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Teaching by Peter Hunter and blog in both Danish and English

Interval Running

Blog (EN)

Interval Running

Peter Hunter

Recently, I was inspired by a conversation with a good friend to start training intervals while running. We were walking through Berlin, talking about everything, including our tired feet at the end of the day. We discussed running the Berlin Marathon and running in general. I remembered some important facts about running, that I had learned from a talk given by a newly educated physiologist who told about the findings from a study he led in 2012 called "Kombistudiet".

So I went home and reread the study. It's conclusions are that

A) Long Slow Distance (LSD)-runs combined with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is more effective and less taxing on the body than tempo-runs (when you go far and fast in the same run).

B) Running combined with strength-training (heavy lifting) gives better results from a running perspective, than does running alone.

C) Health benefits and performance enhancement was achieved through A) and B) while DECREASING total running time. So training INTENSITY is a key variable.

These points, along with a clear intuition that running fast is something REALLY good, lie behind my intention to start up a regular interval training program. Maybe you haven't tried it before, but here are a couple of reasons to consider it:

Interval training or HIIT

  • will reacquaint you with the feeling of flight.

  • increases your metabolism

  • takes a really short time and has a higher impact on your conditioning than longer, slower runs. AKA more bang for the buck.

  • is a failproof way to stimulate human growth hormone (HGH) production and tissue repair in your body.

  • requires no equipment. You can do it where ever you want.

In the "combi-study", the strength-training they are talking about consists of plyometric exercises, that is explosive training of the legs and trunk involving jumping and squatting. But I think that many kinds of conditioning, including yoga, calisthenics and active mobility training will make your body better at running. So please don't JUST run! But RUN!

With this foundation of motivational facts and my views that might resonate with you, I will now introduce the form of interval training I find easiest. Its called 10-20-30 running, and it’s one of the mildest way to do it, while still retaining the benefits that simply don't come from lower intensity training.

As the figure explains, one 10-20-30-round means jogging for 30 seconds, running for 20 and sprinting for 10. For a danish introduction to 10-20-30 running, click here to read a good article on Vorespuls.dk. Before you go out and try it, remember that the load on your muscles, tendons and bones is huge when you run as fast as you can. I myself am the kind of person who has a tendency to over-train. That’s why I really recommend going slow in your progression. Be disciplined and begin with doing half of what you imagine is your limit. Bring as much awareness as you can into your high intensity training by FEELING your body as you work and as you recover, checking in with your joints.

With that in mind, if you feel reasonably strong and healthy, go ahead with the following steps.

  1. Warm up until you sweat. Warming up your ankle, knee and hip joints is absolutely essential to reduce the impact of explosive running on your joints. Be patient and spend at least 15 minutes on this.
  2. Do 3 - 5 rounds of 10-20-30 running. In each of the sprint-rounds lasting just 10 seconds, intend to run faster than you ever have.
  3. Remember to stretch! Do the warrior positions from yoga, sit on you heels, do some forward bending.
  4. Rest for at least 48 hours. Make sure you give your body lots of rest.
  5. Feel good that you have given your body the signals it needs to rebuild and repair itself. As you sleep you will grow stronger as your body super-compensates for the load of your training session.
  6. Repeat everything after 2-5 days or until (a day or two) after you stop feeling sore.

Here is a progression suggestion: Follow the steps above for a couple of weeks, for a total of about 6 sessions. Then give step 2 a slight modification, increasing the load:

First modification: Do 3 - 4 rounds of 10-20-30 running, rest for 2 minutes, then do 3 - 4 rounds again. (take a look at the figure above again)

After a another couple of weeks, another modification:

Second modification: Do 5 - 6 rounds of 10-20-30 running, rest for 2 minutes, then do 5 - 6 rounds again.

Continue to add load (rounds) until your workout is identical with the figure above (5 rounds followed by 2 minutes rest repeated 3 times).

I think that this program is safe for most people who are not dangerously inactive. But of course, I'm no professional. My motivation for writing this is to gather my knowledge about interval training and using it to create a rewarding and realistic training program for myself, without pushing my limits very hard. Maybe starting with the end in mind is a good idea: Imagine not feeling pain when you are out of breath, and not being out of breath very often. Imagine feeling that your body is conditioned to be under pressure. That your heart is healthy and that oxygen, life itself, runs smoothly inside you. That you can run, and run as fast as you can!

Maybe this will motivate you too - remember the ultimate fact in body conditioning: that the process of recovery and super compensation in your body needs to be triggered through training. The principle of "USE IT or LOSE IT" dominates our biology. Forces applied to our bodies create strain and micro tears in muscle-, tendon- and bone-tissue and this is what stimulates regeneration and growth. So…

Although I have some objections to the rampant tendency of quantifying (measuring) everything to do with fitness, it is wise to document your training sessions if you wish to be consistent with a certain plan, whatever it is. I once read in a yoga book, that the key to doing yoga is to do it all your life. I laughed when I read it, because daring to claim your whole life when trying to sell you something probably doesn’t optimize sales. It’s all about 4, 8 and 12 week programs, if not even less. I probably won't do interval running all my life according to the outline I have given in this post, but I am quite sure I will keep running throughout my lifetime, resting (more than) enough so I don't damage my body (studies show that running too much statistically reduces your lifespan because of artery clogging - for instance the Copenhagen City Heart Study).

So finally, my big message is:

Find a way to run that contributes to finding a healthy balance between the forms of movement you enjoy. Don't just run. Try interval training. See what happens!