Q and A: Can you help explain the interval training regimen to me? -

Published by - Nike High School Track and Field
Apr 19th 2012, 8:51pm | 1474 views
Coach Jay

Hi Coach Jay,

Can you help explain the interval training regimen to me? I’m not sure what it means when it says "run 4 x 2 minutes at tempo effort with 1-3 minutes of easy running between intervals."

Thank you,

Sherri Fisher


Thanks for the question Sherri. No doubt others have the same question when they read the instructions for interval training.

I think the easiest way to explain this is to write out each segment of running — each portion of tempo effort running, followed by each portion of easy running. Written that way, the workout looks like this:

1. Run 2 minutes at tempo effort, then run for 1-3 minutes easy as your recovery.  

2. Run another 2 minutes at tempo effort, followed by 1-3 minutes of easy running.  

3. Run 2 minutes at tempo effort, again followed by 1-3 minutes of easy running.  

4. Run 2 minutes at tempo effort to finish the workout.

As you can see, you'll run a total of 8 minutes at tempo effort in this workout. And now it's probably easier to see that 4 x 2 minutes = 8 minutes of total running.  

When reading workouts, the first number is the number of repetitions (i.e. reps) that you run, so in this case it’s 4. The next number is the duration of the repetition, in this case it’s 2. However, this number can vary. For instance a marathoner might run 4 x 10 minutes at half marathon pace for their repetitions. Or, the repetition could be a distance on the track, say 4 x 1,600m. But in the workout you referred to, the main takeaway is that you run 4 times for 2 minutes, and the recovery is up to you. You can take as little as 1 minute or as long as 3 minutes.

I hope this is clear Sherri and again, I really appreciate your willingness to write in, as no doubt others have the same question.  


*Coach Jay's advice is provided as general training information. Use at your own risk. Always consult with your own heath care provider for questions relating to your specific training and nutrition.

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1 comment(s)
I notice that there is an all-too-common misconception contained in the question by Sherri Fisher, which was not corrected in Coach Jay's answer.

Whomever wrote the workout meant to prescribe 4 tempo runs of two minutes duration each, with easy running of 1-3 minutes between the runs. But he made the error of saying that there should be 1-3 minutes of easy running "between intervals".

A visit to a library should provide a dictionary that will point out that an "interval" is the time, space, or distance between two things. In other words, the "interval" in the case of the aforementioned workout is the 1-3 minutes of easy running BETWEEN the tempo runs, and not the runs themselves.

This misconception arose years ago by those who originally misunderstood the purpose of interval training - to break a race into segments and gradually SHORTEN THE INTERVALS to approach the race distance under race conditions. It was this training method that produced the first four-minute mile, with Roger Bannister, Chris Chataway, and Chris Brasher running repeat 440's slightly under 60 seconds with increasingly-shorter intervals between.

This training method also has a "down side"; although Bannister set a World Record with his sub-four run on the Isley Road track, it was very quickly bettered by Australia's John Landy, and he never got it back, because his training segments were aimed at slightly under four minutes, which is all that he ever achieved. Although he was one of only three people in the world with sub-four runs when he defeated an injured John Landy in the British Empire and Commonwealth Games mile in 1954, by the time of the 1956 Olympics, he was well down on the All-Time list, and was never a major factor in the 1500m at those Games.
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