Get started with interval training.

Running

Interval training | 12-week running workout plan

We asked USAT Coach of the Year Mike Ricci from D3 Multisport to share his insights on interval training for runners. In this article he’ll show you how to introduce intervals into your training and teach you how to safely increase the load each week.

First of all, let’s define what an interval is. According to the internet, an interval is an intervening period. This may mean the time of work, or the time of rest, distance or active recovery.

Interval training is composed of hard work phases and easier rest phases. One way to determine what is hard and what is easy is your personal heart rate zones. There are a few ways to determine your personal heart rate training zones. Polar uses your maximum heart rate to calculate the five heart rate zones that correspond to your level of effort.

You can estimate your maximum heart rate in several ways. One way to determine your zones would be to do a field test. There are two field tests used for determining your zones.

Field test for beginners

If you are a complete beginner, go to a flat path or track and run for about 30 minutes at conversational pace. This doesn’t mean you could have a conversation with one word answers, but more in complete sentences. Watch your heart rate and see where it settles for the 30 minutes.

You aren’t trying to run a certain pace, but run at an ‘effort’ that allows you to hold a conversation for the entire time. The number you see on your heart rate monitor would be within your ‘zone 2 heart rate’ or what I like to call your ‘all day effort’.

Field test for experienced runners

If you are an experienced runner and have been running for a year or more, then we’ll give you a thirty minute test to see your lactate threshold. You can use a 5K or 10K for this test, or you can choose to run as fast and as long as you can for thirty minutes. If I had my choice, I’d rather jump into a race and try to race some others and push myself naturally vs. trying to beat myself up for 30 minutes on a solo run.

The average of your heart rate for the 5K or the last 25–30 minutes of the 10K, would be around your LT or lactate threshold. The estimated LT that you get with this field test should be near the boundary between zone 4 or zone 5, either above or below depending on how fit you are.

A 12-week interval workout plan for beginners

Now that you know your heart rate zones, you can follow this 12-week workout plan to introduce interval training to your training and complement your running plan. For beginners, the following set of intervals would be your progression over 12 weeks.

Week 1

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 10 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes at zone 1 or zone 2. If you have to stop dead in your tracks after your 10 minute interval, then you went too hard. Keep in mind, it’s a slight shift in effort, not an all out blistering pace to catch a robber.

Week 2

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 12 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zones 1 or 2.

Week 3

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 15 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zones 1 or 2.

Week 4

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 18 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zones 1 or 2.

Week 5

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 20 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 6

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2x12 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 7

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2x15 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, , with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 8

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2x18 minutes of zone 3 heart rate, with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 9

Run 10 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 2x20 minutes zone 3 heart rate, with 10 minutes of recovery at zone 2 heart rate in between, and then 10 minutes in zone 1 or 2.

Week 10

Run 15 minutes at an aerobic pace (zone 2), followed by 3 minutes at zone 4. You’ll follow the 3 minutes hard with 3 minutes easy at zone 2, and you’ll repeat this three more times. In a running sense this will look like 4x3’ (minutes) at LT, with 3’ recovery. Don’t forget to end with 10 minutes at an aerobic pace.

Week 11

Run 15 minutes of aerobic threshold, followed by 3 minutes at zone 4. Follow the 3 minutes hard with 3 minutes easy at zone 2 and repeat this four more times. In a running sense this will look like 5x3’ at LT, with 3’ recovery. Don’t forget to end with 10 minutes at an aerobic pace.

Week 12

Run 15 minutes of aerobic threshold, followed by 3 minutes at zone 4. Follow the 3 minutes hard with 3 minutes easy at zone 2 and repeat this five more times. In a running sense this will look like 6x3’ at LT, with 3’ recovery. Don’t forget to end with 10 minutes at an aerobic pace.

A 12-week interval workout plan for more experienced runners

For the seasoned runner, the progression would look something like this:

Week 1

15’ (minute) warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 15’ of tempo running (zone 3), or about -12 beats below your LT from your run test. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 2

15’ (minute) warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 20’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 3

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 25’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 4

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 30’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 5

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 35’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 6

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 40’ of tempo running (zone 3). Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 7

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 4x5’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 8

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 5x5’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 9

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 6x5’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 10

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 3x8’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 11

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 3x9’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Week 12

15’ warm up at zone 2 heart rate, followed by 3x10’ of running at zone 4 heart rate or LT, with 3’ recovery at zone 2 heart rate. Finish with 10’ of easy running.

Listen to your body

It’s important to build your progression at an intensity and volume that you can handle. Only use the above as a guideline and be smart and listen to your body. If you like to take your morning heart rate and see that it’s high on the day you are supposed to be running one of these interval workouts, wait another day for your body to recover some and try again, once your HR is back to a normal level.

I hope this helps you get started on intervals and your running improves over the next 12 weeks, no matter what level runner you are!

Mike Ricci, USAT Level III Certified Coach and Coach of the Year, is the owner and founder of the D3 Multisport coaching group, through which they coach all levels of athletes (from beginner to elite). Mike’s coaching resume includes 4 consecutive collegiate National Championship titles as the head coach for the Colorado Buffaloes, Kona qualifiers, USAT National Champions, Ironman winners and and many podium athletes.

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