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How Recovery Intervals Will Make You a Better Runner

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The aim of most passionate runners is to improve their running technique. A lot of factors play a role in this improvisation, for example, proper diet, regular practice and fitness levels. However, an important thing that many runners overlook is the recovery intervals. As the names suggest, these are the intervals between running sessions that are needed for recovery.Let's find out how recovery intervals in between running can make a difference in your pace. 

Importance of Recovery Intervals 

What a runner does between two running sessions has a big impact on the running performance. Not only the duration of recovery intervals but also the activity that is done in these intervals matters. Professional trainers recommend that runners do some kind of physical activity like walking, stretching or jogging lightly in these intervals instead of sitting down. Recovery intervals will help your body deal with fatigue. Also, it will guide your body to clear the lactate during the run. Another importance of recover intervals while running is that it will prevent the runner to push themselves harder while running. So, if you are constantly asking yourself ‘why is my running pace getting slower despite regular workouts’, then the answer might lie in insufficient recovery during your rest intervals.

recovery intervals
Recovery Intervals (source)

Different Types of Recovery Intervals Based on Duration

Depending on the intensity of your workouts, you may choose any of the following kinds of running intervals. Each of these has a different impact on the body. Hence, you must carefully choose how much time does your body need to achieve the goal. The duration of your intervals between running sessions is decided accordingly.

Quick Interval for Recovery

If your goal is to build up stamina and improve your running speed, then you should opt for short rest periods. The duration of a typical short resting interval is up to 90 seconds. A short interval is very effective in conditioning the body to run through fatigue. These recovery intervals are most commonly employed to increase the intensity of the workout.

Beginners usually incorporate these short resting phases after running intervals of 1 to 2 minutes. Regular runners tend to combine one minute of hard running with one minute of the short interval for recovery. Experienced runners usually run up to 800 meters before including a rest phase. These short intervals are beneficial for all levels of running. With these intervals, running becomes more efficient because the clearance of lactic acid from muscles is increased.

quick recovery interval
Quick interval lasts maximum to 90 seconds (source)

Medium Interval for Recovery

This type of interval may last between 2 and 4 minutes, depending on the intensity of the workout. These recovery intervals are extremely useful for building endurance at race pace, and most commonly employed by experienced runners. Marathoners commonly include these intervals after every 3 miles. Runners who routinely run 5K and 10K races usually include these intervals after every 1000 meters.

Long Interval for Recovery

A resting interval between 4 and 10 minutes constitutes a long recovery interval. This time frame lets the runner’s heart and breathing to stabilize at resting levels and increases aerobic capacity. This results in more comfortable running at fast pace. It is common for runners to jog at very slow pace when they opt for these recovery intervals during the run.

With such long intervals, the runners tend to cover quite some distance in their resting phase. After this kind of slow-paced running, recovery is almost complete. The runner has almost no fatigue when fast-paced running is resumed.

long interval
Long interval recovery involves 4-10 min (source)

Different Types of Recovery Intervals Based on Intensity

There are a lot of things that a runner can do in recovery intervals. Based on the intensity of activities that are performed in these intervals, we may classify resting intervals into:

Active Recovery Interval

Technically speaking, an active recovery period comprises of light physical activity like light jogging or walking. The purpose of active recovery intervals is to keep your muscles working, albeit at a slower pace. Intense work out leads to accumulation of lactate in your muscles and this active interval serves to flush it out.

Keeping your body in an active state in a recovery interval increases the aerobic demands of a workout session. This is extremely beneficial for building endurance and ideal for runners who are targeting 5K or longer races. So you can run for 8 X 600m at 5K pace with 200-300m of jogging as rest between intervals.  When interspersed with running intervals, active recovery phases improve the performance of a runner significantly. 

recovery interval training
Recovery Interval for different levels (source)

Complete Resting Intervals

As the name suggests, recovery intervals with complete rest involve no physical activity at all. This allows a fresh supply of phosphocreatine to the muscles which are required for anaerobic running. However, more often, this type of intervals leads to muscle stiffness. This type of intervals is included in the routines of short distance runners like sprinters who run for 100 metres.

The Final Verdict

The duration and intensity of your resting intervals will be determined by the intensity and duration of your fast-paced workout. Such is the importance of a resting interval that your performance in overall workout session depends on it.

  • If you are a marathoner or training to be one, you should keep running in your recovery intervals. This running, however, should be slower than your usual running pace. This will train your body to burn fat and recycle lactate.
  • If you are training to run 5K or 10K, it is best for you to make it a habit of jogging at very slow pace during your resting interval. This type of training will allow your body to recover as you run, thus improving your performance in this format of running.
  • If you are training to be a sprinter over short distance like 100 or 200 meters, it is best to adopt a complete rest when you take a break. This is because your muscles will not be required to be trained for long-distance running when endurance is the key.


Your work out sessions must be a sensible mix of hard paced work-out and alternating recovery intervals. There is no point in having too short or too long intervals for recovery without understanding the purpose of each interval for different formats of running. Allowing your body to recover from your running session is a key determinant of your performance in a race. What is your take on the importance of a recovery interval? We would love to hear your interval training schedule.

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