Interval Training: How to modify your running interval sets to make subsequent reps harder or easier

During a recent Tuesday’s Coached hill running session at the Botanic Gardens, coach & founder Ben Pulham taught us how to play with the load – recovery balance during interval sets.

Coached is a heart rate training programme for runners and triathletes led by Ben, 36 – formerly a Kiwi professional triathlete representing New Zealand. The Coached programme allows you to track, optimise and enjoy your training.

What we did

Our first set consisted of 10min of moderately hard (zone three) running up and down the Botanic Gardens hills. Then after that, we had two minutes of rest before the next set.

The second set, also in the moderately hard zone, was for five minutes and this was accompanied by a one minute of rest.

The final set was for two and a half minutes of moderately hard running and we had 30sec of rest time, before the set then concluded with a cool down in our easy heart rate zone.

Why the decrease in load – recovery time

The decrease in the load – recovery time is to keep the amount of work for each set the same. Said Ben, “I am decreasing the load for each set, so I also decrease recovery, by running for five minutes and not 10 minutes, you are not working as hard. But if you have a full recovery of two minutes, it is worth less essentially because that makes the set easier. So a way to maintain the load – recovery balance, is to decrease the recovery time when the time for each set goes down, so that the intensity of each set is the same.”

He added “But on the other hand, if I ask you to do 10mins x3 sets in your moderately hard zone, then I will give you the same two minute recovery time between sets if I want the load – recovery balance to be the same.”

Ben also explained, though, that if you want to make the subsequent interval sets harder or easier than the first set, in terms of the load and recovery balance, then you can play with this in various ways.

He said, “If supposing I give you three 10min intervals in your moderately hard zone, but the first one you have two minutes of rest, the second you have four minutes of rest and the final one you have six minutes of rest, the intervals are getting easier because you have more recovery in between sets. But if you do the reverse, for example, three minutes of rest, followed by two minutes and then one minute of rest in between each 10min interval set, then the load is getting harder because more work is required, as the recovery interval drops between sets.”

He added, “Basically you can change the load by making the interval sets longer, by making it harder or simply by decreasing the recovery time. There are plenty of ways to play with interval training. As a professional triathlete, I used to do say, sets like 1km x8 and at first I was doing two minutes of recovery between sets but as I got fitter, I would do 90 seconds of recovery then 30 seconds. So the intensity was the same, but the sets got harder progressively because recovery time dropped.”

Heart rate can drift

However when running according to your heart rate zones, Ben also pointed out that heart rate can drift easily. He said, “For such sessions, the heart rate should be moderately hard up the hill and maybe it holds downhill; at worse it should feel like in your moderately hard zone even through the reading says it’s in your steady zone (zone two). That is fine; I just don’t want to see your heart rate in the hard zone; bear in mind that the heart rate will drift especially when it is humid and muggy.”

He added, “So starting conservatively is the way to go in such sessions. If you are not able to execute training well, you will not execute the racing well. If you are tired starting the race, too, then you will not run to potential even if you execute it well.”

Start conservatively when racing 

Ben also cautioned runners to start cautiously when racing, and also to use their training runs to practise what they would be doing on race day rather than trying out new things for the first time, on race day.

He said, “Wake up 2 – 3 hours before the race and eat the same breakfast that you are planning to have on race day. Do the same things from a fuelling point of view, because if it does not work, then you can make changes and hopefully fix that before the race, but if it does work, then you will feel confident that you have got everything dialled in and you can run well.”

web counter
web counter

Share this page with your friends!


Leave a Comment