Interval Training or Endurance Training? What’s Better for You?

Are long, continuous endurance runs better for your training, or should you focus on high-intensity intervals? The answer largely depends on your training goal and level.

1. You are a beginner runner

Have you just taken up running and still find it difficult to run for longer periods of time without stopping? Then you should begin with low-intensity intervals.

Try running for short intervals followed by walking rests so you can recover. You can find a good program for beginners in our blog post “Go from Walking to Running with These Expert Tips!” Afterwards, you can begin with short endurance runs and gradually increase the distance.

2. You want to improve your race times

In general, you should incorporate both endurance runs and intervals into your training.

An effective training program is built like a pyramid:

  • The stable foundation is composed of long-distance runs to build up your base.
  • You can further enhance your base by improving your running form, performing strengthening, stabilizing and stretching exercises and engaging in cross-training.
  • The top of the pyramid consists of race-specific maximum efforts like tempo runs and high-intensity intervals.

A) Half marathon and marathon runs

To finish first, you first have to finish!” is a well-known saying in motorsport. Running is no different. Of course, it’s great if you have some basic speed, but if you can’t run 26.219 miles (42.195 km) in a row, then it doesn’t really matter much.

If you want to finish a (half) marathon, you must first put in the mileage. Long, low-intensity runs make up the majority of your preparation. In particular, the passive structures of your body (tendons, ligaments, bones, etc.) and the working muscles have to get used to the sustained impact. This helps to prevent overuse and injury.

Long-distance runs increase your aerobic endurance and streamline your running form. Plus, they train your fat metabolism and teach your body to make better use of the available energy sources.

High-intensity intervals don’t become important until you reach a higher performance level with a solid base. If you want to run a sub-3 hour marathon, you not only have to train at high volumes, but you also need to incorporate speed work and interval training into your training plan.

B) 5K and 10K

High-intensity intervals and tempo runs are crucial for short-distance races like 5 and 10 km. The basic rule is the shorter the race, the more fast-paced and intense workouts you should do.

For races of up to ten kilometers, you usually run at or above your anaerobic or lactate threshold. This is the level at which the oxygen breathed in is no longer sufficient to metabolize the accumulating lactate (lactic acid) caused by high-intensity exercise. This then leads to an exponential increase in lactate and a resulting loss in performance.

High-intensity interval training and challenging tempo runs at race speed are a good way of building up your body’s tolerance to high lactate levels. This not only improves your lactate tolerance and pace endurance, but it also increases your VO2 max.

Nevertheless, your base endurance is also important for fast times over short race distances. Tough training sessions are very hard on the body and require a lot of recovery time. The better your base is, the more training your body can handle and the less recovery time it needs after intense workouts. Or simply put, you can train harder and more frequently.

3. You want to lose weight

The best workouts for losing weight are those that help you achieve a negative energy balance (where more calories are burned than consumed). High-intensity intervals are perfect for burning tons of calories in a short period of time. The high intensity of the workout puts a lot of strain on your muscles.

The process of rebuilding and repairing your muscle tissue after the workout requires additional energy, and the afterburn effect also continues to burn calories post-exercise.

High-intensity running sessions are probably not a good idea for beginning runners. It is better to stick to shorter and less intense workouts and try to run more often.

Bottom line

Endurance runs and intervals are equally important. The emphasis on how many you do of each per week depends on your training goal and performance level. Nevertheless, you should incorporate long-distance runs as well as interval workouts into your training in order to profit from the training effects of both methods.

Need more motivation?

No matter if you go for an interval training or a long-distrance run – it’s always more fun with a training partner 😉



Herwig Natmessnig As a former professional athlete (whitewater slalom), Herwig lives for fitness. Whether in competition or just for fun, he can never turn down a challenge. View all posts by Herwig Natmessnig »