“Should I stand or jog in between intervals during speedwork?” This is a common question from runners of all experience levels. Depending on the coach you ask, you get a different answer.
The appropriate pacing of hard intervals is important for a productive workout. However, what often gets neglected is the pacing of the recovery intervals during an interval workout. As a coach, I’ve seen athletes lose steam in an interval workout because they take their recovery jogs too hard. A recovery interval is just that: a deliberate time to let your heart rate and breathing rate lower in between the main work intervals.
Importantly, this post is discussing interval training within the context of long-distance running. If you are training for a short distance or sprint event, the recovery intervals will be different because of the involvement of the phosphocreatine system for energy production. The ATP-CP system takes a longer time to recover, so sprinters will usually have generous standing recoveries in between intervals.
Active Recovery vs. Passive Recovery
There are three methods of recovery during interval running. You can jog, walk, or stand in between the hard intervals.
Active recovery is when you jog or walk between the hard intervals. Active recovery encourages blood flow, which eliminates fatigue-inducing metabolites such as inorganic phosphate more quickly.
Jogging the recovery intervals also increases the overall aerobic demands of the workout. Even at a slow jog, your body still needs to produce energy via oxidative phosphorylation.
Passive recovery is when you stand still during the recovery intervals. Standing rest allows your heart rate to lower more quickly and for an effective resupply of phosphocreatine to your muscles (which is a source of energy for anaerobic running). However, some runners may experience muscle tightness.
The difference between active and passive recovery isn’t just physical. There are mental differences in reported exertion and in confidence-building. Knowing that you can complete a hard workout without dropping your hands on your knees between each interval is a confidence builder.
Should You Jog, Walk, or Stand in Between Intervals during Speedwork?
A 2022 study in European Journal of Applied Physiology examined whether active or passive recovery is most effective. The researchers compared blood lactate levels, oxygen consumption (VO2), rate of perceived exertion (RPE), heart rate, and countermovement jump between runners doing active jogs and passive rest after 2-min intervals at >90% VO2max (the “red zone”).
Neuromuscular response declined with both active and passive recovery, as demonstrated by the countermovement jump. The type of recovery did not affect time spent at intensity; both groups spent equal time running hard.
However, oxygen consumption, blood lactate levels, and RPE did differ between the two groups. The active recovery group had higher mean oxygen consumption, which means they had a slightly higher aerobic stimulus. The passive recovery group reached a higher peak oxygen consumption, but spent less time total in the “red zone.” Lactate (which is a proxy measure for fatigue-causing metabolites) was lowered more in the active recovery group. However, the passive recovery group reached higher peak oxygen consumption and reported a lower RPE for the session.
The answer on whether to run, walk, or stand during recovery intervals comes down to your goals. Due to the higher mean oxygen consumption and more time in the red zone, active recovery is favorable for building endurance. Active recovery may be more beneficial during high but not near-maximal intensity interval sessions. If you are running near-maximal intensity, passive recovery is more favorable because of how it lowers RPE yet raises peak oxygen consumption.
However, in scenarios where slightly lower RPE is beneficial, passive recovery may be preferred. Novice runners may want to have lower RPE in an interval workout, so they may benefit from passive recovery or walking. In summer, when the heat elevates RPE, walking or passive recovery may be helpful.
What Pace Should You Run during Recovery Intervals?
One common mistake I see runners make is going too fast on their recovery intervals. They keep the momentum going for the first interval without deliberately slowing down. Or, they try to maintain a certain average pace to look good on Strava. However, going too fast on the recovery intervals can cause fatigue later in the workout.
Recovery intervals have a deliberate purpose. Unless stated otherwise, the goal is to bring down your heart rate, steady your breathing rate, and clear some accumulating metabolites. For this goal, slower is better. To maximize the recovery intervals, you need to run at a true recovery effort, no faster. This effort practically feels like jogging or a shuffle. Aim to run slower than your normal easy effort.
Ultimately, the recovery interval is not the driver of adaptation. The work interval is the stimulus. As a 2019 review in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance suggested, recovery intervals are meant to allow you to maintain the desired workload of the session. The higher the intensity of the work intervals, the slower the rest intervals may need to be to faciliate recovery. If you need to walk to hit the desired workload, then do so.
One of the most reliable markers of whether or not you are properly pacing your recovery intervals is how your workout goes. If you struggle to complete the entire set of reps or slow down as you go, you may want to try slowing down your recovery intervals even more. (If you are struggling with your hard workouts despite properly paced recovery intervals, you may be running your speed workouts too fast.)
I prefer to take active recovery during hard workouts. I would find it too difficult to completely stop and then start running again! I also find that the harder I am working during the hard part of the workout, the slower my recovery intervals need to be.
Starting and stopping is so hard! Like once you stop, it requires so much mental energy to resume running.
Slow down to get faster! I preach this to my clients regularly. Some listen… some don’t…
Lol I’m thinking of some you’ve mentioned. Keep preaching!
That is great info. I often wonder at what pace I should be recovering!
Thank you! My theory is: if you’re worried about going slow enough, slow down some more. It should really feel like a jog!
