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A new interval-training program for runners promises to improve performance and health — in half the time.

Dubbed the “10-20-30,” the regimen might be more accurately termed the 30-20-10:

  • After warming up with a 1-kilometer (.62 mile) run, taken at an easy pace, you jog for 30 seconds at a low speed, run for 20 seconds at a moderate speed and sprint for 10 seconds at near max speed.
  • This pattern is repeated five times, and then, after a two-minute rest period, you resume the pattern again.
  • A typical training session includes two to four of these training blocks, making the entire session 20 to 30 minutes long.

Ten runners participated in a study of the abbreviated running sessions, which were 50 percent shorter than their regular routines, and experienced significant benefits after just seven weeks. The results, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (July 2012), show that, on average, the runners bettered their 5K performance by nearly one minute, reduced their blood cholesterol by 10 percent, increased their maximum oxygen uptake levels by 4 percent and lowered their blood pressure by 4 percent.

Researchers believe the program is successful because it raises heart rate more than evenly paced runs. Brief sprinting, says study coauthor Thomas Gunnarsson, a PhD candidate at the University of Copenhagen, “leads to additional muscular and cardiovascular changes and improves a runner’s health profile.”

“[10-20-30] is applicable for a variety of individuals, from the sedentary to the elite runner,” Gunnarsson says. “New runners should, however, progress slowly and not do more than two five-minute repetitions per training session.” He notes that participants should “always perform a thorough warm-up because of the near maximum-speed sprinting during the 10-second intervals.”

(Interested in adding more sprints to your workout? Try this sprint interval training program developed by Olympic athlete Mechelle Lewis Freeman.)

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