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Interval and Continuous Training

Continuous training is when an athlete exercises in a steady aerobic way and interval training is characterised by repetitions of work with a recovery period following each repetition.

Continuous Training

This can be broken down into the following sub-divisions that have slightly different effects upon the energy pathways.

  • Running at 50 to 60% of HRmax or 20 to 36% of V02 Max. Very easy pace - metabolises fat - aerobic - duration 60 minutes plus. Useful for joggers & ultra-distance runners.
  • Running at 60 to 70% of HRmax or 36 to 52% of V02 Max. Slightly faster pace - burns glycogen and fat - aerobic - duration 45 to 90 minutes. Useful for marathon runners. Improves cardiovascular system - capillarisation
  • Running at 70 to 80% of HRmax or 52 to 68% of V02 Max. 10km pace - burns glycogen - aerobic - duration 30 to 45 minutes - 10km and marathon runners. Improves cardiovascular system - capillarisation - glycogen burning
  • Running at 80 to 90% of HRmax or 68 to 83% of V02 Max. 5km pace - burns glycogen - anaerobic - duration 10 to 20 minutes. Useful for 5km to marathon. Improves cardiovascular system - capillarisation - glycogen burning - lactate tolerance and removal.
  • Running at 90 to 100% of HRmax or 83 to 99% of V02 Max. 800/1500m pace - burns glycogen - anaerobic - duration 1 to 5 minutes. Useful for 800 to 5km. Improves glycogen burning - lactate tolerance and removal

Heart rate training zones (e.g. 70% HRmax) are calculated by taking into consideration your maximum heart rate (HRmax) and your resting heart rate (HRrest).

Interval Training

Interval running enables the athlete to improve the workload by interspersing heavy bouts of fast running with recovery periods of slower jogging. The athlete runs hard over any distance up to 1k and then has a period of easy jogging. During the run, lactic acid is produced and a state of oxygen debt is reached. During the interval (recovery), the heart and lungs are still stimulated as they try to pay back the debt by supplying oxygen to help break down the lactates. The stresses put upon the body cause an adaptation including capillarisation, strengthening of the heart muscles, improved oxygen uptake and improved buffers to lactates. All this leads to improved performance.

Before undertaking interval training bear the following in mind:

  • Undertake a period of Continuous running before starting Interval running
  • Consider the various elements of the session:
    • The length of the work interval, longer gives a better effect
    • The pace should be comfortable raising your heart rate to the required % of HRmax (see above)
    • The number of repetitions should reflect your condition and age
    • The rest interval should enable you to jog and bring the heart rate down to near 100-110 bpm
  • Improvements can be made by altering any of the above variables, however you should only change one variable at a time
  • All changes should be gradual and take place over a period of time
  • Ensure the surface to be run on is flat and even. It is usual to do interval training on a track although it can be done on good quality grass playing fields or on a treadmill.

Circuit training is a common method of interval training.

Example of Interval Sessions

Karp (2011)[1] suggests the following interval sessions:

Aerobic Intervals (cardiovascular)

  • 5 x 3 min @ VO2 max pace (95-100% HRmax) - recovery 2½ to 3 min recovery/rep
  • 3 x 4 min @ VO2 max pace (95-100% HRmax) - recovery 3½ to 4 min recovery/rep

Anaerobic Capacity Intervals (glycolytic)

  • 4 to 8 x 30 secs @ 95% - 2 min jog recovery/rep
  • 4 to 8 x 60 secs @ 90% - 3 min jog recovery/rep

Anaerobic Power Intervals (phosphagen)

  • 2 x 8 x 5 secs @ 100% - recovery 3min/rep, 5min/set
  • 5 x 10 secs @ 100% - recovery 3-4 mins

Referenced Material

  1. KARP, J. (2011) Time for an interval. Athletics Weekly, Aug 18 2011, p.37

Associated References

  • LAURSEN, P. B., and JENKINS, D. G. (2002) The scientific basis for high-intensity interval training. Sports Medicine, 32 (1), p. 53-73
  • GAESSER, G. A., and WILSON, L. A. (1988) Effects of continuous and interval training on the parameters of the power-endurance time relationship for high-intensity exercise. International journal of sports medicine, 9 (06), p. 417-421
  • POOLE, D. C., and GAESSER, G. A. (1984) Response of ventilatory and lactate thresholds to continuous and interval training (Master's thesis, UCLA).

Page Reference

The reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2000) Continuous and Interval Training [WWW] Available from: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/conintrn.htm [Accessed

Associated Pages

The following Sports Coach pages should be read in conjunction with this page: