Updated: May 9, 2020
No. You do interval training. What is that and why should I do it? Keep on reading!
(And if you are a Wapping Hockey Club member, click here for some friendly pre-season competition!)
Perhaps you are running just to run, because you enjoy it and want to get a bit faster. Interval training is for you. Or perhaps you play a sport and want to develop some specific attributes. Guess what, interval training is for you.
In this article we will take Hockey as an example, but hopefully you can easily *insert your sport* to understand how it applies to your own training goals.
First have a think, what do the demands of your sport look like? A Hockey match is 70 minutes in duration and you have a mixture of walking, jogging, running, high speed running (HSR) and of course sprinting (SPR).
What does your training look like? Through the week when you 'go for a run' what do you do? Probably, like most people, run for 5km at a steady pace in the hope of getting fitter, resulting in improved performance on the pitch.
Does your training resemble the demands of your sport? In this example, not even a little bit.
Don't misunderstand me, doing a solid 5km or 10km time is really, really important and gives you a strong indication of your general fitness level. You should be trying to improve it and I encourage it. But you shouldn't be trying to run as fast as possible every time you go out there. Simply running 5km isn't actually the way to get a faster 5km... or improve your sport specific fitness.
Here we will look at an effective way to build your speed, endurance and performance. We start by breaking down the demands of the sport itself, combine it with a little exercise physiology, then bam(!) all of a sudden we have a training method that will improve your speed and endurance specifically for what you need it for (and guess what your 5km times will improve automatically).
Let's look at a few training principles.
1) Training load should be greater than a match: Quite simply, to be able to perform for 70 mins without fatigue affecting your play, you need to train hard enough to ensure that the game itself seems like a walk in the park. The benefits for match-day are clear; more mental alertness, physical responsiveness and overall performance. This is the same for a running race; you want to be confident over the distance rather than just scraping through.
2) Train specifically for what your sports demands: As mentioned above. You wouldn't prepare for a cycling event in the French Alps by training on a dead-flat track around your local park.
How do I train with specificity?
So with Hockey as our example, with generalised data, we might assume that at amateur level a midfield player will run about 6km per 70 min match. We can break this down into a) walking, b) jogging, c) running, d) HSR and e) SPR. Therefore, if we look at principle (2) above, we already know that just running a medium intensity 6km as training isn't specific for match preparation. It is valuable, yes, but it isn't the most effective thing we can do. And in terms of overall volume (1), if you never run over 5 or 6kms through the week, then you get to the weekend and try to play at maximum intensity, you are going to find it difficult.
So what do we do about this?
Based on the assumption that most people in amateur sport are probably running twice per week (with a match on Saturday), you might want to go about structuring your training using the following methods:
Yes you have heard this at the gym, HIIT and all that stuff. Well, for running, it is really, really important for improving speed and endurance.
What is it? Modifying your speed / intensity at scheduled intervals.
How does it work? By performing at high intensity thresholds, followed by lower recovery rates, the body trains and adapts to work more efficiently in delivering oxygen to muscles and clearing lactate (which is a key component in muscle fatigue). You are essentially training your ability to recover, which will in turn improve your ability to operate at high intensity for longer periods. For those that are into this kind of thing, interval training also tends to encourage more kcal burning than steady pace running (just like HIIT you might have tried at the gym).
What would this look like in training?
We have 4 variables to work with:
1) Intensity of work
2) Duration of work (this could be time or distance)
3) Duration of rest / recovery (time or distance)
4) Number of repetitions
If you are new to this type of training you could structure it like this:
Workout A: 30 sec HSR followed by 1 min recovery jogging. This would be a 1:2 ratio.
If you had a 5 min warm up jog, then 10 intervals totalling 15 mins, followed by a 5 min cool down jog, you have just done a very effective 25 minute run.
If you are having a busy week and you are struggling to fit it all in, why not try this instead of just going hell-for-leather for 25 mins? You probably aren't far off 5km either, in terms of volume for match day, but what's interesting is here is that we have almost mirrored the demands of a match but covered it in 25 mins instead of 70 mins. So this (almost) ticks the volume box as well but definitely ticks the intensity box.
