What are effective guidelines for using interval training to improve distance running performance and/or maintain physical fitness?

My high school cross-country coach used to have the team run intervals once a week. Are there any guidelines or research into how often intervals should be mixed in with a runner's regular regimen to either maximize performance/endurance or reduce injury risk? I've seen many sites that discuss the benefits of this form of training, but fewer that discuss a "standard" regimen that can be used for a wide range of runners.

  • 2
    I think this is better answered on f&n.
    – wax eagle
    Feb 9, 2012 at 2:36
  • @waxeagle The question is not for competitive running, but it is just as relevant for that. I think, we are in the grey area.. Feb 10, 2012 at 10:06
  • @waxeagle, this question was originally intended to target training cross-country. Will post a question in meta to clarify where questions like mine should be posted. Thanks to you and Tonny for your input!
    – JW8
    Feb 10, 2012 at 16:52

3 Answers 3


If you by "effective training" mean run faster, then I would concentrate on interval training based on Jack Daniels work (also on Wikipedia).

You can find a page that will help you with all the relevant numbers here. E.g. if you run 7:15 per mile, then you should consider training intervals where you run 400m in 1:55 then jog 1 minutes and repeat this 4-6 times. That should improve your running speed pretty drastically over 4-6 weeks.

EDIT: For the last couple of months I have also use 10-20-30 two times a week with really good results - I have cut 10-15 seconds on my km-time! The concept is very easy and can be used by everybody - and contrary to Jack Daniels method, you don't need to look up target speeds before you start... And it is just two times 30 minutes per week. After which I'm soaked...

From the article from the University of Copenhagen:

The 10-20-30 training concept

The 10-20-30 training concept consists of a 1-km warm-up at a low intensity followed by 3-4 blocks of 5 minutes running interspersed by 2 minutes of rest. Each block consists of 5 consecutive 1-minute intervals divided into 30, 20 and 10 seconds of running at a low, moderate and near maximal intensity, respectively.

I usually run three blocks with low intensity = my 20 km speed, moderate intensity = my 5 km speed and high intensity = sprint... And if I'm really feeling up to

Good luck!


I don't have a standard regimen for you either, and I hope that someone posts one.

I use the Energy Zones methodology for swimming, and while this document is specific to swimming, the exact same principals apply to running. The zones relate to metabolic processes: aerobic recovery, aerobic development, mixed anaerobic/aerobic, anaerobic, and creatine phosphate. In general, the optimal amount of time you should spend on each higher zone decreases and recovery time increases. A seasonal progression for a cross country runner probably doesn't need to include zone 5, but should progressively work up ability in all other zones.


Another method is the Oregon system. I followed the Jack Daniels system in college and the Oregon system after college. I had much more success with the Oregon system. Many have success with Jack Daniels, other's not. The important thing is that there is no magical way, everyone is different.

A simple summary of what I might do with Oregon might be this 3-week rotation:

(I'm skipping easy days and long runs, only noting intervals/tempos)

Week 1 Tue - 5 x mile. Last one 25 seconds faster than first Thur - 6 mile tempo in AM. Optional 8x200 in PM

Week 2 Tue - 6-8 x 800. Every odd one is even paced. Every even one has first lap at same pace as odd, second lap 5-10 seconds faster. Thur - 1 hour hard tempo PM optional - 6 x 400

Week 3 Tue - 10 x 500. Each set of two slightly faster Thur - optional am run. PM - 6-8 X 30/40 (run 200m in 30 seconds, jog 200 in 40) or 50/20 (run 300 in 50, jog 100 in 20). Vary pace according to ability

A great reference on the Oregon system can be found in "The Competitive Runner's Training Book" by Bill Dillinger Competitive Runner's Training Book

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