The Most Important Part of a Workout
Updated: Jul 21
Today's lesson is VERY important. I need you to read this email carefully and in its entirety. You are coached, you are loved, this should show when you talk about your training. All my efforts, hopes and dreams for you shatter when you talk about "running intervals." Please please don't do that. Especially in public.
Short Version: "Interval Training" refers to speed development work that is usually performed on a track. The 'interval' is THE MOST important part of the workout. ("OMG COACH I KNOW THIS!!!!!!!!!!!")
Yeah, well here's what you don't know: the interval isn't the run. (WHAAAAAAAT?!?!?!?!? *BOOM!* mind blown)
An 'interval training' session is composed of sets of run+rest. The run portion is called a 'repetition' and is distance-based. The rest portion is called an 'interval' and more often than not is time-based (when training for events longer than a 10k). A workout will usually look like this on paper: 6x800x90. This means "6 sets of 800s with 90 seconds of rest in between".
Coachless, unloved amateurs will download a Higdon plan (NO disrespect, the man has done nothing but good for the sport and his plans are FINE) and go to a track and run just as fast as they can run then collapse. It's not unusual to see a runner lie on the ground until their breathing is back to normal, then get up and do the same thing again. They think the key to getting faster lies in running really, really fast around a track.
Bless their hearts. How could they know any better? They are coachless and unloved. They don't know what rest is or how to do it. They don't know what the point is so they miss it completely. This is why good coaches aren't threatened by generic training plans. The important stuff isn't in there so without a coach your ability to improve is severely limited. The keys to successful interval training are twofold:
set repetition paces appropriately by aligning them with a person's current abilities. Set the paces too fast, you aren't making the runner stronger you are wearing them out. Too fast is way worse, WAY more dangerous than too slow.
set interval times appropriately by aligning them with the repetition durations to make sure the runner gets what they need from that session. There is no good online calculator for this.
"MK, everyone and their mother thinks that intervals are laps around the track. Isn't the run the most important part? Why have I never heard this before?"
NO and here's why: runners hate rest. It is your Boogeyman. You think sleeping makes you weak and would plug yourselves into the wall if you could. "Rest day" means "bodypumpbootcampSPINyogilates day" to most of you and I have to BEG you to slow down. If I can't convince you of the importance of a full night's sleep or a day off, how in the world am I going to convince you that the rest portion of an interval session is the crux of the workout? You guys tend to focus on the run, on arbitrary paces, on anything other than the important stuff. I promise you, resting is the most important part of your training and doesn't necessarily mean lying prone on the couch.
I'd be hard pressed to explain to you which is harder- prescribing repetition paces or interval times. There is an art to it, each coach has their own system. This is the real reason I don't send my private clients out to do track sessions solo. My system is to give you paces and send you out to do a continuous run with speedy little bursts. By taking you off of a track and removing the 'rest' portion that you don't understand and won't do anyway, i'm increasing your chances of success and decreasing your chances for injury exponentially. You're welcome.
Last week, I explained that 'pickups' the way we used to do them (at the end of each mile) are a precursor to 'fartleks'. The new method (starting the next one as soon as your heart rate returns to 'easy effort' territory') is a precursor to interval training. This is why baselining is important, we need 2-4 weeks of it so that I can calculate intervals for you. The pace test will set your repetition paces, and the work we do for the next 2 weeks will determine your interval times.
Now you know, and knowing is half the battle. #nooneRUNSintervals
Coach MK Fleming is the founder of Fitness Protection, LLCwhere she coaches all kinds of runners for $29 per month and gives marathon plans away for free. Click here to download her most popular training plan, Tenacious AF!