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Interval Training For Endurance

Interval training for endurance is hotly debated among the sports science field and in athletic coaching circles. But consider this, the key determining factor for performance in an endurance athlete is anaerobic threshold. This is even more important than VO2 max and various other indicators. If you can operate at a higher level without having to dip into the anaerobic energy systems then you can maintain a faster pace for a longer time, that’s how simple it is.

This interval training for endurance programme is meant as a component of an overall endurance training programme. It simply has a schedule of interval sessions that can be incorporated into the rest of the programme. I recommend using this closer to race dates or after a sufficient aerobic base has been built.

Please remember that this is not a full programme in itself, it is a PART of an overall endurance programme. Do not expect to become a world-class endurance athlete just from doing intervals. Also of note is that I have left the modality of training open to any sport. The same interval protocols apply to swimming, running, rowing, cycling etc.

Finally, just a clarification on what is meant by “endurance athlete”. An endurance athlete is any athlete that performs an activity continuously at a steady rate for longer than 20 minutes. 10km runners, marathon runners, triathletes, ocean swimmers all fall into the category of endurance athletes. All of these people will benefit from a regime of interval training for endurance.

The Programme

Before beginning the programme I urge you to do your research and consult with your coach. Ensure that this schedule does not conflict with your current endurance training regime. If you are currently doing any form of speed work or other intervals then cease them while doing this programme.

The interval training for endurance programme is based on a layered system. You need to first have a solid aerobic base before this will work for you. We will structure this programme in three phases. Each phase should last 4-8 weeks:

1. Anaerobic Power: In layman’s terms this is simply the work capacity in a given time period. A vertical jump or a 100 metre sprint would fall into this category.

2. Anaerobic Capacity: This one refers to the capacity of your body to perform at a near-maximal effort for a sustained period. The length of time a given output is maintained is your anaerobic capacity. Being that this pace is well above your anaerobic threshold, it is not possible to maintain it longer than about 3 minutes.

3. Anaerobic Threshold: Anaerobic threshold is the level of effort at which your body switches from aerobic to anaerobic, going from maintainable indefinitely to maintainable for a limited period of time.

Phase One: Anaerobic Power


20 intervals of the following ratios (Time:Rest). As an example a 60 second interval with 40 seconds rest will be written as 60:40. All interval times will be written in seconds.

5 x 5:10

5 x 10:20

5 x 20:30

5 x 20:10


Weighted plyometrics (your choice on type) for 5 x 5

Non-weighted plyometrics (your choice on type) for 5 x 5


12 maximum efforts of between 10 – 15 seconds with a long rest in between. A good example of this is absolute max effort 100 metre sprints.

Phase Two: Anaerobic Capacity


This is a Tabata session, which means 20 seconds of effort followed by 10 seconds of rest repeated eight times. This constitutes one set. If done properly no more than three sets are needed in an entire workout. Rest for 2-3 minutes between sets. Well, that explains the workout.

Just to clarify it is intervals of 20:10 x 8 for three sets with 2-3 minutes rest between sets of eight.


12 intervals of one minute maximum effort followed by 40 seconds rest. Simple as that.


Five intervals of absolute max effort performed for as long as possible. I mean max effort. Keep going until you physically can’t. An example of this might be running at a complete sprint around a 400 metre track until your body can’t go any further. That’s one interval. Rest 1-3 minutes between each.

Phase Three: Anaerobic Threshold

This will consist of long intervals performed at just over your anaerobic threshold. Meaning that it is not possible to maintain that pace for a prolonged period.


Estimate your race time for this one. Now perform at a continuous/aerobic pace for the first three minutes then increase the pace to one you can barely maintain for the next three. Continue this way for the entire duration.


Three intervals of 10 minutes each performed at 120% of your usual race pace.


Two intervals performed at 150% of your race pace maintained for as long as possible.


That’s the programme, interval training for endurance. Simple yet effective and something thatcan be carefully structured into your normal training schedule. Remember to work through each phase for at least a month before moving to the next. This is guaranteed to improve your race times.

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