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Interval Running For Beginners: The Ultimate Guide

For many people, running is a great way to get exercise. It’s simple, doesn’t require any equipment other than a good pair of shoes, and can be done almost anywhere.

However, if you’re just starting, the thought of running for even a few minutes can be daunting. That’s where interval running comes in.

Interval running is a type of running that alternates between periods of high and low intensity. This makes it a great way to ease into running, as you can start with shorter intervals and gradually increase the length and intensity as you get more comfortable.

If you’re new to interval running or just looking for some tips to get started, read on for our ultimate guide.

What Is Interval Running?

Interval running is a type of cardio exercise that alternates between periods of high-intensity effort and lower-intensity recovery (16). 

It might be more beneficial than traditional, steady-state cardio, depending on your specific fitness goals. 

Understanding the changes that take place in your body during interval training can help you better customize your workouts. 

When you run at a steady pace for an extended period, your body becomes very efficient at using oxygen to produce energy. 

This is known as aerobic metabolism, and it’s the process that ultimately fuels those long-distance runs (2).

Aerobic metabolism occurs when your body has enough oxygen available to completely break down glucose (blood sugar) to produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy molecule used by your cells (2). 

ATP is then used to power muscle contractions. The more ATP that’s produced, the longer you can sustain a given activity (2).

For example, marathon runners have a high capacity for aerobic metabolism since they need to sustain a long, relatively slow run.

On the other hand, interval training forces your body to adapt to changes in intensity, which can lead to greater improvements in overall fitness. 

Interval training is typically done at or near anaerobic levels, meaning that your body doesn’t have enough oxygen available to completely break down glucose. 

Instead, it relies on a process called glycolysis to produce ATP (11). 

Glycolysis is less efficient than aerobic metabolism and can only produce enough ATP to power short bursts of activity. 

But here’s the catch: interval training can improve your body’s ability to use oxygen more efficiently, even after you’ve stopped working out. 

In other words, interval training can help increase your aerobic capacity, making it easier for you to run longer distances or sustain a given pace over time. 

Interval training is also thought to help improve anaerobic capacity, which is the body’s ability to produce ATP without oxygen (4). 

This is what allows you to sprint at full speed for a short distance. The more anaerobic capacity you have, the more ATP you can produce and the longer you can sustain a high-intensity activity.

Read More: Running In Place: Is It A Good Workout?

Benefits Of Interval Running

Interval running has several potential benefits, including:

1. Increased Aerobic And Anaerobic Capacity

Simply put, interval training can help you run faster and longer. 

This is because interval training helps improve both aerobic and anaerobic capacity, as we just noted.

So, if your goal is to run a 5K or 10K race, interval training can be a great way to prepare.

2. Increased Caloric Expenditure

Calories are units of energy that you get from the food you eat (5). 

When you exercise, your body burns calories to fuel your muscles. The more intense the activity, the more calories you’ll burn. 

Interval training is a great way to expend more calories and torch body fat (12). 

This is because interval training tends to be more intense than traditional, steady-state cardio, meaning you’ll burn more calories in a shorter period of time. 

Plus, interval training can help increase your metabolic rate even during the several hours after exercise (15). 

This is due to something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). EPOC is the body’s oxygen debt that must be repaid after exercise (8). 

It’s what makes you feel out of breath after a hard workout. 

Interval training has been shown to increase EPOC more than traditional, steady-state cardio, meaning you’ll continue to burn calories long after your workout is over (20).

3. Improved Insulin Sensitivity

Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels (19). 

When you eat, your body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which enters the bloodstream. In response, your pancreas releases insulin to remove the excess glucose from the blood and shuttle it into your cells for energy or storage (19). 

If you have diabetes or are at risk of developing the condition, it’s important to keep blood sugar levels in check. 

Interval training has been shown to help improve insulin sensitivity, which is the body’s ability to use insulin effectively (10). 

This is important because it can help keep blood sugar levels in a healthy range and reduce your risk of diabetes.

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4. Reduced Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition when the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries is higher than your healthy rate (14). 

Over time, this can damage your arteries and lead to heart disease.

Interval training has been shown to help reduce blood pressure by improving vascular function (3). 

This is the function of your blood vessels or the tubes that carry blood throughout your body.

5. Improved Heart Health

Interval training can also help improve heart health in several ways. 

For one, interval training helps reduce blood pressure, as just noted. 

In addition, interval training has been shown to increase levels of HDL cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol (7). HDL cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, from the blood. 

Interval training has also been shown to improve heart function and increase stroke volume. Stroke volume is the amount of blood your heart pumps with each beat (21). 

6. Enhanced Mood And Brain Function

All exercise, in general, has been shown to enhance mood and brain function. This is due to the release of endorphins, which are hormones that have mood-boosting effects (22). 

In addition, all exercise has been shown to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein that helps promote the growth of new nerve cells and protect existing ones (9). 

7. Time-Efficient Workouts

If you’re short on time, interval training can be a great way to make the most of your workout. It has been shown to be more time-efficient than traditional, steady-state cardio. 

This is because HIIT workouts tend to be shorter in duration, but more intense. 

A study conducted by the American Council on Exercise found that HIIT workouts can be as short as four minutes but still provide the same health benefits as traditional, longer-duration cardio workouts (13).

Read More: Running While Overweight: Tips, Tricks And Debunking Myths

What Is A Good Interval Running Workout?

Now that we’ve covered the benefits of interval training, let’s take a look at what a good interval running workout looks like. 

Remember, interval training involves alternating periods of high-intensity effort with periods of recovery. 

The key is to push yourself hard during the “work” intervals and then allow your body to recover fully during the “rest” intervals. 

