Along with consistency, good form and strength, interval training can help you improve your speed as a runner. Interval training is a form of speed work where, following a warm up, a set number of repetitions of a certain distance (200m to 2km) are run at a specific faster pace (with a set amount if time walking or easy running between).
However, many runners, especially those new to speed work, get injured for various reasons. Often we are so keen to improve that we don’t notice the errors we are making in a speed work session. I have suffered calf strains and also plantar fasciitis due to overenthusiastic speed work. So, based on my past experience, here are a few tips to prevent injury while undertaking interval running:
1) Make sure you warm up properly – a good 15 minutes of easy running and a dynamic warm up routine should be adequate. If you are pressed for time, put your time into the warm up, and shorten your cool down to 5 minutes easy running and then stretching.
2) Find yourself a good grass oval to run around, or a dirt road – this will have less impact on your feet, joints and muscles than a path or ashphalt. If you are running around an oval, change direction for each repetition.
3) Don’t do too much, too soon, too fast! It can be tempting to head out and want to smash out 12x400m or 8x1k but often the after effects of interval training are not felt until later. Make sure you start with a reasonable amount for your level (right now) as a runner, and then work your way up to longer repetitions and more sets each week, in order to avoid serious stress on your body and…injury. Speed work need only be once a week generally for beginners.
4) Keep you distance running form. What I mean by this is, don’t run like a sprinter in your intervals as it won’t be helping your distance running form. Often for many of us when we try to “sprint” we start to over stride, our torso falls back and our hips drop – a sure path to injury. Keep your normal running form but focus on a quicker turnover and running strong, but controlled.
5) Have a purpose for your interval training – your plan should have a pre-determined pacing, not all intervals are “flat out” fast. Often paces can be set at half marathon or 10k pace, or an effort level, such as “strong and controlled” or “hard”. Knowing the aim for your session will prevent you going too hard in the first interval, and keep you focused on your form.
Follow these tips when you run your interval training session and they will help you improve your running speed over time. You will be more likely to stay injury free which will bring you consistency – which is, of course one of our most important goals in running – to keep on running.