NEW INTERVAL TRAINING
"Most runners doing repetition training do the reps too fast, with too long a recovery and too inactive a recovery -
New Interval Training provides the solution to this by developing rhythmic training that is more related to
the demands of running and is founded on sound physiological principles."
What is the 'New Interval Training'?
'Interval Training' is simply and very specifically any repetition training where the training effect takes place during the recovery intervals between the faster paced runs. The 'New Interval Training' is simply and very specifically any repetition training where what the athlete does during the 'recovery intervals' is crucial and actually has a profound effect on the training of the metabolic energy systems.
What the athlete does in the interval between the faster repetitions in the New Interval Training is an active 'roll-on' running recovery. The effect of this active roll-on recovery is to supercharge the development of the synergistic relationship between the lactate and aerobic energy systems, improving performance at all paces and distances. You will run faster for longer as your running economy; your velocity at VO2max, the vVO2max, and the time you can run at your vVO2max, the tlimvVO2max, all improve. Exactly what this 'roll-on' recovery is and how to do it effectively will be explained on this website.
New Interval Training helps us to understand why some types of running training have worked so well in the past and, importantly, explains how to make new and even more effective training sessions for the future.
Let's first take a quick look at traditional 'Repetition Training', since all interval training is a specific type of repetition training. You are aware that coaches and athletes frequently use repetition training by breaking training distances down into parts, with the parts being repeated, hence 'Repetition Training'. A typical, simple repetition session might be 15 repetitions of 400m, which would be referred to as a '400m rep session' or doing '400m reps'.
When you watch a typical traditional repetition session at the track the faster sections, the 'reps', are obvious and the recovery duration between reps is usually clearly defined in terms of either time, such as 90 seconds recovery, or distance, such as 100m recovery. But the recovery activity itself in these traditional repetition training sessions is usually poorly defined, if at all, as just "rest", "walk", or "jog".
This repetition training, the breaking down of training into smaller, more manageable, repeated bites has probably happened since the very first time that a man or woman put on clothing for a formal training session and we do start to find clear references to 'repetition training' by the early 1900s.
Move on rapidly through history from the early 1900s to the present day and our understanding of how the body produces metabolic energy has vastly changed and it is possible to identify and define a 'New Interval Training', where the training effect we're looking for happens specifically in the recovery intervals between the reps, the faster runs.
In the New Interval Training on the track the recovery interval is defined usually in terms of distance and the athlete does a specific active 'roll-on' recovery. The diagram illustrates the clear difference between New Interval Training and traditional Repetition Training.
In 1994 I introduced the term, 'Lactate Dynamics Training' to specifically classify the training for the dynamic utilisation and clearance of lactate so that lactate is optimally used around the body. How does this fit in with the current thinking on lactate and lactic acid?
As a coach or athlete you're probably aware that lactic acid can form when you're exercising, particularly when it's a more intense activity. You may believe, or have been told, that it only forms when you 'run out of oxygen', that the burning sensation that comes, say, from a long, fast sprint is caused by this lactic acid. You may also believe that the soreness that comes the day after a hard training session is again caused by lactic acid and that massage will help to get rid of this waste product. From all this you may still believe that lactic acid in the body is very bad news.
The reality is very different. All the old beliefs of how bad lactic acid was are now known to be myths and unfounded. It is not produced just when the body 'runs out of oxygen', it doesn't produce burning sensations and it doesn't produce muscle soreness. Far from being a troublesome waste product, lactic acid or part of it, can help us produce more energy, more quickly. We now know that lactic acid, as such, just does not exist in the body. As soon as it's formed it dissociates, it splits up, into a 'lactate bit' and an 'acidic bit'.
"All interval training is repetition training but not all repetition training is interval training."
The lactate bit is definitely not a 'bad guy' but is instead a positive and central player in our metabolism and in how we produce energy. Understanding the role of lactate in the body makes it easy to understand why certain types of training we have done in the past have worked so well and how we can now apply this knowledge more precisely to design training sessions, including those using the New Interval Training, to really bring about major improvements in performance.
As you are sitting and reading this you are producing lactate, and at the same time you are using it and moving it around the body but you are not building up high levels and so you are not aware of the process. Lactate production within your muscles occurs in healthy, well-oxygenated individuals at all times. Coaches and athletes, however, are not so much concerned with rest as to what happens during exercise and in the recovery from exercise.
