Whether you regularly rip through mile repeats or you're new to speed work, you probably pay more attention to the time, pace, and effort of the hard work than you do to the rest in between. But recovery intervals are just as critical to performing your best. Rush or drag out this period, and you might not reap the intended benefits of your session, says Mindy Solkin, owner and head coach of the Running Center in New York City.
How you rest is up to you—walk, stretch, or jog, just don't sit down, as blood can pool in your legs and turn them to lead. "I often tell people they should do what's comfortable," says Jeff Gaudette, head coach at RunnersConnect in Boston. "What you do during the rest period isn't going to have as dramatic an effect as the length of the rest." Before your next speed session, determine whether your downtime should be short, medium, or long.
Short Rest: 30 to 90 SecondsShort recovery intervals keep the intensity of the workout elevated, teaching you to run through fatigue. Your body gets more efficient at clearing the lactic acid that causes muscles to burn, so you can run harder or longer, says Joe McConkey, M.S., a coach at the Boston Running Center. Because the intervals are so short, your breathing will be heavy and your heart rate will remain high throughout, says Sean Coster, a coach and exercise physiologist in Portland, Oregon.
Use it: To build speed and stamina. Total newbies can build endurance by running easy for one minute, resting for one minute for up to 30 minutes. Novice runners can alternate five to 10 sets of one minute hard running with one minute jogging or incorporate short rests into a fartlek workout. Advanced runners targeting 5Ks or 10Ks can do hard repeats of 400 to 800 meters with short rests in between. After your workout, try these 6 Stretches That Help Speed Recovery regularly to avoid a running injury.
Medium Rest: 2 to 4 MinutesStopping short of complete recovery teaches your body to sustain its lactate threshold longer. In other words, it helps you build stamina, so you're more comfortable running at goal pace, says Solkin. At the end of the rest, you'll feel 80 to 90 percent recovered, as if you were in the middle of an easy run, says Gaudette.
Use it: To improve endurance at race pace. Advanced beginners may run two or three quarter-mile repeats at a comfortably hard pace with four minutes rest, says Solkin. Runners racing 5Ks and 10Ks should take medium breaks during 800-to 1000-meter repeats. Half and full marathoners can use them to break up long tempos into two-or three-mile segments. "You can stay on the road longer and simulate your race without doing the complete effort," Gaudette says. (Not sure how advanced you are? These 5 Fitness Tests will help you determine whether you're fit to run.)
Long Rest: 4 to 10 MinutesExtended rest allows your heart and breathing rate to return to resting levels, which helps you attack the next repeat with the same effort you ran the previous one, thereby ensuring a quality workout, says Solkin. The extended downtime should leave you refreshed, and without the fatigue that contributes to poor form and injury, she says. You should feel 100-percent recovered and ready to go.
Use it: To build speed and running economy (the ability to comfortably handle faster paces) or to boost aerobic capacity. For speed, pair long rest with two to three minutes (or a quarter-mile) of hard running. Jog between longer repeats of 1.5 to 3 miles to build volume. "What would only be a four-mile workout of intervals, rest, warmup, and cool down can turn into eight miles," says Solkin.
Run better: If you jog during rest periods, keep the pace super slow. Depending on the length of your repeat, you may end up jogging half the distance. And always follow these 10 Laws of Injury Prevention to avoid a major running mishap.
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