5 Running Interval Workouts to Build Fitness & Speed Quickly

5 Running Interval Workouts to Build Fitness & Speed Quickly


If someone told you:

“Hey, there’s a way to get faster, fitter AND burn tons of calories, all in less time than a regular workout!”

Would you believe them?

Well, if they were talking about running interval workouts…they’d be 100% correct.

Runners love intervals.

Like a fat kid loves cake.

So if you’re ready to turn up the intensity and add something new to your running schedule…keep reading for tons of running interval training tips and workouts to get this year off to a huge BANG!

What Are Running Intervals?

Running Interval Workouts - What Are Intervals

Running intervals are a type of measured running workout that alternate bursts of high and low intensity to improve endurance and speed.

They are super flexible and can be highly tailored to your fitness level and goals.

Endless possibilities!

The Benefits of Running Interval Training

Running Interval Workouts - Benefits

Interval training provides multiple benefits to runners.

Do these benefits sound enticing?

Endurance – Interval training improves cardiovascular health. It can also improve your VO2 Max rate (meaning more efficient use of oxygen and higher aerobic endurance).

Speed – Pushing your body to speed up for short bursts, followed by short rest periods, slowly increases your upper speed threshold. You’ll see quick improvements in sprint and tempo paces after even a few running interval sessions.

Calorie-Burning Goodness – Burn 8-16 calories per minute doing high intensity interval workouts! Compare this to lower-effort continuous exercises like walking (3-4 calories per minute), light cycling (6-9 calories per minute) or slow running (7-12 calories per minute) and you’re almost doubling the calorie-burn in some cases!

Very Time-Efficient (More Benefit in Less Time)Studies like this show that high intensity workouts are much more efficient than their moderate counterparts. This means you can spend half the time doing a running interval workout and get the same benefit compared to a slower continuous exercise done for double the time. So a 30 minute interval workout provides the same benefits as a 60 minute (less-intense) one!

See why all runners should incorporate running intervals into their schedules?

The benefits speak for themselves, but before you choose your next interval workout, learn what types exist so you choose wisely.

The 4 Variables of Interval Workouts

Running Interval Workouts - Benefits of Intervals

I love acronyms (don’t judge me).

DIRT is an easy one for interval workouts:

  • Distance: the total length (usually in meters or miles) covered each repetition
  • Interval: Interval refers to the period of rest in between repetitions of high intensity
  • Repetitions: The period of high intensity exercise (so High Intensity = Repetition and Rest Period/Low Intensity = Interval)
  • Time: How fast to run each Repetition.

These 4 variables are easily changeable to adjust effort up or down to meet your goals…or to simply switch up your workout to prevent boredom.

Common Types of Running Interval Workouts

Running Interval Workouts - Common Interval Types

Because each DIRT variable can be altered, the workout possibilities are endless.

However, in the running world, there are some basic running interval workout names you’ll encounter. Let’s review the most popular so you’re familiar with them and their purposes.


Repeats: This workout repeats the same distance (like a track lap of 400 meters, or a mile, etc) a set number of times.

Pyramids: This workout’s repetition distance starts lower, goes up higher, then goes back down lower. For example: 200 meters, 400 meters, 600 meters, 400 meters, 200 meters.

Ladders: This workout progresses you from shorter to longer repetitions (or longer to shorter) like: 1/4 mile, 1/2 mile, 3/4 mile, 1 mile. It helps teach your legs to continue to turnover properly and quickly, even when tired.

Beyond the Basics:

“Ins and Outs”: The perfect running interval workout for a track…run faster on the straightaways (the repetition) and then recover on the turns (the interval).

Cut-Downs: Teach your body to finish strong and fast by completing several longer repeats (long is relative to your fitness level…could be 1/2 mile or 2 miles, etc) and then ending the workout with several faster and shorter repeats (200 meters, 1/4 mile, etc).

Ok, now that you’ve learned the 4 interval variables and some common running interval workouts, let’s take a look at the shorthand for interval workouts….because quite frankly, this turned me off from even trying running intervals for a long time (but it’s not as complicated as it seems).

Understanding Interval Workout Shorthand

Running Interval Workouts - Shorthand

Admittedly…the shorthand for running workouts confused the heck out of me for years.

I actually avoided new running interval workouts because I didn’t understand the shorthand.

Feel the same?

Then let’s break this down together.

Sample Running Interval: 6 x 200 @ 45; 2

This is shorthand for six repeats of 200 meters run in 45 seconds, with a two minute recovery period (“interval”) in between repetitions.

