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Interval Training

By Gemma | August 03, 2020 | Fitness

Whilst on Holiday with friends we got onto the topic of interval training for both speed and fitness gains. It is something that a lot of people shy away from. I believe it may be for a couple of reasons: 1: If done properly, it is horrendous (but amazing at the same time) as you have to push yourself a lot harder than you would normally in every interval and our brains are very good at telling us it is too hard, or we are not good enough. 2: It takes a lot of thought to be able to get the intervals right for what you want to achieve and people are sometimes unsure of exactly what they are supposed to be doing. 

So with this in mind....let me help.

Interval training is not only used in running, you can use the same principle in: cycling, and conventional gym exercises. The Key to interval training is ' you are working at a speed that is faster than you would race at (if running) or than you would normally go if you are doing conventional exercises'. 

But why? 

Going at different speeds for different amounts of time or distances, stresses our cardiovascular system in a different way to if we just stay at a comfortable speed. It improves both our aerobic and anaerobic capacity meaning that in the future we will be able to; exercise for longer, exercise at a more intense pace for longer and push to an even more demanding pace. 

As a runner I love this type of training and my race speeds would definitely not have improved without it. As I mentioned above I also use it with clients in their training sessions as it really benefits fitness and is also a good tool for changing body composition. It has also shown to lower insulin resistance and blood glucose control.

So What does it entail?   

This form of training involves working at a high-intensity period for a given amount of time followed by a rest period or low intensity period for another amount of time. The goal is to push as hard as you can (or for a goal pace) for the high-intensity phase and then either completely relax or perform a lower intensity exercise or pace to bring your heart rate back down. This is known as either a rest or relief phase.   

The amount of time, distance, sets etc really comes down to what you are training for, your current fitness level. If you are just starting out you will more than likely want to start off with shorter intervals and longer rest periods and if you are more advanced you can play around a bit more.   


If you are relatively new to running and want to improve your speed then you could try 1 minute running faster than normal and then 1 minute either plodding or walking. If you are more advanced then you could try running as fast as you can for 1 minute and then having either a walk or complete rest for 1-1.5 minutes dependent on how fast you ran and how cardiovascularly challenging it was. If you are trying to improve your pace over a longer distance, you may choose to do 1 mile intervals with either rest periods in between or a 500m run at a pace that is slower than normal. You may also want to do hill intervals to stress your system and muscles in a different way. So you can start to see how you can tailor it specifically for your goals.   

HIIT Training:

High Intensity Interval Training has become very popular over the last few years. It uses similar principles to the aspects I have explained above and is designed to improve athletic capacity and condition as well as glucose metabolism. The good news is you do not have to be an athlete to do it, and I guarantee if you have been to an exercise class in the last 5 years at some point you would have done some form of interval training without knowing it.

The problem with this type of training becoming so popular, is, it is rarely carried out to the intensity it needs to be in order to get the results we need. When we talk about a period of High-intensity, it means that the interval needs to be carried out a near maximal intensity (9 or 10 out of 10 RPE = Rate of perceived Exertion). In order to see whether you are achieving this a heart rate monitor is great. These periods are usually followed by either a rest, or a low-intensity section performed at 50% of your maximal intensity.

How do you know your interval/rest period?

We usually use a 2:1 work ratio, meaning your work period is usually twice as long as your rest period. The reason for this is, we do not want your heart rate to fall too much but we want it to recover a little so that you can push just as hard on your next work interval. High intensity periods can be anything from 20-60 seconds depending on your fitness. The most important aspect is that you can hold the maximal intensity for the given amount of time and that you try to achieve this through all your sets and don’t flake too much near the end! Of course your work effort will go down slightly but you still want to feel like you are giving it everything.

If your friend turns round to you and claims that they did a HIIT workout for around an hour, I can guarantee their High Intensity phases were not performed at maximum as this would be impossible unless they were a machine.

This type of training should leave you feeling knackered.

I hope this has been useful, if you need or want more information please email me: info@gemmafitness.co.uk