Friday, September 17, 2010

What's The Best Way To Do An Interval Workout

As you've read in this week's Sweet 16 Marathon training plans, wanting to run  faster almost always mean having to do interval training. And all of the research published on interval training have pointed to increased fitness and running faster running times.

That doesn't mean you can run intervals 4 to 5 times a week though coz' that will be like taking an express train to over training and injury occurring. So here's the catch with interval training, it looks like it's purely a science - do the work and improvement follows correct? Well, it's actually just as much an art according to this research paper from Australian researchers I chanced upon recently. 

Instead of following a fixed formula like waiting until your heart rate (HR) drops to a certain number before your next interval or resting as long as the time taken for your previous interval ran, the researchers suggested that listening to your body might be the best way after all. They coined the termed "teleoanticipation" or what they say is perceived readiness to run your next interval.

Here's what the researchers asked a group of competitive runners do during a standard interval session of 5 x 1 km at 90% of their tested all out 1 km time. For recovery, the runners A) waited for their HR to return to 130 beats; B) rest as long as their interval time - about 3:18 min; C) rest until they "felt" they can run at 90% effort.

When they followed their HR, the runners did not recover enough, and they slowed dramatically on the last three repeats. Methods B and C had similar outcomes with one highly interesting difference - when the runners were recovering by "feel", the runners chose shorter recoveries than those assigned by method B. That is, they were able to maintain their times in the 1km repeats, but in less total workout time. This probably means that the C workouts were  more efficient (or productive) than the B workouts. As you see, interval training can be more of an art than a science.

The researchers suggested that this way of running intervals should not replace all other training principles that you have used previously but to keep this in mind while considering the whole training process. 

Personally I guess this is a good and practical way of training as it may mean you do not need to shell out extra money to get a HR monitor. This also gives athletes a systematic approach to train at their own pace (especially in a group setting) given that they will need to rely on their own pacing during a race so this makes good sense to practice pacing in training as well.


Edwards AM, Bentley MB et al (2010). Self-pacing In Interval Training: A Teleoanticipatory Approach. Psychophysiology. 28 June Epub. DOI: 1111/j. 1469-8986.2020.01034.x

* Picture by RS

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