By Stephen McGregor, PhD, PCG Master Coach
When I was a wee lad, I played soccer in high school. My coach at the time was a conditioning freak who used to make us run intervals. A lot. We would do Indian runs or suicides or half-mile intervals, etc. We would run as hard as we could until we thought we were going to puke. Between drills my teammates and I would curse the coach and ask ourselves, “Why are we doing these?” We never really got a satisfactory answer, so we just kept on doing what we were told.
Later I became interested in cycling, and when I learned about the training for this sport, to my horror I found that many coaches recommended intervals in cycling, as well. Again I asked myself, “Why are we doing these?”
Most coaches prescribe intervals, and many athletes perform intervals, but it’s often not clear why. In particular, the athlete may not be aware of the intended objective of the interval training and may just be “doing what I’m told.” Is the goal of performing intervals simply to make the athlete tougher and more resilient? Are they simply being done to mimic the high-intensity repeated efforts of racing, or are there specific physiological adaptations sought after by using intervals in training? Is there more to performing intervals than just being able to go “as hard as you can” for two, five, or ten minutes? Are some intervals better than others (i.e., is there a reason to perform two-minute intervals over ten-minute intervals)? Click through for the answers…