No disrespect to the 45,000 runners tackling the ING New York City Marathon this week, but you may be working too hard. If your goal is to build strength, run faster, or burn calories more efficiently, “you absolutely don’t have to run 25 miles a week,” says clinical exercise physiologist Angela Corcoran. There’s a quicker and, some say, better way to torment yourself: high-intensity interval-training (HIIT), half-hour-long workouts completed two to four times a week that cycle between peaks and valleys of hard and medium-effort exercise. Compared with running, say, five miles four times a week, a HIIT workout helps avoid ailments like aching kneecaps and plantar fasciitis, shooting pains on the soles of the feet. It helps you shed more weight, too, thanks to afterburn—long after a HIIT regimen, your body is still torching calories, whereas “a typical jog hardly has any afterburn,” says Chelsea Piers running coach Brady Crain. Scientists are still puzzling out exactly why HIIT appears so effective, but much of it has to do with how it recruits muscles. “When we do moderate-intensity exercise, a population of muscle fibers basically remain dormant,” says Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario. “When you do interval training and hit the muscles very hard, they all get activated.” The one caveat about the short-and-fast run, says Gibala: “There’s no free lunch. If you want to get away with less time, you have to go hard.” The good news: The agony lasts only a half-hour.
Faster, Stronger, Sweatier
Three experts, three sub-30-minute workouts.
Completion times will vary depending on your speed, but the key is to run these routes at a high-intensity level, generally 85 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. (To calculate MHR, subtract your age from 220.) During slower stretches, you should be working at 60 to 70 percent of your MHR. If you don’t have a heart-rate monitor, just rate your effort on a 1-to-10 scale, with 10 feeling like you’re sprinting to escape a mugger and 6 or 7 like you’re hustling across a platform to catch a train.
1. Beginner Run
Designed by: Angela Corcoran
Duration: 15 to 20 minutes
Start at the intersection of Broadway and West 86th Street. Jog to Central Park at an easy pace—about a 5 on the exertion scale. At the park entrance, book it for the reservoir, as if trying to catch a boat about to push off. It should feel like a 9. Once there, scale back to 7 and run in a counter-clockwise direction for four minutes.* Switch to high speed for two minutes and then down for four minutes; alternate until you’ve gone once around the reservoir.
2. Intermediate Run
Designed by: Brady Crain
Running coach, Chelsea Piers
Duration: 16 to 20 minutes
From Pier 60, run south along the West Side Highway, taking the first half-mile (to about Horatio Street) at a 5. Keep your eyes forward and shoulders and body relaxed, “like you can wave to a crowd,” Crain says. Accelerate to a higher-intensity speed—about a 7—for the next quarter-mile, to Christopher Street. Take the next half-mile to Canal Street at a lower-intensity pace, a 6; then ratchet it up to a 9 for the next quarter-mile to Chambers Street. Finish off with an easy run to the Chambers Street subway station. Feel free to jump onto the train to get home.
3. Advanced Run
Designed by: Ariane Hundt
Founder, Brooklyn Bridge Boot Camp
Duration: 25 to 30 minutes
Begin on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge and run nice and easy (about a 4) toward the bridge’s first tower. Sprint at a 9 from the first tower to the second—“You want to feel uncomfortable,” Hundt says—and then ease up to a more manageable 5 or 6 pace to the top of the stairs on the Brooklyn side. Run up and down the steps three times as quickly as you can. Catch your breath for a few seconds. For the rest of the run back to Manhattan, alternate between a super-quick clip (an 8 or 9) and a moderate pace (a 5 or 6) at every other lamppost.
*This article has been corrected to show that runners should go counter-clockwise around the reservoir, not clockwise.
Let’s “HIIT” It
Recommended accessories for high-intensity runs.
Garmin Forerunner 610
$399 at Super Runners Shop, 360 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 77th St.; 212-787-7665
The iPhone 4S of heart-rate monitors, the Garmin Forerunner 610 tracks speed and distance via GPS satellite and sports a touch screen that works even with winter gloves.
Craft Pro Zero Extreme Base Layer
$70 at JackRabbit Sports, 140 W. 72nd St., nr. Amsterdam Ave.; 212-727-2980
You’ll be sweating buckets, so invest in a base layer expressly made to wick perspiration away from your skin.
Smartwool PHD Running Ultra Light Micro Socks
$12.95 at Eastern Mountain Sports, 530 Broadway, nr. Spring St.; 212-966-8730
It may seem counterintuitive, but wool socks actually keep your feet cool during intense runs. Built-in odor control means you won’t offend when the shoes come off afterward.