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Interval training sessions are short, intense efforts of exercise, followed by an equal or longer time of lower intensity recovery. Research has shown that high intensity training increases fitness levels and burns more calories over a shorter period of time versus a long period of steady state cardio. Interval training can include running, cycling, rowing and lifting light weights with higher reps.
When applied to a running training program, interval training has shown to increase overall running speed, improve running form, increase endurance and improve neuromuscular control and timing. When interval training, the cardiovascular system strengthens as you push more oxygen rich blood through your body. Your muscles become more efficient at using oxygen rich blood.
Before starting running interval training, it is important to have a solid running base behind you. In other words, have been regularly running more than once a week for a few months prior. Interval running will increase injury risk due to the extra load placed on tendons and joints when you run faster. Besides having a good running base, you should also have good flexibility and leg strength to reduce injury risk.
Interval training techniques can vary dependent on what you are trying to achieve. Generally, intervals runs will tend to be 400-600m efforts running at race pace or slightly above. You should follow the run with an easy recovery, but you should not stop running. An active recovery i.e. a slow jog is more effective at clearing metabolites from the muscles. This then allows runners to recover faster between intervals, therefore preventing a drop in performance in subsequent intervals. If you are running at the correct pace your last effort should not be slower than your first effort.
Hill running is another effective form of interval training. It carries less risk of injury due to the fact that there is less impact when running uphill, avoiding running back downhill.
Interval training should never be performed on consecutive days, again to reduce injury risk. Each session should begin with a dynamic stretching routine, focusing on all major muscles of the lower limb. Cool down should include a slow jog to assist in clearing lactic acid build up, and some sustained and static stretching.