If you’re ready to take your running workouts to the next level, you’ve probably heard that running intervals can help you improve your aerobic capacity, endurance, stamina (exercise tolerance), and speed.
A HIIT running workout takes basic intervals up a notch. Interval training refers to any workout that alternates between periods of exercise and periods of recovery. HIIT is a type of interval training in which you alternate between intense bursts of exercise —at around 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate — and short periods of recovery.
HIIT Running Workout for Beginners
Ready to give high-intensity interval running a try? This simple workout created by Hilton is beginner friendly.
- Warm up with 10 to 15 minutes of easy jogging followed by some dynamic stretches.
- Run 30 seconds at a high-intensity pace — around 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate.
- Recover for 1 to 2 minutes with an easy jog or brisk walk.
- Continue alternating for a total of 8 to 10 rounds.
- End your workout with 10 to 15 minutes of easy jogging.
How a HIIT Running Workout Can Boost Performance
Adding high intensity intervals to your running workout can improve your running in several ways.
1. Boost Speed and Power
According to Nick Hilton — Olympic Trials marathon qualifier, manager of Run Flagstaff specialty store, and a Run S.M.A.R.T. Project coach based in Flagstaff, AZ — running high-intensity intervals can help you accumulate more time running at a faster pace than if you simply tried to run at that pace for as long as you could.
If you simply try to sprint as fast as you can for as long as you can maintain that pace, you’re likely to tucker out quickly. But if you run hard for 30 seconds, followed by 1 to 2 minutes at a recovery pace, you’ll spend far more time training at your max speed.
This can help your body adapt to the effort more safely and effectively than simply trying to run at your goal pace for as long as you can. As you adapt, you can shorten your recovery intervals. “Over time, you would increase the amount of time spent at your 5K pace, and decrease the amount of recovery,” Hilton says.
2. Improve Running Economy (and Get Faster)
Running economy measures the relationship between oxygen consumption and running speed — in other words, how efficiently you run. And the better your running economy is, the easier your run will feel, which can help you maintain a faster pace. In a 2017 study, recreational runners who performed two HIIT running workouts per week for one month improved their running economy by 7 percent and peak treadmill speed by 5 percent during a 5K running trial. And in a study comparing highly trained runners with similar ability levels and VO2max levels, the runners with the best running economy outperformed their peers.
3. Improve Aerobic Fitness
Research has shown that HIIT workouts can improve aerobic fitness markers. In one study of moderately trained men, HIIT was more effective for increasing VO2max and stroke volume (the volume of blood pumped from your heart per beat) than doing the same amount of work at a lower intensity. In other words, HIIT may increase your body’s capacity to run longer and harder with a shorter time commitment than traditional steady state cardio exercise.
Here’s how to turn your running intervals into an effective HIIT running workout.
How to Create a HIIT Running Workout
It’s easy to create a HIIT workout around running. All you have to do is alternate between sprints — roughly 80 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate — and short periods of active rest (think: jogging).
If you’re new to interval training, Hilton recommends incorporating one HIIT running workout into your routine per week, and keeping the work intervals shorter than the recovery periods until you feel ready to step it up and flip it around.
What’s your ideal HIIT running pace?
For your HIIT running workout, you want to find a pace that’s challenging enough to get your heart rate up to 80 to 90 percent of your max heart rate. But it shouldn’t be so challenging that you can’t repeat that cycle several times.
You can also gauge intensity by rating your perceived exertion level on a scale from 0–10, where 0 means you’re sitting on the couch, while 10 means you’re working at your absolute maximum effort (think sprinting up a steel hill). Your HIIT intervals should fall between an 8 and 9.