(I know both of these technically are different descriptors but that’s for higher-level runners.)
To run faster, you’ll need to lift your knee a little more, drive more with your down leg.
Doing hill HIIT workouts are a great way to improve your running form.
The workouts also help improve your VO2max, or the maximum rate you can use oxygen to fuel your workout.
As a beginner, you have a lot of room to improve your VO2max, and HIIT is one of the most effective ways of doing so.
Tabata-Style Intervals Can Help Boost Fitness More
Another way of doing HIIT work are the Tabata-style workouts, and these are sessions we’ll probably add to Moriah’s plan soon.
Tabata is a scientist who looked at the most effective way to build fitness among cyclists.
He came up with a four-minute interval where cyclists ride 20 seconds as hard as possible with 10 seconds rest, and repeat.
Other variations have been 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off; 40/20, or 30/30.
Each of these HIIT sessions is a great way of building fitness.
The downside appears to be that the research suggests the fitness doesn’t last as long as with longer intervals.
So the jury is out on the long-term effect of the short intervals.
Moriah Getting Faster With Interval and Strength Work
The benefits of HIIT for beginning, even intermediate runners can be immense.
Plus the workouts are short, giving you more time to recover and less overall training time.
Moriah has already dropped her minute per mile time a lot since we started.
We’re going to keep working on building her leg, hip, and core strength while building her speed.
She has no plans to run marathons, but doing some Spartan races or challenging 10ks or half-marathons are definitely on her adventure goal list.
Still Curious About What You Can Achieve?
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