Interval Training: How to improve your running speed as a beginner

Running in intervals for a quicker time

Woman running intervals

Interval training can be used to improve speed. The training can be personally structured to your individual needs and is therefore suitable for both weekend runners and professionals. We will explain to you how to do interval training correctly and how to build up your endurance and increase your performance.

With interval training, you can improve your speed and make dramatic improvements with your performance. By the way, an interval is a break. Between phases of excertion, there is a pause. Before we give you an example of interval training, we'll clarify basic questions so that you can make your interval training as effective as possible. If you already know the basics, you can jump directly to the training section.

Answers to the most important questions about interval training

Before you begin interval training, we would like to answer the most important questions about interval training. If you understand exactly how the training works and what you should pay attention to, you can better train.

Woman sprinting while doing interval training
Learn why interval training leads to a jump in performance.

What's interval training all about?

Interval training is speed training. This means that by running in intervals, you have quick sessions of intense activity.

But what does interval training do to the body? Interval training puts a high load on the body. During training, all body parts necessary for running are activated, such as the cardiovascular system, the lungs and muscles.

After the high load phase, your body will begin to recover and prepare itself for the next interval. The body then has more energy ready to use. This finally results in a "leap" of performance.


Who is interval training suitable for?

Interval training is suitable for beginners with running experience as well as professional runners, because the training can be customised to the runner's individual performance level.

As a beginner, you should train regularly (at least four times a week), have a solid basic endurance and be able to jog 5 to 10 kilometres in the GA1 range. It's also important you have a controlled running posture so that you don't injure yourself.

What does GA1 mean?

GA1 refers to the basic endurance range one. It describes the speed where you can run while talking easily. Your maximum heart rate is between 60 and 75 percent. In the GA1 range, you train endurance and form the building blocks for future improvement.

How often per week should I incorporate interval training?

The recovery phase takes about 48 hours. Interval training should therefore be followed by a more relaxed training session.

When training four to five times a week, incorporate one interval training session per week. Too much interval training overloads your body. This increases the risk of injury and can results in a drop in performance.

What is important, speed or distance?

Interval training is not about sprinting. What is important is a targeted speed, which you can maintain in all repetitions through the total workout.. The difficultly lies not in a single repetition, but in a series of repetitions.

Woman on a track
Do not sprint while training in intervals.

What equipment do I need for interval training?

For interval training, you need to know how long you're running and how much time it takes. To track the time, you can either use a smartphone or stopwatch.

If you want to run in the countryside, you can measure the distance and time with a pulse watch that has GPS.

It's important you measure your pulse in the breaks. If you do not have a heart rate monitor, make sure that you breathe normally and can talk without difficulty before starting the next session.

Runner looks at heart rate monitor
For interval runs you only need a stopwatch.

How far should I run?

Beginners using interval training should run a distance of 400 to 600 metres that last at least two minutes and a maximum of 6 minutes.

The distances become longer at 1,000 to 6,000 meters when preparing for a marathon.

How long should the breaks be?

The duration of your breaks depends on your fitness and the distance ran. However, you should wait until your pulse has reached 70% your maximum heart rate, so that your body can recover sufficiently.

400 to 600 meters usually take 90 to 120 seconds to run.

Jogger recovers from interval running
Fitness progression occurs when your body is regenerating.

Formula for determining your maximum pulse according to Winfried Spanaus:

Spanaus is a sports scientist and author of the book "Herzfrequenzkontrolle im Ausdauersport".

Max Heart Beat = 223 - 0.9 x Age

Max Heart Beat = 226 - Age

Please note that the calculation of the maximum heart rate can only be accurately determined by professional performance diagnostics.

When taking a break, it is up to you if you should cool down with a slow run or just stand. The opinions of experts are divided in this respect. For beginners it can be easier to normalize the pulse while running.


How fast should I run the intervals?

Your speed is usually calculated from your previous five or ten kilometre race.

Running group sprints in interval training
The duration depends on your individual goals.

You can run at either

  • average speed in competitions
  • or ten to 20 seconds faster per minute than the average five or ten kilometers you run.

However, the figures are very vague. If you want to train specifically for a competition, you should contact a running specialist to get a grasp of your ideal pace. If running is a hobby, an online calculator (in German) might be helpful.

How interval training works

Let's go - Now you have all the important information about interval running and can start training. We'll explain to you exactly how you can begin interval training as a beginner.

Warm-up phase

Before you start running intervals, you must warm up. This will help you avoid injury and slowly prepare your body for the strain ahead. This will allow you to perform at full capacity during the periods of exertion.

To warm up, you should jog for at least 15 minutes loosely and do two to three loose sprints to stimulate your muscles for the training.

Whether and how you stretch before and after training is explained by Dr. Christiane Wilke in our article "The best stretching exercises before and after running".

Interval Training

The following training plan serves as an example for interval runs for beginners. However, every body and performance level is different, even for beginners. Therefore, always pay attention to your body's signals and, if necessary, speak to a running specialist and create a training plan together.

Man trains intervals on a track
Everybody is different - so be patient with your training plan.

Interval training plan for beginners:

  • First 2 weeks
  • 4 x 400 meter run with 90 to 120 second breaks
  • Next 2 weeks
  • 8 x 400 meter run with 90 to 120 second breaks
  • Next week
  • In the fifth week, we recommend an easier week. 4 x 400 meter run with 90 to 120 second breaks
  • 6th week
10 x 400 meter run with 90 to 120 second breaks

You do not have to increase the number of intervals as we've stated. Do not increase the number of intervals until you can run 4 x 400 metres. If you have reached week six and the 10 x 400 meters are no longer a problem, you can start to increase the distance to 500 or 600 metres.

Cool Down

After interval training, you should finish with a slow 15 minute jog in order to cool down and reduce the lactate in your legs.

Woman jogging in the forest by herself with sunset approaching
Cooling down after interval training is just as important as warming up.


Lactate is the salt of lactic acid, which is produced when you need more oxygen than your body can provide. Because lactate is produced in your muscles and cannot be broken down during prolonged exercise, your muscles become acidic and your legs heavy.

Next goal: Marathon

Small goals are important, but having a big goal in mind is also important. If you see interval training not just as a challenge but a passion, a marathon could be the next step!

The two marathon and running experts Anna and Lisa Hahner explain in the article "Marathon Training & Preparation" how to reach your goal.

A small goal would be a half marathon, for example. Are you still looking for the right jersey? Then take a look at our Online Shop and design your own personal jersey in our 3D Designer.

We wish you the best in your training!


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