Interval Training – The Recovery

Interval Training – The Forgotten Dimension

According to clever guys in white coats, we live in a multi-dimensional universe. And your interval training is no different. In this quick piece we will discuss the often forgotten 4th and 5th dimension of interval training –  recovery length and type! We will see how the recovery can in fact be the defining feature of the session (and not simply just a “rest”) and transform the physiological adaptations your session stimulates.

So what are the first three dimensions? Well these are our standard metrics by which we define our interval sessions:

  • Length of intervals (e.g. 800m)
  • No. of intervals (e.g. 10)
  • Speed of intervals (e.g. 5k pace)

It’s all rather sad, recovery tends to be an afterthought: “just enough to make sure you’re good to do the next rep” is often the amount of thought that goes into it, and I am certainly as guilty as the next runner in this respect. If instead we avoid thinking of the recovery as a “rest” period and embrace the recovery period as a positively defining element of your interval session, you can accurately target specific physiological adaptations and add variety to your sessions. That is, by considering the 4th and 5th dimensions:

  • Recovery length (e.g. 1 min, 200m etc)
  • Recovery type (standing, jogging, steady running etc)

Here’s an example. By changing the length and type of the recovery, we are completely transforming a 200m interval session:

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Interval Training Session 1

12 x 200m, with 3 min slow jog recovery.

With 3 mins slow jog recovery, these 200m reps will be pretty much flat out because the slow jog recovery should enable a full “clearing out” of waste products generated during the preceding interval. Physiologically this session will stimulate adaptations in your neuromuscular system (helping running economy) and your anaerobic energy system. A great raw speed session for early on in your training cycle.

Interval Training Session 2

12 x 200m, with 200m steady running recovery (45-60 secs).

Now we have a very different session on our hands. With these short, steady running recoveries (e.g steady = mara pace + 30-45 secs) we have a high-end aerobic session (VO2 max). The intervals should be run at between 1500m and 3000m pace, making this session great for improving your high-end aerobic performance, lactic clearance (during the steady recoveries) and improving form/efficiency with faster than 5k pace running. A fantastic session for 5k-10k runners 6-8 weeks out from racing.

As you can see, by considering the 4th and 5th dimensions, we have completely transformed a 12 x 800m session. We now have 5 variables we can use to define our sessions – the possibilities are endless!