Whether you’ve set yourself an ambitious running goal, or simply want to get better at running, interval training is one of the most effective ways to improve.


Interval training involves short bursts of higher intensity exercise followed by lower intensity recovery periods. In its simplest form – you run for a little while, then jog or walk for a little while.


By doing intervals, you’re training your body to work at a higher intensity. Just 5-20 minutes of intervals a few times per week will greatly increase your Vo2 Max (maximal oxygen intake) allowing you to run faster and longer.

In addition, interval training helps to bring down your resting heart rate, meaning your heart doesn’t have to work as hard when you are not exercising. With less time spent running, it also reduces the risk of overuse injuries (very common amongst distance runners) and allows your body to continue burning calories hours after you finish your 20 minute session – now that’s bang for your buck!


There are two ways to measure your intervals; by RPE (rate of perceived exertion scale) or by time.

RPE is a scale of 1-10 (see chart below). 1 being very light activity – such as watching TV – and 10 being your maximum effort – when you’re completely out of breath.

During your running interval, aim to push yourself to RPE 7-9, just under your maximum when breathing is heavier. Then walk or jog at RPE 2-3 until you fully catch your breath. Do this for just 20 minutes and after a few sessions you might start to notice that catching your breath becomes easier and quicker between each running interval.

RPE CHART Rate of Perceived Exertion

10 - Max Effort Activity Feels almost impossible to keep going. Completely out of breath, unable to talk.

9 - Very Hard Activity Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity. Can barely breathe and speak a single word.

7/8 -Vigorous Activity On the verge of becoming uncomfortable. Short of breath, can speak a sentence.

4/6 - Moderate Activity Feels like you can exercise for hours. Breathing heavily, can hold a short conversation.

2/3 Light Activity Feels like you can maintain for hours. Easy to breathe and carry on a conversation.

1 - Very Light Activity Anything other than sleeping ie. watching TV, riding in a car.

To measure intervals by time, run at a higher intensity for 30 seconds then drop back to an easy jog or walk for 90 seconds. Repeat for 20 minutes. As your fitness improves, increase the amount of time you run at high intensity and decrease the amount of time at low intensity. For example:

Progression 1 – 60 seconds high intensity run, 60 seconds low intensity walk/jog and repeat.

Progression 2 – 90 seconds high intensity run, 30 seconds low intensity walk/jog and repeat.


Incorporating intervals in your training 2-3 times per week is perfect to get started. If you’ve set yourself a goal to run a certain distance, also include a distance run in your week.

As you start to improve, increase your interval sessions to 3-4 days. And to ensure your body is in top condition, you should always include resistance training and active recovery or rest days between each run.

Here’s an example of a weekly training plan:


5-10 mins warm up, 20 mins jog/walk intervals, 10 mins warm down and stretch


Active recovery or rest day, foam rolling and stretching


Resistance training


5-10 mins warm up, 20 mins jog/walk intervals, 10 mins warm down and stretch


Resistance training


5-10 mins warm up, distance run (if your goal is 10km, start with your maximum distance e.g. 3km and build by 1km each week), 10 mins warm down and stretch


Active recovery or rest day, foam rolling and stretching


If you are serious about running and maybe aiming for a personal best time, then hill or stair intervals and sprint intervals are a great way to improve.

Find a steep hill or big set of stairs (try the stairs in your office building or local park), run up as fast as you can and walk back down. The ‘1000 step challenge’ is a personal favourite of mine – 10 sets of 100 stairs or 20 sets of 50 stairs.

Work on your speed with sprint intervals – anywhere from 100 metres to 1km repeats are a sure fire way to increase your speed and improve your power and endurance. Start with a long recovery, such as 2-3 minutes of walking, and decrease recovery time as your fitness improves.


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