Skip to Content

What is sprint interval training? Benefits + 3 sample workouts

Share

Many runners have a love-hate relationship with sprint interval training.

Interval training is an excellent way to add intense aerobic and anaerobic exercises into your training routine without having to complete long traditional runs and workouts.

As a form of speed training, interval training used by many in the running community to help them run faster.

So if you have been running consistently but you’re not seeing any improvements in your running times, then interval training may just be the secret to unlock your next PB. 

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • What is sprint interval training?
  • What are the benefits of sprint interval training?
  • How to incorporate sprint interval training into your training
  • How sprint interval training compares to other forms of speed training
  • 6 sprint interval training tips
  • 3 sample interval workouts

Ready?

Let’s get started!

interval training benefits for runners

What is sprint interval training?

Sprint interval training is basically a training method that combines periods of short, intense bursts of speed (sprints) with slow recovery periods of mild activity like walking or jogging.

Along with Fartlek training and tempo running, interval training is a form of speed training.

If practiced regularly as part of a structured training plan, interval training can help to improve your speed, strength and endurance as a runner.

When it comes to running intervals, each interval should be run at an intensity of between 75% to 80%. So think 7 or 8 out of 10 on the effort scale.

There are two main forms of interval training:

  • Time-based interval training
  • Distance-based interval training

Time-based interval training

In a time-based workout, the intervals are timed. Here is a sample time-based interval workout:

  • Run for 45 seconds at 75% intensity followed by 60 seconds of light jogging or walking.
  • Repeat 3 times.

Distance-based interval training

In a distance-based workout, the intervals are based on distance. Here is a sample distance-based workout:

  • Run for 400 metres at 75% intensity, followed by 60 seconds of light jogging or walking.
  • Repeat 3 times

Related: How to run faster: 5 top training secrets

What are the benefits of sprint interval training?

There are many interval training benefits – from improving your speed and endurance to making you a more confident runner.

Here are the benefits of sprint interval training:

  1. Improves your speed and endurance
  2. Delivers benefits more quickly compared to long runs
  3. Burns more calories
  4. Adds more variation into your training plan
  5. Makes you a more confident runner
  6. Improves your cardiovascular health

#1 Improves your speed and endurance

By far one of the biggest interval training benefits for runners is the positive impact it has on your speed and endurance. 

In order to increase your speed you need to be experimenting with different paces during your training.

Simply put, the more used you get to running at a faster speed during training, the more likely you will be able to perform on race day.

Interval training stimulates physiological changes in your body that can have positive effects on your endurance and stamina levels. 

High intensity exercise, inside and outside of running, helps your body burn lactic acid more effectively, thus allowing you to exercise for longer before fatigue sets in.

Ultimately, interval training is considered one of the best ways to train your body to run faster and farther with more energy. 

#2 Delivers benefits more quickly compared with long runs

Interval training can be considered as one of the most efficient forms of cardio and can deliver benefits much more quickly than typical cardio workouts such as a long run. 

So if you’re short on time, or don’t feel like going for a long run, then interval training is a perfect way to fit in a run and a workout. 

Most interval training sessions last anything from between 5 to 30 minutes depending on how many intervals you are doing. 

Just be sure to adjust the intensity of the session according to your fitness levels.

If you’re a beginner runner, then shorter bursts of running with a longer recovery time are best.

#3 Burns more calories

You may be wondering: “Is interval running better for weight loss?”

Many studies have shown that bursts of high intensity exercise are more effective than long, slow endurance exercise to help you burn calories and lose weight. 

While there is no best way to lose weight through running, intense workouts like interval training are better for burning calories.

So if your goal with running is weight loss, then interval training might just be the option for you. 

#4 Adds variation into your training plan

Many runners swear by the long run to achieve their race goals.

However, there’s a lot to be said for interval training in terms of adding variety into what could otherwise be a very boring and stale training plan.

A solid training plan should include a mixture of easy runs, long runs and speedwork like interval training to get you where you need to be on race day. 

So if you’re looking for something different and like the idea of mixing up your pace, then interval training is great for this.

#5 Makes you a more confident runner

There are many mental benefits of interval training that in turn do wonders for your running confidence. 

Think about it: the more interval training you do, the more likely you are to be able to run faster for longer, including on race day, which brings nothing but positive vibes. 

You’ll also be safe in the knowledge on race day that you’ve done all the necessary preparation to smash the race and achieve your next PB. 

