How to use your running watch for interval training

Getting the most from your GPS wearable for high intensity interval training
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Whether you're a 5 or a 15-minute mile runner, the desire to go faster is in every runner's DNA. But what's the best way to add a bit of pace to your game? One answer is to build interval training into your weekly running regime.

The good news is the latest GPS running watches, such as the Garmin Forerunner 935, the Polar M430 or the TomTom Spark 3, are designed to guide you through these high intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions.

Bookmark this: Welcome to Future of Running Week

Whether you're a beginner or a pro level runner, we break down the essential info about interval training and pick out some of the best running watches to train with.

What is interval training?


An interval session basically involves running alternate periods of effort above your normal aerobic level with periods of low-intensity recovery that gives your body the chance to reset before you up the ante again.

Finding your aerobic level can be done with lab tests but a good rule of thumb to tell when you're running beyond your aerobic level is if you're puffing too much to hold a conversation.

Read this: Which Garmin watch is best for you?

Interval sessions can be based on pace or heart rate, distance and time. In the past they'd often be done on the running track by putting together 200m, 400m and 800m efforts with varying periods for recovery but thanks to distance-tracking GPS running watches, you're now free to do interval training wherever you like.

With watches like the Spark and the Garmin Forerunner 235 you can use web tools and smartphone apps to create your own sessions in advance or even choose from pre-planned workouts that'll help, designed to build speed.

The watches will vibrate and beep to alert you when you need to shift up and down the gears as well as giving you a friendly kick up the backside if you drop below your target pace or heart rate.

What are the benefits of interval training for running?

“Interval training is a key component in a training program," explains Giuseppe Minetti, founder of PaleoGym, a company which combines sports science and technology with personalised functional fitness and nutrition.

“It teaches your body to work at a higher threshold, enables you to run faster for further without a reduction in your speed and gives you the extra edge in the last miles of your long runs.

“By running at (or very near to) your maximum velocity for short bursts, you will increase your capacity to run at a higher percentage of your anaerobic threshold. Interval training also decreases your recovery time, so you can train harder, more often."

Best running watches for interval training

Polar M430


The Polar M430 also has fully customisable interval training smarts and thanks to Polar's Running Program, it's much easier to add it to your plan. Like the Garmin, you'll need to set up an account online. Once you've done that you'll get access to the training calendar and the tools to set up interval sessions of your own.

Read this: Running with the Polar M430

You can create and save phases based on time and distance, and choose to set heart rate zones or have a free workout depending on what you want to achieve. Phases are easy to duplicate to build quick sessions and sessions can be copied and modified to make the process of preparing a monthly plan much quicker.

Like the V800, you can now sync sessions to the watch in order to follow from your wrist. It's also smart enough to stores sessions in your Favourites so you can easily repeat a workout without having to add it using Polar Flow.

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TomTom Spark 3 Cardio & Music


The brilliant thing about the new Spark (make sure you get the Cardio edition) or one of the older TomTom running watches is that you can set up an interval session on the watch itself. Choose Run, then Training and Intervals from the menus and you can add a warm up and cool down based on time or distance, followed by periods of work and rest also based on time or distance. The final option is the number of times you repeat the intervals in your session.

Essential reading: Check out our full TomTom Spark 3 review

You don't get the flexibility with the TomTom that you do with the Garmin Forerunner. While you can combine time and distance goals for work and rest, there's no option for cadence or heart rate interval sessions and you can only assign one distance for work and rest. So you're forced to do 400m fast with 200m slow for all your repetitions. You can't do 200m fast, 200m slow, then 400m fast and 400m slow in one session.

Once you've set up your session the watch will buzz and beep to alert you when your warm up is done and it's time to hit the gas. It'll log the splits for each interval as you go, but sadly you won't get a breakdown either on the watch or using the online portal, which is a weakness.

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Garmin Forerunner 935


The Garmin Forerunner 935 is at the top end of Garmin's running watches and, while you'll certainly find cheaper Garmin devices that offer interval training, it's the most fully-featured you can buy.

It's also now much easier to set up interval training from the watch. When you're ready to start tracking, you can hit the Up button on the watch, go to training settings and set up your intervals from there. Here you'll be able to customise distance and time intervals and then get ready to run.

Read this: Check out our full Garmin Forerunner 935 review

, | Amazon

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How we test

Kieran Alger


Kieran is a world record-setting runner and one of the UK's most experienced running journalists.

A constant tester of the latest fitness technology, he's always hunting for innovations that can make him run faster, further and generally be in better shape.

Kieran is often found wearing four GPS running watches at once. And to date he's tracked more than 50 marathons, 13 ultras and countless half marathons - including the Marathon Des Sables.

In 2022, he became the first person to run the river Danube from sea to source, a measly 1,830 miles in 66 days. And still had time to test running gear.

Kieran regularly takes running tech to the extremes for Wareable and the likes of Runner's World, Mens Health and Wired.

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