Interval running is the practice of alternating periods of running and walking. Once primarily used as a way to build up to continuous running, the interval approach has become a running style in and of itself. I know lots of runners who choose to use the run/walk interval style as a way of running, even though they could run the whole distance if they wanted to.
For beginners, interval running is a great way to ease into running while allowing your body time to adapt to the stress of running, and for experienced runners, it can allow you to cover greater distances (and sometimes run faster) because you can build small periods of recovery into your run.
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Benefits of Running Intervals
Aids in Weight Loss Management
Interval running promotes weight loss and helps burn calories.
Helps Reduce Stress Levels
Interval running improves your mood and hormonal health. Interval running helps reduce cortisol, notoriously known as the ‘stress hormone’.
Improves Cardiovascular Health
Interval running is an effective method to enhance your cardiovascular system and metabolism.
How to Run Intervals
Interval running is an easy way to stay fit and improve your performance as a runner. Depending on your main goals you can choose the type of interval running that fits your better. There are two broad categories of intervals:
- Timed intervals
- Distance intervals
With timed intervals, you run for a specific period of time and then take time to recover in between each run segment. The recovery time can be as long as your running segment or even a bit longer if needed.
Example: Run for 1 minute; walk for 1 minute
As your fitness improves, you increase the running portion of the interval and/or decrease the walking portion.
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Tools you need for timed intervals:
An interval timer, or an app for your phone, like the Tabata Timer.
If you are looking for a nice interval timer you can hold or clip onto your clothing, I recommend the Gymboss interval timer. It is what a lot of run/walk runners use as you can set your interval, as well as set how many sets you want to complete.
It is about the size of a deck of cards and is powered by a single AAA battery.
If you are looking for a great running watch, check out our Garmin GPS Watch Buyer’s Guide.
With distance intervals you run a specific distance and then walk for approximately the same time it took you to run the interval, or use a set recovery time in minutes or seconds. You then repeat this for the duration of your workout until you have completed the total distance you were planning to run. Note: Your fitness level will dictate the length of time you can run and the amount of time you need to recover. You should adjust times based on your ability, not what a ‘plan’ says.
Example: Run 1 mile; walk 1-3 minutes
Tools you might need – A GPS watch like a Garmin Forerunner. Most Garmin’s have a lap function that lets you see your pace for your distance intervals. A running watch can also help you track your speed per particular distance. The Garmin 45 is a great watch for runners with a built-in interval timer you can set by distance or time. It can also track other metrics like pace, distance, heart rate and has other activity monitoring capabilities.
User-friendly apps like MapMyRun and Runkeeper may also come in handy. You can specify location and distance and check out the routes that other people have saved and learn about new running trails or routes.
Types of Interval Running Workouts for Beginners
Run/Walk Method with Timer
The most popular way of running intervals is running and walking with a timer. There are a lot of great resources and training plans for interval training. Basically, your workout is broken into run segments, with a short walking segment used for recovery. The length of your running and recovery segment is varied depending on your fitness level or goal. Here is an example of how this training method works:
- Ready the timer
- Run 2 minutes
- Walk 1 minute
- Repeat for a total duration of 30-45 minutes
The goal is to increase the running portion over time systematically.
Note: If you would like to learn how to build your own custom training plans that are personalized to you, RunBuzz is here to help! I offer LIVE, interactive online training workshops to teach you how to build and modify your own training plans. You will walk away with a custom training plan YOU BUILT, and the knowledge that will last a lifetime of running.
Running Intervals On Treadmill
One of the best tools for running intervals is a treadmill. You can find it in every gym and train with comfort regardless of rain and snow, which is a common excuse for beginners to skip the running session.
Here is how you can start with:
- Run for 1/10th of a mile at the speed you can sustain
- Walk for 2/10ths of a mile
- Don’t hesitate to slowly increase speed or shorten the walking interval
When you get comfortable, try to increase the run and sprint intervals and the number of reps.
Note: If this type of interval running is a bit hard for you, start with walking on the treadmill with an incline. Example: Walk 2/10th of a mile at a 2% grade and then walk 2/10ths at a 0% grade.
Interval Running Tips for Beginners
Running isn’t easy. Even thinking about going for just a short run can be overwhelming, especially for a beginner. Run-walk intervals can help make running manageable. Knowing that you only have to run for the next 30 seconds, or minute, or whatever your interval might be, is a huge confidence booster. Instead of groaning, “I’ll never make it”, you can affirm, “I can do anything for one more minute.” This can make all the difference between hitting the pavement or staying on the couch.
Go Farther, Faster
Rather than running until your legs are exhausted, take walk breaks before your legs are fatigued. This helps keep you going longer and feel better while doing it (bonus: you’ll also feel better the day after). Why? Because walk intervals give your running muscles a short rest, allowing them to come back refreshed for the next round of running. In other words, they allow you to extend your workout without feeling like you’re going to die. Here’s an even cooler fact: while it may sound counter-intuitive, most people employing the run-walk approach actually log faster times overall than when they run without taking walk breaks. Thanks to the recovery effect, your pace while running an interval is faster than when you’re running continuously. This speed increase makes up for the slower pace during the walking intervals.
Listen to your body – whatever feels best for you is the best way to run.