Interval training: how hard and how much?

Interval training how-hard and how much

Struggling to improve race times can be frustrating for runners. Interval training, or HIIT, could be the game-changer you need. This article will guide you through HIIT’s intensity and quantity to maximize your performance safely.

Ready? Let’s hit the ground running!

Understanding HIIT

HIIT, or high intensity interval training, offers numerous benefits including improved cardiovascular fitness and increased calorie burn. It involves alternating between short bursts of intense exercise and periods of lower-intensity recovery.


High-intensity interval training (HIIT) powers up your runs and blasts calories fast. It’s a method that alternates short bursts of intense effort with periods of recovery.

  • Boosts Cardiovascular Fitness: Interval sessions improve your heart health, allowing you to run harder and longer with each training session. Your aerobic capacity expands as you push the limits during those high-energy sprints.
  • Increases Speed and Power: By incorporating intense intervals, you enhance your speed and strength on the track. This translates into faster paces during races and more powerful strides when sprinting to the finish line.
  • Builds Endurance: Frequent HIIT workouts condition your body to recover quicker between efforts. As a result, you can maintain higher levels of effort for longer periods without fatigue setting in.
  • Maximizes Calorie Burn: The work-to-recovery progression in HIIT ignites your metabolism, leading to increased calorie burn during and after exercise due to the afterburn effect.
  • Saves Time: Runners with tight schedules can benefit from interval training plans because they deliver significant results in shorter exercise durations than steady-state cardio.
  • Enhances Anaerobic Capacity: These workouts include anaerobic exercise that boosts performance during demanding segments of a race where oxygen is scarce.
  • Improves Running Economy: Interval training teaches your body to use oxygen more efficiently, enhancing performance even at less strenuous paces over time.

What it entails

Interval training, also known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), involves alternating between bursts of intense exercise and periods of lower-intensity activity or rest. This form of workout challenges your body to push beyond its limits, making it an effective way to improve cardiovascular endurance and boost calorie burn in a shorter amount of time.

During the high-intensity intervals, you’ll be working close to your maximum effort level, while in the recovery periods, you allow your heart rate to come down before ramping up the intensity again.

Incorporating HIIT into your fitness regimen can include various combinations of cardio and weight training exercises tailored to individual fitness levels.

Incorporating HIIT into your fitness routine entails carefully balancing work-to-recovery progression. It’s essential to personalize the relative intensity by adjusting intervals based on individual physical endurance and experience level.

Finding Your Sweet Spot

Discovering the perfect level of effort for your high-intensity interval training is crucial to reaping the benefits, including the afterburn effect and improved fitness. Understanding relative intensity and how it applies to your workouts will help you tailor your HIIT sessions to suit your needs.

The afterburn effect

The afterburn effect of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) refers to the increased calorie burn that continues even after your workout ends. This happens because HIIT workouts push your body to work harder, leading to an elevated resting metabolic rate post-exercise.

As a result, you continue burning calories at a higher rate for hours after your session ends, making it an efficient way to support weight loss and improve overall fitness levels.

By incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine, you can take advantage of this afterburn effect and maximize the benefits of your workouts. It’s important to note that the intensity of your HIIT sessions plays a crucial role in triggering this metabolic response; therefore, focusing on maintaining proper form and effort during each interval is key to reaping the benefits of the afterburn effect.

Relative intensity

To gauge relative intensity during interval training, use the Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion scale. This tool measures how hard you feel your body is working during exercise. It’s a simple 6 to 20 numerical scale where lower numbers indicate less effort and higher numbers indicate more effort.

As a runner, aim for an exertion level around 15 to 17 during the high-intensity intervals of your workout. Keeping your perceived exertion in this range ensures that you are pushing yourself enough to see benefits from the session without overexerting.

Strive to find a balance between challenging yourself and avoiding injury by paying attention to how your body feels at different exertion levels. By listening to your body and using the perception scale as a guide, you can adjust the intensity of each interval when needed, resulting in an effective and safe HIIT workout routine.

Tailoring HIIT to Your Fitness Level

Tailoring HIIT to your fitness level is essential for maximizing the benefits and avoiding injury. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced athlete, there are specific work-to-recovery progressions that will help you achieve your goals.


