Assuming you are now in your Build period of training with fewer than 12 weeks until your first A-priority race, now is probably the time to focus on interval training. I want to get into more detail on this topic in the coming days, but for now I’m just posting a quicky to make a general case for intervals. When I have time I’ll write about the types of intervals and their benefits relative to the typical events for which athletes train.
There have been many studies done on intervals. I’ll touch on some in the following parts of this series. One of the best reviews of the scientific literature on the topic came from Laursen and Jenkins at the University of Queensland in Australia (Laursen, P.B. & D.G. Jenkins. 2002. The scientific basis for high-intensity programmes and maximizing performance in highly trained endurance athletes. Sports Med 32(1):53-73). To quote from the study:
"Increased volume for highly trained athletes does not appear to further enhance endurance performance or associated physiological variables. For athletes who are already trained, improvements in endurance can be achieved only through high-intensity interval training."
This is a point I make repeatedly in this blog: the key to success for advanced athletes is intensity—not volume. If you want to go fast you must train fast. How many miles, kilometers, or meters you accumulate in each of the last 12 weeks before your event have much less impact on your performance on race day. If you’re going to make a mistake make it on the side of too little volume—not too little race-specific intensity.
The study’s authors go on to say that the improvements resulting from intervals are probably the result of increased muscle buffering capacity. This has to do with the body’s ability to absorb and remove the acid that accumulates in the muscles when the intensity is near or above lactate threshold.
They also indicate that the research has shown benefits for runners who did intervals at their velocity at VO2max (this is roughly 1-mile race pace). This is an interesting concept that has been known for at least 10 years now. But, they point out, supramaximal sprints by cyclists may be just as effective, or even more so, than doing intervals at power at VO2max (the equivalent of a runner’s velocity at VO2max). I’ll come back to both of these types of intervals in a subsequent post.