“200’s”, etc – The number represented here is meters. A typical track is 1/4 a mile loop around, which is 400 meters.  Many running interval workouts are based off multiples of 400 meters (one loop around a 1/4 mile track). Or 200’s (half a loop).

“6 X” or “X6”, etc – The number of repeats (in the example, repeat running 200 meters fast, followed by a 2 minute recovery, 6 times)

“@45”, etc – The time you should be completing one repetition (in the example, 200 meters). Indicates pace/effort of intense bursts.

Pick a Goal (Choose the Right Running Interval Workout for You)

Running Interval Workouts - Pick a Goal

Because there are SO many different ways to do running intervals, it’s super important to select your goal ahead of time.

Selecting a goal helps you choose the right workout, and avoid injury.

For example, you’ll do a wildly different running interval workout if you’re trying to increase your speed for a 5K compared to a marathon.

Plus, if you go into a workout without a goal, you may pick the wrong running interval workout for your body.

It could be way too intense, or not intense enough.

Or not adding any value towards your current fitness or running ambitions.

5 Super-Effective Running Interval Workouts for Runners

Now, for the actual workouts you’ve been waiting for!

1.) Speed-Demon Sprint Intervals

The Workout’s Purpose: Increase speed with short bursts of intense exercise that pushes your limits, but only for a quick period of time.

The Workout: Warm up for 10-15 minutes. 10 x 200 meters (1/2 a lap at the track, or 1/8 of a mile) at 30 seconds, with 2 minutes rest in between repetitions. Cool down for 10-15 minutes.

2.) The Panting Pyramid

The Workout’s Purpose: Learn to keep up your pace during increasingly longer distances, before easing back down for the second half of the workout.

For All: Warm up for 10-15 minutes. Cool down for 10-15 minutes.

Beginner’s Panting Pyramid: 200, 400, 600, 800, 600, 400, 200 (2 miles + recovery intervals)

Intermediate Panting Pyramid: 400, 600, 800, 1200, 800, 600, 400 (3 miles + recovery intervals)

Advanced Panting Pyramid: 400, 800, 1200, 1600, 1200, 800, 400 (4 miles + recovery intervals)

3.) Mind Over Matter Ladder Workout

The Workout’s Purpose: Teach your legs to keep going at a certain pace, even when fatigued.

Plus, flex your mental muscle too – sometimes it just takes mind over matter to keep the pace up towards the end!

The Workout: 200, 400, 600, 800, 1000, 1200 with equal recovery intervals in between (2.5 miles + recovery intervals)

4.) Time-Based Pyramid of Fun

The Workout’s Purpose: Teach your body to amp up the pace and effort before heading back down the easy train after.

The Workout: Warm up 10-15 minutes. Run 1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1 minute repetitions at a 5K race pace (or close to it). Your recovery interval is half the repetition time (so do an active recovery interval of 30 seconds after a 1 minute repetition, etc). Cool down 10-15 minutes.

BONUS: Running Interval Tips

Running Interval Workouts - Tips

Great, you’ve chosen to integrate running interval workouts into your running schedule!

Before starting, read the following tips to make sure you’re setting yourself up for success:

  • Only run intervals one time per week, no more
  • Mix up your interval workouts week over week (try not to do the same workout two consecutive weeks in a row)
  • Switch direction if running on a track (to balance out the strain on your legs evenly)
  • Avoid intense interval training if you’re injured
  • Consult with a professional for a tailored plan customized towards your running goals
  • Make sure to honestly assess your current fitness before doing running interval workouts…you should have a solid running base built before beginning tough interval workouts
  • Proper nutrition and hydration are important! Don’t eat crap, or your training will be crap.


Summary – Ready to Run?!

Running interval training increases running endurance and speed and can be integrated into any training plan with varying levels of difficulty.

Runners who want to step up their training can use interval runs to take their running to the next level (just make sure you choose a running interval workout compatible with your specific running goals).

You got this, runner friend!

Now go forth and run those intervals like the running animal you are! 🙂

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Integrate running interval workouts into your routine and watch your pace improve.
Increase your fitness and speed with these 5 running interval workouts! #running #runningtips
Integrate one of these 5 effective running interval workout into your weekly schedule and watch your pace improve.
Integrate a running interval workout into your weekly schedule and watch your pace improve.
Increase your fitness and speed with these 5 running interval workouts! #running #runningtips
Increase your fitness and speed with these 5 running interval workouts! #running #runningtips

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