I'm curious how to best execute the two parts of an interval training session, as mentioned on Wikipedia:

Interval training can be described as short periods of work followed by rest.

  • I assume a constant pace is important in each short period of work, as is an exact distance, but how do you get to that pace as soon as possible, and how do you slow down quickly? What techniques are best?

I myself do the speeding up with a hop and a firm swing of my arms for the first step, followed by another firm swing with the arms in the next step, after which I'm on my target pace, more or less. I have no technique for quickly slowing down, though.

  • What do you need to do to maintain the target pace?

I find looking on my watch very distracting, but how else would one know if one's pace is constant? On the track, I know how many seconds I need per 100 m, and look on my watch when I pass the next 100 m mark, and calculate in my head when I should pass the next 100 m. Doing this math while a group of people is behind me, depending on me for running at a constant pace is somewhat stressful, especially in the first 100 m of a 800 m workout between intervals.

  • In the recovery part, is walking—as I see many of my peers do in intensive interval training—even an option, or should one continue running, be it at a slower pace? And if walking is a viable option, what would be the rationale behind that option?

2 Answers 2


True interval training is short bursts of very high intensity, followed by enough rest to allow you to complete the next interval at the target pace. Once you cannot meet the required time, you should stop the intervals for the day (Even if you have more to do).

The purpose behind interval training in running is to increase your top speed.

For example, say that your normal race pace for a 10k is 6:00 / mile, or 1:30 per 400. An interval training session might be something like:

1-2 mile warmup 10x400 @ 1:10, 3:00 rest. 1-2 mile cooldown

Rest is up to you, many people like to walk, others stand or sit or lie down. As long as you aren't walking at a pace that would impact the next interval, it's pretty much individual preference.

As far as pacing, that just takes practice. One thing that we used to do in track was pick a pace (such as 1:15 for a quarter mile), and try to be within 3-4 seconds of that pace. If you were way off, then you got to do it again until you could be consistently within a short range of your goal. After a while you get used to it, and you can "tell" what kind of pace you are running.

  • I would like to know your opinion on how important you think it is that (1) one reaches the target pace quickly and (2) one starts slowing down after the target distance is reached? May 23, 2014 at 13:26
  • @RenéVanBelzen - 1: Very quickly. If it takes you 100m of 400m to get to speed, you're not really doing the interval correctly. and 2: Whatever you feel like. As long as what ever you do between intervals doesn't make it harder/impossible to meet your goal time, do what you like.
    – JohnP
    May 23, 2014 at 17:16
  • The recovery and speed of effort really comes down to what you are training for. A marathon running may do 400m off of a minute recovery or less(and may even jog the recovery). Someone training for 5k or less would do the 400m faster, and would have longer recovery. Don't worry bout getting to speed. After a while you will learn pace judgement. Learning what speed to start, at a pace you can maintain, all comes with experience May 26, 2014 at 21:34
  • @Tracyat2bactive - Doing intervals with lesser/active recovery like that is more of a threshold workout than an interval workout. Threshold is done at or near race pace, on short recovery periods. Intervals are done faster than race pace with long recovery. Intervals increase top end speed, threshold increases the time you can spend at the faster pace.
    – JohnP
    May 27, 2014 at 15:09
  • @JohnP - i know what threshold running is, when I say recovery jog, I mean recovery jog. Ie the heart rate comes down significantly, and the interval would be as fast as you can go given the short recovery. I agree it's a different type of training. It's speed endurance as opposed to pure speed intervals. I did say it depends what you're training for, and that the shorter recovery would be for distances such as the marathon. They are still intervals! And as such answers the question May 27, 2014 at 20:34

I think you are overthinking this.

It's important that you be reasonably close at the pace at which you run, but a little variation up and down will not have a big impact on the effectiveness of the training.

As far as speeding up and slowing down, don't worry too much about that either. I would aim to start up at the same speed that you can easily slow down; that preserves the overall duration of the interval.

As for rest, active rest (moving at a reduced pace) is preferable to sitting down. Whether you walk or jog is up to you. The pace should be low enough that you recover to a low heart rate before the next interval.

The point of interval training is that by doing short workouts, you can

not wikipedia

  • I think something went wrong at the end of your answer
    – Ivo Flipse
    May 26, 2014 at 20:34

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