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HIIT for Runners: A Brief How-To Guide

HIIT training

High intensity interval training is a great way for a runner to improve performance and become ready to compete in races. But it’s important to know how to go about it properly. Here is a brief how-to guide for you to begin high intensity interval training:



Decide on your goal


Are you starting interval training to get ready for a race? To train for a marathon? Or just to add some intensity to your routine? The answers to these questions matter, since your goal will determine how you approach the training.



Be race specific


If you are training for a marathon, your interval training will be quite different from the training of someone preparing for a mile race. A marathoner will tend to use longer repetitions (perhaps mile or 2 mile repeats), while a mile or 5km racer will prefer the shorter 400 and 800 meter runs. Whatever session you use should be specific to the race for which you are preparing.



Pick the proper pace


Interval training allows you to spend more time at your race pace than you could in one full-out effort. A mile racer could never spend 3 miles running at his fastest mile pace. But if he runs twelve 400 meter repeats, he gets to spend more time practicing his mile racing pace because of the interval recoveries.


With that said, it’s important to pick the right speed. You should not start your interval session at the fastest possible speed. It needs to be intense to get the best training effect, but you should strive for a pace that will allow you to finish strongly.


In general, if you are running 8-10 repetitions, you should start the first one slowest to ease into the pace. Then try to hit the middle repetitions exactly at your racing pace to become comfortable and familiar with this speed. Finally, aim to finish your last reps the fastest, to simulate the finishing sprint in a race, when you’ll need to dig deep and try to outkick your competition.



Use the proper recovery


The “interval” in interval training refers to the actual break in between runs, not the runs themselves. You should try to strike the proper balance here. If your interval is too short, you won’t have enough energy and recovery to keep up the right intensity. But if you wait too long, you’ll sacrifice the training effect you want to achieve. Interval training helps runners in part because it makes them used to running fast while fatigued. If you rest for too long, you lose that benefit.


The right amount of time to rest depends on how long the workout is and how fast you run your repeats. But in general, if you are running shorter 400 meter repeats, it’s a good idea to rest for about 1.5 times the amount of time spent running.


For example, if your repetition takes 1 minute, you would spend 90 seconds slowly walking or jogging. (It’s also important that you take an active recovery, instead of just standing still. This can cause lactic acid to pool in your muscles, which is not the effect you want). Longer repeats of 4-5 minutes can have an equal time spent recovering.



High intensity interval training: the competitive runner’s advantage


Interval training forms a key component of every serious runner’s toolbox. Racing involves running fast for long periods of time while in an increasing state of fatigue. If you want to race fast, you have to occasionally train fast. Part of racing well involves becoming used to the feelings of fatigue you fight during a race. And high intensity interval training is the best way to achieve this effect. If you want to take your training and racing to the next level, bring out your stopwatch and start your interval training!


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