Brief workouts for runners: five interval sessions for holiday workouts

A woman on an exercise bike

In the fourth of a series of workouts for runners, which has previously looked at strength, core and dynamic warm-up exercises, fitness coach Donald Maxwell suggests a number of routines you can do on holiday

We have hit the school holiday season, which means that many of you will be heading away for a couple of weeks. Perhaps you will also have to keep your kids entertained from dawn to dusk. As a runner, it can be hard to get your usual mileage in. That’s where the following interval training sessions come in.

They based on two assumptions: 1) that you are away and have a hotel swimming pool and access to a treadmill and exercise bike; 2) that you are pressed for time and want to get your workout finished in under half an hour. That said, there’s no reason why you need to be on holiday to do these workouts. You might have a blister, say, which makes runningdifficult and you are looking for a change away from pounding the pavements. Or you might simply fancy doing something different.

So why intervals?

A study by Helgerud et al (2007) looked at 40 moderately trained subjects who were split into groups performing slow long-distance running and short interval running at around 90% of their maximum heart rate. They found that high-intensity endurance interval training was significantly more effective than performing the same total work at 70% of maximum heart rate in improving VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake) – an important factor when it comes to distance running.

If interval training twice a week can increase your VO2 max by even 5%, resulting in having that little bit extra in the lungs during a race, it is surely worthwhile. But there is another reason to train your anaerobic system – and the fast-twitch muscle fibres responsible for explosive movement – even if your goal is endurance running: for while fast-twitch fibres are not fuel-efficient over distance, they begin to wake up when your leg muscles start to fatigue during the latter stages of a race. So they may contribute to your overall muscular endurance in that race – as well as helping you in a sprint finish.

The workouts

Below I’ve suggested a few short workouts, varying in length and intensity. As I mentioned earlier, I was thinking of people who go abroad and find a solitary treadmill and exercise bike in their small hotel gym. That said, the interval workouts can also be done in a park or on the road.


Beginners: Set up the incline at 1% and, if you haven’t warmed up already, take 8-10 minutes of running gently, increasing the speed gradually. Once you get to the end of your warm-up, increase the speed to close to your maximum speed (which is usually around 15km/h for most beginners, but know your limits!) for 30 seconds, and then run gently for 2-3 minutes. Repeat this four more times.

Intermediates: The same principle as above, so warm up as before and then get going. However, your recovery times should be shorter, so reduce the gentle part of the run to around 60-90 seconds. You will want to increase that top speed too – you should be pretty much flat out for 30 seconds. Repeat the intervals seven more times before cooling down.


Cycling is a very time-effective way of squeezing in a quality training session. Also, because it is non-weight bearing there is no impact on the joints, so if you have joint problems or a joint-related injury then it can be safer than running. Check with your physiotherapist or doctor first in case your injury requires rest.

Bike intervals require a very simple protocol: perform a brief warm up (3-5 minutes), and then try five bursts of maximal effort cycling, each lasting 30 seconds, followed by three minutes of easy recovery cycling. The more experienced amongst you might want to reduce the recovery times to two or even one minute.


Swimming isn’t necessarily part of most runners’ routines, but it’s a good workout to try if you have a blister that prevents you from running. The good thing about swimming is that there is no impact on joints and you still get the full-body workout your body needs. Try an interval session to really hit the cardiovascular system. For beginners, start off slow:

1. Swim one length (breaststroke), rest for 30 seconds; repeat this 10 times and progressively work your way up.
2. In the next session, swim one length and rest for 30 seconds and repeat 20 times.
3. After this, try swimming two lengths and rest for 30 seconds, repeating 10 times.
4. Then progress to swimming two lengths and rest for 30 seconds, repeating 20 times.

If you already swim, then try beginning at the fourth point here.


Rachel C.
Research Scientist Consultant @ U-VIB
PhD, Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling
NREMT-P (National Registry of Paramedics)
– 911 Medic for over 15 years
– Scientist for over 7 years
– Runner for LIFE

source: The Guardian by Donald Maxwell


Categories: Runners, Sports

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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