This post was inspired by the lovely Amy Hopkinson of GlamUk, who is doing three half-marathons in three months! You can read more about her training journey here.

I have been programming for Amy which she had been following beautifully…until last week! I had programmed five hill sprints at a set incline and Amy was to choose the pace. Now in case you haven’t done them before, hill sprints are no joke. They hurt but done at the right intensity, they get you fit quick. You generally dread the first hill and pretty much all the others thereafter. Not satisfied with 5 hill sprints however, Amy did 15! I fell off my chair.

This screamed that the speed/incline that Amy was going at was not enough, certainly if 10 more sprints were done quite comfortably. Now we already know that less is more when it comes to training, train smarter not harder is the general Fit Girl mantra if you’ve forgotten have a quick refresh of What your training week should look like and How to prioritise your training. Doing more than programmed, defeats the purpose of the session. But how are you to know what a session should feel like? Look at your programme/workout. If not specified, you should have a vague idea of the intensity of a session, anything with the word sprint in it should indicate go time!

If an interval/sprint session feels easy (it shouldn’t) you can increase the intensity in the following ways:

  • Increase the speed/incline
  • Increase the time/reps (within reason!)
  • Reduce the rest time

If you increase the speed/incline, your programmed rest time may now be sufficient as it should take you longer to recover from a more intense work set. Equally if you don’t change the pace but reduce the rest time, giving yourself just enough time to recover, you will also have a good training effect.

Here is an example:

5 x 30 second hill sprints @ 5% incline @ 15kph with 2 minutes rest in between

If this is too easy and you feel you could do more than prescribed, you may adapt it in the following ways:

Increase the incline e.g. 5 x 30 second hill sprints @ 8% incline @ 15/kph with 2 minutes rest in between each.

Increase the speed e.g. 5 x 30 second hill sprints @ 5% incline @16-17.5kph (it is up to you to find a new pace that works for you) with 2 minutes rest in between each.

Increase the sprint time e.g. 5 x 45 second hill sprints @ 5% incline @ 15kph with 2 minutes rest in between each.

Reduce the rest time e.g. 5 hill sprints @ 5% incline @15kph with 1 minute rest in between.

Note here that all the adjustments made were small. Remember, Amy did triple the amount of work that she was supposed to. Had she have made any of the intensity adjustments above, she would have had a much greater training effect from her workout. Increasing the reps to such a high volume indicated that the reps were not something Amy needed to increase.  I programmed five hill sprints, I wanted her hating them after at least three!  I got Amy to increase the speed and after a few weeks I will either reduce her rest time, increase the incline, or get her to do one or two more sprints.

The key is to keep assessing how your sessions feel. Even over a few weeks you can increase the intensity of your pace as you get fitter. Again it is useful to keep a training log so it is easy to compare sessions.

If your programming is right for you you should have a gradual increase in intensity over time and be able to keep up with it.

As long as you are moving with good form ask yourself these key questions:

Does the intensity feel too easy or the weight too light?
Is the recovery period sufficient?

If yes to one or both, then start adjusting the pace/weight/rest accordingly. This may seem like a hassle at first as you try to find your ideal numbers but the more time you focus on getting it right the more fine tuned your training will become! And be smart here FGs which means being honest with yourselves too, the weight/pace you might like to go at versus the weight/pace you can actually go at, may be too different things. If you are patient with the latter, the former will come!


*Image credit –