And keep you from getting bored on those long, steady-state slogs...

By Ashley Mateo
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Photo: wundervisuals / Getty Images

You know what gets old, fast? Running the same pace, every day, for the same amount of time. Challenging yourself in fitness-whether that means doing more reps, lifting heavier weights, or running faster or farther-is where the magic happens. Translation: You get stronger, faster, and better.

"Interval running workouts are the opposite of steady-state running (or endurance runs), where you keep the same pace the whole time," explains Nicole Glor, a certified Precision Running coach at Equinox. "Intervals can vary by the speed of sprints, grades of hills, and the length of the work versus your recovery time."

Why All Runners Should Do Interval Running

What's the point of changing your pace throughout a run? Interval running workouts-with short bursts of intense exercise followed by lower-intensity recovery periods-net you similar benefits as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), says Glor. "You burn more calories faster, you challenge your strength and endurance, and it helps prepare you for an actual race, where you probably won't maintain the exact same pace for the whole time." Science agrees: Interval training improves your performance more than training at moderate intensities, according to research published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

"Runners who are new to interval training will see large and rapid improvements in VO2 max, a marker of cardiovascular health (or how efficiently your body uses oxygen); increased muscle size, strength, and power; and increased overall endurance, and probably improved energy throughout the day," says Alex Harrison, Ph.D., USA Track & Field–certified run coach and sport performance coach for Renaissance Periodization. Bonus: Because you're switching things up, you're a lot less likely to get bored. (Just don't go overboard. Read about the downsides of HIIT sprint training.)

How to Include Intervals In Your Training

Not all interval running is the same, and there are several different types you should be doing if you want to get stronger and faster-read on for the four main types to try. But before you start incorporating interval running workouts into your routine, you should have a solid base of three to six weeks of "just running" under your belt, says Harrison. From there, start with a basic interval workout or hill repeats.

Experts recommend interval training just once a week-maybe twice if you're experienced and looking to PR in your next race. (So, yes, there's still room for your LISS workouts.)

Interval Workouts

"Intervals running workouts are broadly defined as any defined distance of higher effort. In terms of running, it usually refers to 30-second to five-minute efforts interspersed with active or passive recovery," says Harrison. During the work interval, you should be running hard enough that you can't hold a conversation with your running buddy. During the rest period, you should be able to fully recover (even if that means walking!).

Sample Interval Workout

  • Work: 800 meters at an 8 out of 10 effort
  • Recover: Walk or jog 200m
  • Repeat 3 to 4 times
  • Rest for 3 minutes
  • Repeat the whole thing 2 or 3 times

Fartlek Workouts

This funny word means "speed play" in Swedish, says Glor. And that's what you're doing: varying your speed throughout a run. "A fartlek is essentially an 'unstructured' interval running workout, meaning your work efforts and rest periods are flexible in duration and intensity," says Harrison. They also improve your speed, VO2 max, lactate threshold (the intensity of exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood faster than it can be removed, which will eventually tank your performance), and general aerobic endurance. You don't need set times or distances for a fartlek. Try upping your pace between two telephone poles, then slowing down between the next two, and so on. (Here's more about fartlek workouts and three sample workouts to try.)

Fartlek Workout

  • 4 miles total
  • 8 x 1 minute at a harder (8 out of 10) effort at random times throughout

Hill Repeats

This is exactly what it sounds like: You run up a hill, jog back down for recovery, then repeat. "The multiple repetitions of higher intensity efforts are great because they force high consumption of oxygen without making you increase your pace," says Harrison. They're even better than interval running workouts on a flat road for building strength and power in athletes who don't resistance train, he says; that's because "hills work your calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings more than a flat road," adds Glor. "It's almost like adding stairs or squats." Bonus: More muscle activity means more calorie burn and more work for your heart, which is great for increasing your endurance. (If you want more, try this hill workout for runners.)

Treadmill Hill Workout

  • Run 1 minute at a 4 to 6 percent incline at a pace you can sustain for four minutes
  • Walk or jog for 60 seconds at a 1 percent incline
  • Repeat for a total of 5 reps
  • Rest for 4 minutes (walking at a 1 percent incline)
  • Repeat the whole circuit once more

Sprints

These super-fast efforts shouldn't last more than 15 to 20 seconds, says Harrison-but they are intense. "A sprint is an effort that is performed at 90 percent or greater of the maximum speed that it could be performed for a one-off effort," he explains. If you're doing other interval running, most runners don't need to do sprints, he says-"your time would probably be better spent running longer interval workouts or just longer distances at faster-sustained paces." But if you're an experienced runner who feels limited by your speed, running fast will indeed make you faster. Just make sure you're a) running way out of your comfort zone for five to 15 seconds, and b) fully recovering after each sprint. (See: How to Make the Most of Your Sprint Workouts)

Sprint Workout

  • 6 x 50–100m at 93 to 98 percent of max speed
  • 4- to 5-minute walk recovery between each sprint

OR

  • 4 x 200m at 90 to 95 percent of max speed
  • 5- to 8-minute walk recovery between each sprint

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