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Training Tips

Why Do Interval Training?

on July 19, 2019

Many individual and group Zwift Run workouts consist of intervals. So what is interval training and why do we do it? Let's look at how interval training will make you faster, fitter, and leaner--all in a shorter amount of time than other training methods.

What IS interval training?

You may already have come across the term “High-Intensity Interval Training” or HIIT. Although this is a relatively new buzzword, this kind of workout has been incorporated into training regimes for many years.

In essence, interval training involves repeated short periods of high-intensity activity followed by a period of rest. For runners, this means running fast, then running slower or walking, then repeating.

Types of Intervals

There are countless different types of interval training you can do, some based on time, some on distance. Here are a few examples:

  • Fartleks - The word is Swedish and means ‘speed play’. This is a generalized term so it can mean almost any kind of interval. Perhaps run fast between a pair of lampposts and recover between the next. Or, run for 30 seconds and walk for 1 minute.
  • Yasso 800s - Used in marathon training. 10x800m on a track with between 200 and 400m recovery. The theory is that if you want to do a sub 4-hour marathon, you should be able to run each of the 10 repetitions in 4 minutes… or 3 minutes for a 3-hour marathon, etc.
  • Hill Reps - Yes, hill training can be interval training at the same time. Choose a hill which is not so steep that you can’t run it. Hard effort up the hill, turn around and recover on the way down. Repeat approximately 8 times.
  • Minute On, Minute Off - Does what it says on the tin. Run at near max effort for 60 seconds and walk or jog lightly for 60 seconds. In just 20 minutes you’ll complete 10 high-intensity reps.

How Does it Work in Zwift?

If you join an event like Workout Wednesday on Zwift, you will find a variety of different interval sessions. They are based on speed and distance and will include a warm up and cool down period.

You need to make sure you enter the event in the correct pace group so you are running with people of similar ability. This kind of training is always better when you have people alongside to keep you going!

In pace Group B for example, you might run 6x800m at 14kph with a recovery of 200m at 8.5kph between each one. If you need more recovery time, you simply slow your treadmill down further so it takes longer to cover the 200m recovery distance.

With individual workouts, the pace of each session is based on your pace settings in Zwift. You can manually alter these, or they will be automatically set for you based on your other runs.

What Are the Benefits?

  • Weight Loss - Interval training will burn more calories faster than continuous running. So in terms of weight loss, doing intervals for 30 minutes is better than running nonstop for 30 minutes.
  • Endurance - Pushing yourself to maintain a fast pace, especially towards the end of an interval session, will help improve your aerobic and anaerobic endurance and increase your VO2 Max. This means over time you will be able to run faster and longer.
  • Speed - Interval training will also cause micro-tearing of the muscles. As long as you eat quality macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) your muscles will rebuild and recover stronger than they were before. Along with the gains in cardio function, this should translate to a faster running speed overall.
  • Time - It is possible to make these gains and improvements without interval training. The beauty of HIIT is that it requires less time exercising in order to see the results. However, this doesn’t mean you should neglect other areas of your run training, especially if you are training for long-distance events.

New Runners

If you are new to running you need to start sensibly to avoid injury or overexertion. The interval period should be shorter than the rest period by about half.

You might try running fast for 30 seconds and then recovering for 1 minute. Over time, the idea is to reduce the rest period and increase the high-intensity portion of the workout.

Long-Distance Training

Interval training is not just for improving your speed and endurance over 5K or 10K distances. You can also use interval training to good effect in marathon training. Short, high-intensity sessions should be a part of your weekly plan, for the reasons listed above.

You can also build some longer intervals into your training. Tempo intervals are great for building endurance and speed over distance. Try running for 10 minutes at just over marathon or half marathon pace then recovering for between 5 and 10 minutes. Then repeat that over a one to two-hour session.

Out of your Comfort Zone

Interval training should take you out of your comfort zone. It’s very easy to settle into a regular routine of running 5k two or three times a week at a steady pace. But in order to improve, to get faster, to be able to run longer, you must push yourself to step out of that comfort zone.

Interval training will get your heart pumping to its max. It will get your legs moving faster and it will get your lungs bursting from your chest. But when you put in a huge effort, you are almost guaranteed huge rewards.