How Long to Recover Between Intervals

I just started doing interval workouts and I love them. I’m running hard then jogging for one minute each, but I’m finding I’m not recovered after the breaks. Can I modify the recovery without losing the benefits of the workout? —Jack

I love your question because it is filled with intellect and intuition. One, you’re in tune with your body enough to realize you’re not recovering. And two, you’re wise to question whether it can be modified.

One of the most effective ways to run these high-intensity workouts is to use a rest-based strategy. Instead of predetermining a recovery time or distance, you follow your body’s response to figure out the recovery time.

The quality of your recovery phase affects the quality of your interval performance. If you rush the recovery, it can affect the quality of the intervals as well as your recovery after the workout. This is particularly important for runners who are just getting into speedwork, or returning to it. Here’s an example:
This is one of the climbing interval workouts I recently did using a rest-based strategy. I did 10 intervals all at the same distance, grade, and speed. The purpose of the workout was to train in my red zone (anaerobic) very much like a hard running interval workout.

Recovery Time Varies

You’ll notice that although every interval was the same distance, grade, and speed, the time it took for my body to return to my easy-effort zone varied. For the first five intervals it took a little more than a minute. But after I crossed my fatigue threshold, my recovery time increased to about two minutes.

(The fatigue threshold is where the body begins to see a decline in performance. Had I gone on to do a lot more intervals, my form would have deteriorated, my recovery times would have grown longer, and the quality of the performance would have greatly suffered. The goal is to push hard, maintain form, and venture just beyond the threshold.)

The amount of time the body needs to recover after each interval will vary based on how you’re feeling on the day, the demands of the workout, how fast you’re going, the weather, how much you’ve slept, how fit you are, and more. This is one of the reasons why the rest-based strategy is so effective, as it tailors the amount of recovery needed to perform each interval optimally.

Although I used heart rate to determine my recovery time, you can also use perceived exertion by tuning into your breath and how you feel. The goal is to feel like you’ve caught your breath and you’re ready to run another strong interval.

Rest-Based Workouts …

Teach You How to Tune In
Some people may find when they tune in to their bodies that they need to walk instead of jog to recover. Just by making that one adjustment, they’re able to run faster in each interval. The quality of your recovery phase determines the quality of your speed and performance.

Highlight Your Strengths and Weaknesses
If you keep track of your stats you’ll see your progress more clearly as your body is able to run faster and recover more efficiently. On the flipside, you’ll also be able to see your weaknesses too. Instead of just running a specific hard-easy ratio of minutes or distance, on the not-so-good performance days you’ll notice your body’s struggle to run hard and to recover. This is a sign that you may need an active or passive rest day—you may be tired or getting sick.

Customise Your Training to You
For all the formulas and calculations that exist, there is nothing more effective than a workout that is tailored to your body on the given day. By using Rest-Based Workouts you are tailoring every interval to your body’s response to the workload, thereby improving the value and benefit of the workout tremendously.

When you go into your next interval workout, strap on your heart rate monitor or tune into your breath and let your body inform you how much recovery time it needs. As you keep track, you’ll begin to see just how interesting this strategy can be to your training.

Subscribe to Runner's World


Related Articles