How to do interval training without getting injured

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The benefits of interval training are well established. Adding in some short, sharp running to your weekly routine is proven to boost key metrics such as your VO2 max, lactate threshold and running economy. But interval training can also represent an injury risk. So, how can you incorporate it into your week without ending up on the physio’s bench?

A new study, published in Gait & Posture, looked into this. Specifically, it focused on interval training’s effects on gait patterns as a result of muscle fatigue. In other words, where is the tipping point at which the toughness of a session starts leading to poor running form – and potentially injury?

The observed changes in running form during the interval sessions were an increase in stride frequency, contact time and vertical displacement of centre of mass (often linked to over-striding).

So how to guard against these? Take appropriate recovery periods between sets, say the scientists. Specifically, when doing fast repeats of 200m or 1000m, you’ll typically need longer recovery periods (2 to 3 minutes). For longer, slower repeats greater than 1000m, recoveries can be 1 or 2 minutes.

Clearly, there is a time and place for taking shorter recoveries, too. Doing so, ramps up the intensity of a workout because recovery is incomplete, and your heart rate remains elevated when the next interval begins. ‘Typically, you use short rest to keep quality up in a workout and your heart rate high,’ Benita Willis, three-time Australian Champion in the Women’s 5000m, told Runner’s World US. ‘Longer rest periods when used training for shorter race are most beneficial so you can run a repetition almost flat out, then recover fully before you begin the remainder of the workout. Quality is the focus here, not quantity.’ In general, the more taxing the interval is, the faster it is, the more recovery is called for.

Whatever distance you’re training for, if you find your interval sessions are leading to niggles or long-term layoffs, consider experimenting with the recovery times. As this new study suggests, it might make all the difference.

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