Focus: Our HSR endurance and ability to recover.
Check: Is your output the same for all intervals or have you dropped off your pace toward the end? If you have, don't worry, this is precisely why we are training in this way!!!
Workout B: 30 sec SPR followed by 90 seconds recovery jogging. This would be a 1:3 ratio (or more, depending on your level). Why? The work was more intense, therefore we need more recovery jogging to balance it out. For this your workout might only be 7 repetitions, but it is a 2min interval in total. So we are looking at 5min warm up, 7 x 2 min intervals = 14 mins, followed by a 6min cool down and once again we have hit our 25 min run.
Focus: Our top speed. Developing more 'gears' that we can change into on demand.
Check: Are you dreading the final few intervals? Has your top speed reduced significantly from start to end? This might indicate that your ability to recover and repeat the sprints isn't quite there yet. Keep on training!
As you progress, the variables would change, but only one at a time. You might decide to reduce it from a 1:2 ratio to a 1:1 ratio. Or you might increase from 30 sec HSR to 45 sec HSR. Or you might move up from 7 reps to 10 reps.
Workout C: A slightly more advanced interval might be HSR for 500 metres, recovery jog 500 metres and so on. 10 repetitions of this would see you do 10km in intervals, with warm up and cool down either side.
Focus: HSR endurance.
Check: How do you feel compared to the pace you are running? Are you managing the same pace but feel exhausted at the end? It all gives you an indication of where you need to focus.
(Super interested in the techie / stats / analysis aspect? Check out this article where I break down what an interval training session looks like on the Garmin).
How do I measure the intensity?
For this we can be fairly general, but using a smart device helps you hold yourself accountable. For instance, for your work interval you may choose to run under a 5min/km pace, for your recovery interval you may run above a 5.30min/km. That way you have a tangible speed that you need to hit for each interval. You can adjust this as you progress.
How often do I do this, as an amateur athlete?
This is presuming you have maybe another gym session in the week, as well as a sport specific training session. So if a match is Saturday (or let's say for you runners the weekend is your "fast run"), you will probably want a slow recovery run match day (MD) +1 or MD +2, Sunday or Monday. This is a slow paced, low heart rate effort just to get the legs moving again after the match. Your perceived effort rating for this should be quite low.
The interval run should be challenging but shouldn't destroy you, so therefore MD -2 is probably ideal for this effort, let's say the Thursday before the match. That gives you enough time to recover and be ready.
Depending on your level, you will want to allow 24-48hrs recovery following a particularly hard interval training run.
What if I want to run more?
So on top of match/fast run, if we consider 2 runs per week as a baseline (one for recovery and one as interval training), every run on top of that depends on what you want to get out of it. For your third training run you may just want a bit of stress relief and enjoyment. I'm all for it. Or you may want to work on your top speed, in which case you would add interval sprints as your third run. You may be working on a half marathon in which case a long run will be required, too. It can all fit into your programme, but the more you run, the more you need to schedule carefully for optimum performance and effective recovery.
But if we consider that both the recovery run and the interval run are contributing more to your overall fitness than just a general jog, you can be confident that you are using your time efficiently and training effectively...don't believe me? I dare you to try and find out!
There are a multitude of ways you can structure your interval training. These are 3 basic examples to get you thinking and exploring options to suit yourself. In programming your own intervals, the key is to look at the demands of your sport in terms of specificity and load. The second aspect is to look at your own strengths and weaknesses. If you know that endurance is your weakness, you will want to start with Workout A. If on the other hand you feel strong over distance but don't feel you have enough raw pace, you will want Workout B as your priority. And remember to only adjust one variable at a time when testing your own interval training.
If you want some help programming the ideal running intervals for your goals, get in touch to have a chat and we can create a specific program just for you that will get you training smarter, more efficiently and with greater results.
Or start a conversation below!
>>> Sleep, hydration, nutrition, recovery are all as important as the training itself. Read the related articles to boost your knowledge and make your training count!
Tip: 50% water + 50% OJ and a pinch of salt = hydration, sugar and electrolytes!
Questions?! Only about a million. Feel free to get in touch through my website: SharpMovement.com