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Continuous and Interval Training

Brian Mackenzie explains the difference between continuous and interval training and provides some examples of each

Continuous training is when an athlete exercises in a steady aerobic way and interval training is characterised by repetitions of work with a recovery period following each repetition.

Continuous Training

This can be broken down into the following sub-divisions, which have slightly different effects upon the energy pathways:

  • Running at 50 to 60% of maximum heart rate or 20 to 36% of V02 Max. Very easy pace metabolises fat, aerobic. Duration 60 minutes plus. Useful for joggers & ultra-distance runners
  • Running at 60 to 70% of maximum heart rate or 36 to 52% of V02 Max. Slightly faster pace burns glycogen and fat, aerobic. Duration 45 to 90 minutes. Useful for marathon runners. Improves cardiovascular system and capillarisation
  • Running at 70 to 80% of maximum heart rate or 52 to 68% of V02 Max, 10km pace, burns glycogen, aerobic. Duration 30 to 45 minutes. Useful for 10km and marathon runners. Improves cardiovascular system, capillarisation and is glycogen burning
  • Running at 80 to 90% of maximum heart rate or 68 to 83% of V02 Max. 5km pace burns glycogen, anaerobic. Duration 10 to 20 minutes. Useful for 5km to marathon runners. Improves cardiovascular system, capillarisation, glycogen burning, lactate tolerance and removal
  • Running at 90 to 100% of maximum heart rate or 83 to 99% of V02 Max. 800/1500m pace burns glycogen, anaerobic. Duration 1 to 5 minutes. Useful for 800 to 5km runners. Improves glycogen burning, lactate tolerance and removal

Interval Training

Interval running enables the athlete to improve the workload by interspersing heavy bouts of fast running with recovery periods of slower jogging. The athlete runs hard over any distance up to 1k and then has a period of easy jogging.

During the run, lactic acid is produced, and a state of oxygen debt is reached. During the interval (recovery) the heart and lungs are still stimulated as they try to pay back the debt by supplying oxygen to help break down the lactates.

The stresses put upon the body cause an adaptation including capillarisation, strengthening of the heart muscles, improved oxygen uptake and improved buffers to lactates. All this leads to improved performance, in particular within the cardiovascular system.

Before undertaking interval training, a few simple rules should be understood.

  • Undertake a period of continuous running before starting Interval running
  • Consider the various elements of the session and ensure that they are within the scope of the athlete
    • The length of the work interval, longer gives a better effect
    • The pace should be comfortable raising the athlete's heart rate to the required % of HRmax (see above)
    • The number of repetitions should reflect the condition and age of the athlete
    • The rest interval should enable the athlete to jog and bring the heart rate down to near 100 to 110 bpm
  • Improvements can be made by altering any of the above variables. However, the coach should only change one variable at a time."
  • Changes should be gradual and take place over some time
  • Ensure the surface to be run on is flat and even. It is usual to do interval training on a track although it can be done on good quality grass playing fields. Roads are not a suitable surface because of the pounding effect

Circuit training is a standard method of interval training and will be discussed in a future issue of Successful Coaching.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2004) Continuous and interval training. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 9 / February), p. 9-10

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2004) Continuous and interval training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years of experience as an endurance athlete.