This is such an intellectual approach to Running. I mean it makes very good intellectual cents 🙂 and now I’m wondering if it would apply to my training to walk a full marathon? I bet it would. I could slow my walk to walk faster!
Thank you! And I bet it could – slow walk intervals balanced by faster walk intervals. It’s the same logic as a walk/run method.
Haha, for me one of the best parts of speed work is the recovery intervals! Thanks for giving me permission to slow down even more on those…
I liken it to resting between yoga poses. It’s really refreshing!
Especially when they are time based, make the most of those easy minutes! And yeah, it’s like that or resting between lifting – the recovery is important and like hitting reset!
If I stop during intervals (even to walk) I know I won’t start again! So, I keep on moving. This also helps me mentally because I tell myself to push through which I always have to do during a race. Sometimes I just want to stop and walk in a race, but I tell myself to just keep moving! Doing that in practice helps so much.
Walking gives my brain the signal that running is done, so I completely get what you mean!
It’s been sooooo long since I’ve done speed work…does my body even remember how? LOL.
I always do active recovery. I don’t like to completely rest because the sudden stopping and starting of intervals is too jarring on my body, and I feel that having to keep moving between reps helps better prepare me to push through fatigue in a race. I guess I’m prone to running the intervals too hard because let’s just say, I never had a problem slowing waaaay down for my recovery intervals on the track!
It’s a balance – you don’t want to run the intervals so hard that you get injured or are counterproductive to the purpose of the workout, but not so easy that you breeze through the recovery interval!
I remember these from Hanson’s! Between my repeats (on the treadmill), I’d stop the treadmill, get off and gasp and sputter until I could catch my breath and then I’d hop back on to walk for 30 seconds and then I’d slowly ease back into a slow jog before I started the next interval. Some people say I shouldn’t have walked at all. I’m not sure.
I have encountered both sides of the argument – some say having to stop and walk is a sign of pushing too hard, while others say it’s okay. One of my beefs with Hansons though is the emphasis on goal pace rather than current fitness- you could be training VO2max or something in between when the workout should be at threshold pace.
I’m definitely an active recovery girl. When I take standing rests, I always just want to quit. I stand there and think about how hard I have to run again when I do run again. I’d prefer to do active recovery and just get it all over with! I do agree with slowing down the recoveries, especially in the beginning when you THINK you are recovering slow enough but you may not be.
Standing or even walking just signals to the brain that it’s time to stop running, it seems. And I agree – I feel like those first few intervals are all about control, both for the hard and recovery parts.
I love recovery intervals! Going slow during recovery really is key, something I use to struggle with a lot when I first started running.
From what I’ve experienced, newer runners think getting fast is about going faster all the time. I know that’s what I first thought!
This is such great advice! When I’ve done intervals in the past I’ve done active recovery but usually more of a walk than a jog! Pacing is a struggle for me so I’ll remember to use RFE as my guide 🙂
The RPE helps so much for the recovery intervals! The pacing is trickier since the hard intervals are so tiring (and the recovery intervals will get slower and slower as a workout goes) but with RPE it’s all about using breathing and talking as a signal.
Great advice! I prefer active recovery too.. and my recoveries are sloooow, like yours. I had one coach on a running team I was on in Houston who liked us to rest between track repeats and my body responded okay, but I definitely prefer using that time to jog and get the overall mileage a bit higher.
Thank you! The overall boost to mileage is nice, and it helps pad out that easy mileage to then be able to do more speed work while maintaining the right ratio of hard and easy running.
Recovery intervals are the best! I look forward to the little break, even though I’m still moving.
I agree! That break is so welcome after pushing hard!
I actually prefer stopping to active recovery but I know that’s not how things should go, so I don’t. Haha. Plus I listen to my coach because he rocks. 🙂
Listening to your coach is good! 🙂 As we coaches know!
I like active recovery too. I feel when I completely stop in between intervals, I tense up and get antsy. At least with continuing to move at a slower pace, the blood flow is going to my extremities and I’m not nervously staring at my watch till when I have to kick it up again.
Yes! Ansty is the perfect word to describe it. Keeping that blood flow moving is important!
I can’t imagine coming to an almost complete stop between intervals LOL I definitely slow down (because I have to), but I do have to keep in motion
An object (runner) in motion stays in motion! Stopping to recover makes it tempting to stop completely.
I have recently been frustrated with my speed work getting slower. Over the last few interval training sessions I’ve done, my average pace per speed interval has become slower by 3s/km. I’ve been thinking it’s because the days were getting hotter or I wasn’t sleeping as well or I wasn’t eating as well or was overdoing it. Until I saw this post I’d never worked out my average recovery pace, figuring I was always at a slow jog and that was sufficient. So I checked. And as it turns out, I’ve been letting my recovery interval pace creep up such that on my last workout I was running 10s/km faster on average during the recoveries than I had been before. Could it be? I’m now curious to force myself to do the REALLY slow recovery and see what happens.
I like to continue to run slowly between my speed workouts, it makes me feel like I’m more productive than stopping. Like you said, once you stop, it’s hard to start again!