#6 Improves your cardiovascular health

High intensity training like interval training has many benefits for your cardiovascular health.

By cardiovascular, we mean anything related to your circulatory system, so your heart, lungs and the method by which oxygen gets transported around the body.

What does this mean in practical terms? Your heart becomes stronger and more efficient therefore increasing the amount of blood that it can pump per beat.

The risk of heart disease and high blood pressure is also decreased. 

Related: HIIT workouts for runners: The complete guide

interval training benefits for runners

How to incorporate sprint interval training into your training

There are a few ways to incorporate interval training into your training plan.

The most important thing is that you start low and ease into interval training, especially if you’re new to running intervals.

It is recommended you complete interval training as a standalone activity or after an easy run.

Remember to run each interval at an intensity between 75% to 80%, then take a recovery walking/jogging break in between each interval.

As with any form of training, the key is to be consistent to really see the benefits in your performance.

  • If you’re a beginner runner, aim to include 1-2 interval training sessions per week.
  • If you’re an intermediate or advanced runner, aim to do 2-3 interval training sessions per week.

Related: How to run an 8 minute mile

How does sprint interval training compare to other forms of speed training?

Whilst interval training is popular in the running community, it isn’t the only way to improve your speed, strength and endurance as a runner.

Here are the other forms of speed training:

Interval training, tempo running and hill sprints are seen as structured forms of speed training, whereas strides and Fartlek training are more unstructured in nature.

Related: What is a good half marathon time? Average half marathon times by age and gender

interval training benefits for runners

6 sprint interval training tips

Now that you know about sprint interval training, here are some training tips:

#1 Remember to warm up

A warm up is essential for a high intensity session like interval training to prepare your body and reduce the risk of injury.

Aim to do a warm up for at least five minutes before for run and include light jogging as well as dynamic exercises.

#2 Don’t run too fast

Remember to run each interval at an intensity between 75% to 80%, then take a recovery walking/jogging break in between each interval.

Anything higher than this and you risk overload, fatigue and burnout.

#3 Use an interval runner app

There are many running apps on the market nowadays that provide a simple and effective way to time and track your intervals.

Use an app like the Interval Timer app to help you track and time your intervals.

#4 Remember to include a recovery period in between each interval

In between each interval, include a walking or jogging break.

This will give your body enough time to recover in between each hard effort.

#5 Listen to your body

Sprint intervals can be quite taxing on the body, especially if you’re new to them.

Listen to your body and run at a pace that is comfortable for you.

If you feel pain at any point during the interval or during the recovery period in between, stop and take a step back.

#6 Allow for progression and variety

As your body gets used to this new form of training, you’ll want to allow some room for progression.

There’s no use in running the same lot of intervals each week. You’ll need to vary the time or distance and allow for a 10% increase every week.

Get into the habit of alternating speed training like intervals and tempo running, as well as the occasional hill repeats.

These will develop all the relevant energy systems for use in performance.

Related: Running 5 miles a day: Benefits + how to start

interval training benefits for runners

3 sample sprint interval training workouts

#1 Beginner interval workout

3 x 45 seconds interval at 75% intensity followed by 60 seconds recovery jog/walk.

  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes with dynamic exercises and light jogging.
  • Run for 45 seconds at 75% intensity followed by 60 seconds of light jogging or walking.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Perform this workout twice a week, adding an extra interval cycle every 3 to 4 weeks.

#2 Intermediate interval workout

6 x 60 seconds interval at 75% intensity followed by 45 seconds recovery jog, with a 60 second rest in between intervals 3 and 4.

  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes with dynamic exercises and light jogging.
  • Run for 60 seconds at 75% intensity followed by 45 seconds of light jogging.
  • Repeat 3 times, then have a 60 second rest before completing a further 3 times.
  • Perform this workout three times a week, adding an extra interval cycle each week.

#3 Advanced interval workout

6 x 30 seconds interval at 75% intensity followed by 30 seconds recovery jog, with a 30 second rest in between intervals 4 and 5.

  • Warm up for 5-10 minutes with dynamic exercises and light jogging.
  • Run for 60 seconds at 75% intensity followed by 30 seconds of light jogging.
  • Repeat 4 times, then have a 60 second rest before completing a further 2 times.
  • Perform this workout three times a week, adding an extra interval cycle each week.

Related: 8 ways to run for longer without getting so tired

Caroline Geoghegan
Follow
Latest posts by Caroline Geoghegan (see all)

Share