Are Intervals Really That Important For Runners?

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Take a peek at any guide to running or beginner-level training plan, and at some point, intervals will come up. If you start researching training plans for speed or get more serious with the sport, at some point, intervals will come up. Basically, if you run at all, you will eventually hear talk of interval training. But what exactly does that all entail, and is it as important as everyone says? I've been running for the better part of a decade now, and I have several races under my belt, but as far as interval training goes, I may as well be a beginner.

According Peloton instructor Selena Samuela, a NASM-certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified running coach, intervals are an important part of a runner's training program regardless of their goals.

"Intervals are always great for a calorie burn, and of course building speed, but they're also great for your body-mind connection, as they have been shown to improve your running form," Samuela told POPSUGAR. "Intervals can also boost your efficiency, which can help you with endurance, because the more efficient you can be, the less energy you will use to run whatever pace it is you're striving for." Bottom line: intervals help you become a more efficient runner.

Still, they may seem intimidating for total beginners. However, they don't have to be. Intervals are actually quite simple. Think a short — yet intense — burst of effort followed by a recovery of the same distance or longer.

"During that recovery, you get to catch your breath in a walk or an easy jog," Samuela said. "You should feel like you're pushing yourself during the efforts — they should feel controlled but challenging, hence the need for recovery." And if you're truly getting started with running, Samuela said you can start with walk and run intervals at a 1:2 or 1:1 work-to-rest ratio, with intervals no longer than two minutes. No need to get fancy to get in a solid workout!

Of course, those who have their sights set on longer distances and loftier goals would do well to adopt a more regular interval program. Samuela said just as each runner will have different goals, each runner will have a different interval-training program.

"For instance, when one is training for a half marathon, one may interval train two or three times a week," she explained. "When one is training for a marathon, one might choose to interval train one to two times a week."

More advanced runners may turn to the treadmill to complete their interval work, but you don't need a fancy gym or even a machine to sneak in some conditioning work. As I've been looking to improve my race pace, I've been hitting up the track for some speed work. What's more, I've been lacing up my run-ready kicks, like the Under Armour HOVR™ Infinite 2 GRD ($130) sneakers, and plugging in my headphones for some app-guided runs in which running coaches (like Samuela!) actually give audio cues to make mastering intervals a little easier.

As if you're not team interval yet, remember: intervals aren't just great for helping with your physical training — they're great for improving your mental stamina. "They're also great for a confidence boost!" Samuela added. "Those recoveries give you the opportunity to regain control over your breathing and start all over again and really get at it."