During exercise an athlete's lactate level may be assessed by taking a small sample of blood and measuring the concentration of lactate. In the past, these lactate values have sometimes been incorrectly used to make projections on lactate production. Since lactate has the capacity to be both introduced and removed from the blood, the lactate level which we measure at any one time is actually a measure of accumulation in the blood, not production.
In 1986 this dynamic movement of lactate around the body and its potential to actually produce more energy in the muscle was given the term 'The Lactate Shuttle' by the American physiologist, Dr. George Brooks. It took some time before the importance of Brooks' research was recognised by either other physiologists or coaches. The excitement when I encountered this research in 1994 was because it explained many of the things I had observed, both in my own coaching and from the fluctuating running rhythms of the East African athletes. After first becoming aware of Brooks' research, I introduced the term, 'Lactate Dynamics Training' to specifically classify the training for the lactate shuttle, the dynamic utilisation and clearance of lactate so that lactate is optimally used around the body.
Lactate Dynamics Training is any form of training where lactate production is deliberately increased by the intensity of exercise and then alternated with periods of less intense activity. In this way the muscle cells learn how to both use and clear the produced lactate during the less intense recoveries. This alternating of pace produces a massive improvement in running economy, the vVO2max and tlimvVO2max, all of which are very strong predictors of performance.
You're probably thinking already, "alternating periods of faster running with periods of slower running" - but that sounds very much like Fartlek training. Well, you're right on the money. Properly done, Fartlek training is a classic form of Lactate Dynamics Training and trains the lactate shuttle in an environment away from the track - see 'Fartlek Training'.
If we now take the concept of Lactate Dynamics Training to the track and apply it to our repetition training, we come to the New Interval Training, which I introduced in 1995 and where the training effect, as in the classic, original Interval Training, occurs specifically during the interval between the faster runs.
How might a New Interval Training session with active, roll-on recoveries look in practice? Well let's start by taking any classic repetition training session and make this into a New Interval Training session. Each recovery now becomes clearly defined as a very active 'roll-on' run and is as important as the faster repetition. These roll-ons are not necessarily overly long and are at a pace controlled by the athlete, so that they become more active as the athlete's lactate utilisation and clearance abilities develop.
A recovery of 100m 'roll-on' might be effective for a session, where the athlete goes from the pace of the faster repetition to an consistent, easier speed for the active 100m roll-on. The goal, whether it's an experienced or inexperienced athlete, would be not to slow down suddenly at the end of the faster repetition and then speed up as the next repetition approaches but to transition smoothly and quickly from the pace of the faster repetition to the pace of the active roll-on recovery. At the end of the roll-on recovery there should be an equally smooth and rapid transition back to the faster pace of the 'rep'.
What does 'a very active, roll-on running recovery' really mean in practice to the athlete? To get an idea of this it can be useful to ask an athlete to imagine that they are riding a bicycle. When you are pedalling along it is like being in the faster repetition distance of the session. When you come to the recovery interval it should feel like you stop pedalling but you do not touch the brakes at all you just roll on, naturally maintaining the active recovery pace.
This very active 'roll-on', running recovery could be 25" to 35" or more per 100m for a developing or inexperienced athlete. For experienced juniors, seniors and masters athletes, a 100m roll-on may easily and naturally be 25" or less. As the athlete's lactate utilisation and clearance abilities develop their roll-on recoveries will become more active, and faster, naturally.
The roll-on recovery distance in New Interval Training can be 100m, 200m, 300m or any distance that is suitable to the stage of development of the athlete, to provide variety and create different effects on the lactate dynamics, the utilisation and clearance of lactate. Obviously, even the roll-on distance itself can be varied within a session as explained in 'How do I use it?'.
The 'Roll-on' Recovery:
"Imagine you are riding a bicycle. When you are pedalling along it is like being in the faster repetition distance of the session. When you come to the recovery interval it should feel like you stop pedalling - but you do not touch the brakes at all - you just roll on, naturally maintaining the recovery pace."
Try the New Interval Training for yourself. Try making recoveries more dynamic, and the whole session more rhythmic, dictated by the perception of pace, rather than slavishly following a stopwatch. As you do, the ability to judge pace and run at various rhythms will improve but, most importantly, with this New Interval Training your competitive performances will really take off.