When starting high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as a beginner, it is essential to begin at a manageable level of intensity and duration.

  1. Start with shorter work intervals, such as 20 – 30 seconds, followed by longer recovery periods.
  2. Begin with just one or two HIIT sessions per week to allow your body time to adapt and recover effectively.
  3. Focus on proper form and technique during each exercise to prevent injury and maximize effectiveness.
  4. Gradually increase the intensity and duration as your fitness improves, but always listen to your body and avoid overexertion.


For intermediate runners, it’s important to gradually increase the intensity and duration of your high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions.

  1. Progression is key. Gradually increase the number of intervals or the length of work periods.
  2. Focus on challenging yourself. Strive to push your limits a little further with each session.
  3. Pay attention to recovery. Ensure proper rest between intense workouts to avoid overtraining and injury.
  4. Consider incorporating more advanced exercises or increasing resistance to continue challenging your body.


  • Advanced runners can increase the length of their high – intensity intervals and decrease their recovery time to challenge their cardiovascular capacity.
  • Incorporate more complex movements like plyometric exercises and uphill sprints for added intensity.
  • Consider utilizing a heart rate monitor to ensure that you are reaching an appropriate level of exertion during your high-intensity intervals.
  • Gradually increase the number of interval sessions per week, but be diligent about scheduling ample recovery time between sessions.

How Much HIIT Should You Do?

Determining the optimum weekly dose of HIIT depends on your fitness level and goals. It’s important to strike a balance between intensity, frequency, and adequate recovery to maximize the benefits of interval training.

Optimum weekly dose

Determining the optimum weekly dose of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) depends on your fitness level and goals. For beginners, start with 1-2 sessions per week, gradually increasing to 3-4 as you progress.

Intermediate individuals can aim for 3-4 sessions weekly, while advanced runners may benefit from up to 5 sessions.

It’s essential to listen to your body and allow adequate recovery time between HIIT workouts. Remember that quality over quantity matters; each session should be challenging but sustainable.

Importance of adequate recovery

To maximize the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), it’s crucial to prioritize adequate recovery. This allows your body to repair and rebuild muscles, decrease the risk of injury, and prevent burnout.

Incorporating rest days into your routine is essential for ensuring that you can sustain the intensity and effort required during HIIT sessions.

Keeping in mind the work-to-recovery progression is equally vital. Balancing challenging workout sessions with ample time for rest is key to optimizing performance and achieving long-term fitness goals.

Frequency and intensity

To optimize your HIIT training, strike a balance between frequency and intensity. Aim for 2 to 3 sessions per week to allow enough recovery time while still reaping the benefits. Gradually increase the intensity as you progress, ensuring each interval pushes you close to your maximum effort.

Listen to your body and adjust based on how well you are recovering between sessions.

Consider adjusting the frequency depending on other workouts in your routine. Ensure that high-intensity sessions are complemented with adequate rest days or lower intensity activities.

Incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine

Incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine involves:

  1. Choosing the right workouts for your fitness level and goals.
  2. Scheduling HIIT sessions around your other training to allow adequate recovery time.
  3. Gradually increasing the intensity and duration of your intervals as you progress.
  4. Ensuring proper warm-up and cool-down exercises before and after each session.
  5. Listening to your body and adjusting the frequency of your HIIT sessions based on how well you recover.


Incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine depends on your fitness level. Beginners can start with 1-2 sessions per week, while intermediates can aim for 3-4 and advanced individuals up to 5.

Balancing intensity and recovery is crucial in getting the best results. Tailoring your approach will help you maximize the benefits of high-intensity interval training.


What is high-intensity interval training (HIIT)?

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by rest or low-intensity recovery periods.

How hard should I work during the high-intensity parts of interval training?

During the high-intensity phases, you should push yourself to a challenging level where speaking is tough but not impossible.

What’s the best work-to-recovery progression for HIIT?

A common approach is to alternate between 30 seconds of all-out effort and 1–2 minutes of recovery, but this can vary based on fitness levels.

How often can I do high-intensity interval training each week?

For most people, starting with 2-3 times a week allows your body to adapt to the intensity while providing ample recovery time.

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