HIIT from the Coaches' Corner

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is practised in the playground more than on a running track. It's probably the most natural of training strategies. Run around a bit, then chat a bit with friends and then run around a bit more. My old coach at Fife AC had HIIT management down to a fine art. Our training group included little kids and adults of all ages and speeds, yet all of us found our training sessions demanding, progressive and beneficial. The following suggestions for coaches or group leaders are based upon Dave Francis' superb creations.

Warm-up: A social run of 2-3 miles for adults; young children take a short-cut with a couple of parents and one coach. The whole group reconvenes at an agreed point.

Optional pace step-up:

  • If you have safe open ground keep everyone together in a broad group and perform a series of  ~4 progressive 30 sec to 60 sec fast runs. At the end of each effort the runners in the lead turn and meet the slower runners. Allow ~20 secs recovery. 


  • "Caterpillars" - a form of fartlek. To perform this, runners must sort themselves into smaller groups of ~6 people of similar speed. They then run one behind the other at a steady pace, while the rear runner increases their pace to overtake their group "caterpillar" until they assume the position of front runner. The cycle continues for an agreed distance or time.

Main session: The optional pace step-up is useful for buying a little time for the coach to prepare a training course. Dave kept us off-road, using a beach (lucky us) or grassy area if weather and daylight permitted.

  • Simple perimeter-based courses: Use cones or sticks with tape on top to mark out your training perimeter. Alternate colours of markers so you can tell runners to e.g. run fast to yellow and then easy from yellow to red. Spacing of the markers allows control of your HIIT session - length of efforts and recovery. If it's not possible to use your own markers e.g if you must train on footpaths, then use signposts, junctions and other landmarks to perform the same function. When appropriate include at least one hill effort within the course you've laid out. 
  • Ladders: Place cones/sticks of the same colour, say yellow, in a straight line at even intervals. Parallel to this set up another line of a different colour, say red. These form the uprights of your "ladder". The distance between your parallel lines is the recovery distance (& rungs of your ladder) so ensure it takes at least 10 secs to run at an easy pace between the two lines. Runners start at the first marker of the yellow line and run all-out to the second yellow marker, then they jog across to the red line at which point they run fast back towards the first red marker. After a short jog they are back at the beginning of the yellow line from where they run fast to the third yellow marker before jogging again across to the red line. You get the idea. Runners progressively increase the distance of their efforts to a maximum (top of ladder) before dropping back down to begin again. The overall number of ladders completed will depend upon athlete goals. Suggest a maximum to your group, but let them decide what makes sense for them.
  • Parlaufs: Mark out an oval "track" or go to a real athletics track. Ask your runners to get into pairs of comparable pace. On your track allocate two positions at opposite sides of the oval so that they are separated by the shorter axis of the oval. One runner (Runner A) of each partnership begins at one of these start positions and runs fast to the second position where they tag their partner who then runs fast to the original start. Meanwhile Runner A has jogged across the shorter centre of the oval and has arrived to be tagged by their partner. The cycle continues for an agreed number of laps. 
  • Tag trios: Mark two parallel lines of a decent distance apart as the distance between these will be the length of the speed interval for each runner. Ask runners to organise into trios: Runners A, B & C. Runner B heads off to the far line while Runners A & C stand on the first. Then Runner A runs fast to their Runner B, tags them and recovers whilst Runner B runs fast to tag Runner C etc. This session provides a fairly long recovery.

Cool down: social jog back to cars.

The beauty of Dave's training sessions were how well they met the needs of a wide variety of runners. He made it easy for people to tailor their personal training within the support and structure of a much larger group.