There are any number of training plans available, running “gurus” and personal trainers promising massive improvements in fitness in ridiculously short periods of time. When you look into their claims you see that most of them, at least the ones that really work, include some form of interval training. Intervals have been used for many years to increase speed and endurance and improve running performance. This is one form of training used by elite athletes that truly is transferrable to everyone, regardless of fitness level.
Intervals work because the intensity of exercise is high, causing your muscles, heart and lungs to work harder and be stimulated to increase strength. You run faster than normal for a period of time, then slow down for a recovery period, repeated several times. It is a very efficient way to improve your speed, as a typical interval session will be only 20-30 minutes long, after a warm-up period. As it is such an intense form of exercise, it is advised that you only do one or two interval sessions a week to avoid injury and over-training which can cause poor performance.
The exact structure of your interval session will depend on your current fitness and training goals, with short fast intervals required for short distance runners and longer intervals for marathoners. There is no particular magic formula for the ideal interval session, making it a particularly versatile way of training as you can adapt it to your own circumstances, increasing intensity by running up and down a hill, or using a treadmill if the weather is bad and you don’t fancy running outside.
Interval training can help to overcome the “plateau” experienced by many runners, especially inexperienced runners who reach a certain level of fitness and then have difficulty improving their times further. It would initially seem that running longer distances should improve fitness, but in fact a short, hard interval session can be far more effective than a long steady run in improving overall strength and speed.
Runners wondering how to get faster should look at ways to optimise their training schedule to get the most out of their sessions, and if intervals are not already included they should definitely be considered.