A good interval running workout will have the following components: 

  • A warm-up: This should last for five to 10 minutes and should gradually raise your heart rate.
  • Work intervals: These should be done at a high level of effort and should last for 30 seconds to three minutes.
  • Recovery intervals: These should be done at a low level of effort and should last for one to two times the duration of the work interval.
  • A cool-down: This should last for five to 10 minutes and should gradually bring your heart rate back down to its resting level.

Here is an example of a simple interval running workout: 

  • Warm-up: brisk walk for five minutes
  • Work interval: run with hard effort for one minute
  • Recovery interval: walk for two minutes,
  • Repeat the work-recovery cycle: four more times
  • Cool-down: brisk walk for five minutes

Remember, this is just one example of an interval running workout. There are endless possibilities when it comes to designing interval workouts. 

The important thing is to make sure that you include a warm-up, work intervals, recovery intervals, and a cool-down.

How Long Should Interval Runs Be?

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the duration of interval runs. 

Interval runs can be as short as four minutes or as long as 30 minutes. The important thing is to make sure that you are pushing yourself hard enough during the work intervals and allowing yourself enough time to recover during the recovery intervals. 

If you’re just starting, it’s a good idea to keep the work intervals shorter (30 seconds to one minute) and the recovery intervals longer (one to two times the duration of the work interval). 

As you become more fit, you can gradually increase the length of the work intervals and decrease the length of the recovery intervals.

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Tips For Success For Interval Running Beginners

There are several things you can do to set yourself up for success with interval training. 

Gear Up

The right running gear can make all the difference in your workout. Make sure you have a good pair of running shoes and comfortable clothes. 

If you’re going to be running outdoors, you may also want to invest in some cold-weather gear (if it’s wintertime) or some sun-protection gear (if it’s summertime). 

Set A Goal

It can be helpful to set a goal for your interval training. Having a specific goal will help you stay motivated and on track. 

Your goal could be as simple as “run three times per week” or as specific as “run a 5K race in six weeks.”

Find A Workout Partner

It can be helpful to find a workout partner to help you stay motivated. A workout partner can also be a great source of support and encouragement (1).

If you don’t have any friends or family members who are interested in running, there are plenty of online communities (such as forums and social media groups) where you can connect with other runners. 

Get A Head Start

If you’re new to running, it can be helpful to get a head start on your training by doing some basic exercises to build up your endurance and strength.

Some good exercises to try are walking, cycling, and swimming. These exercises will help you build up your cardiovascular fitness so that you can better handle the demands of running. 

Listen To Your Body

It’s important to listen to your body when you’re interval training. While it’s normal to feel some discomfort when you’re pushing yourself hard, you should never feel pain. 

If you start to feel pain, slow down or stop altogether. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to injuries. 

Eat For Your Goals

You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Eating the right foods will help you perform your best and reach your goals. 

Make sure you’re eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You should also include lean protein in your diet to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue (6).

Stay Hydrated

It’s important to stay hydrated when you’re running. Drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your run. 

Water is the best choice for most runners, but you may also want to consider sports drinks if you’re running for more than an hour. Sports drinks can help replace electrolytes that are lost through sweating (17). 

Make Time For Recovery

Recovery is an important part of any training program. After a hard workout, your body needs time to repair and rebuild muscle tissue (18). 

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and taking rest days when needed. You may also want to consider using active recovery methods such as light jogging or walking, stretching, or foam rolling. 

The Bottom Line

Interval training is a great way to improve your fitness level. If you’re new to interval training, start slow and gradually increase the intensity of your workouts. 

Listen to your body and make sure you’re eating right and staying hydrated. And don’t forget to schedule time for recovery! With a little bit of planning and effort, you’ll be interval training like a pro in no time.


This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. 3 Reasons to Work Out With a Friend (2021, cdc.gov)
  2. Aerobic Glycolysis (2022, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. Aerobic interval training reduces blood pressure and improves myocardial function in hypertensive patients (2012, academic.oup.com)
  4. Anaerobic Threshold: Its Concept and Role in Endurance Sport (2004, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Calories: Total Macronutrient Intake, Energy Expenditure, and Net Energy Stores (1989, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit (2019, mdpi.com)
  7. Effectiveness of Low to Moderate Physical Exercise Training on the Level of Low-Density Lipoproteins: A Systematic Review (2017, hindawi.com)
  8. Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (2007, tandfonline.com)
  9. Exercise-Mediated Neurogenesis in the Hippocampus via BDNF (2018, frontiersin.org)
  10. Extremely short duration high intensity interval training substantially improves insulin action in young healthy males (2009, biomedcentral.com)
  11. Glycolysis (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  12. High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss (2001, hindawi.com)
  13. HIIT Program: High Intensity Interval Training for Clinical Populations (n.d., acefitness.org)
  14. Hypertension (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  15. Impact of 4 weeks of interval training on resting metabolic rate, fitness, and health-related outcomes (2017, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  16. Interval training for performance: a scientific and empirical practice. Special recommendations for middle- and long-distance running. Part I: aerobic interval training (2001, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  17. Practical Hydration Solutions for Sports (mdpi.com)
  18. Recovery after exercise: what is the current state of play? (2019, sciencedirect.com)
  19. Role of Insulin in Health and Disease: An Update (2021, mdpi.com)
  20. Speed- and Circuit-Based High-Intensity Interval Training on Recovery Oxygen Consumption (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  21. Superior Cardiovascular Effect of Aerobic Interval Training Versus Moderate Continuous Training in Heart Failure Patients (ahajournals.org)
  22. The Effects of Acute Exercise on Mood, Cognition, Neurophysiology, and Neurochemical Pathways: A Review (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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