The Intensity Pyramid Running Workout

Welcome to the latest edition of "Workout Wednesday" when each week I share a new running or strength training for runners workout. This week I am sharing an intermediate running workout that is perfect for the treadmill but can be completed on any running surface. 

intensity pyramid running workout

It's a good idea for most runners to experiment with intensity. If we run at the same easy pace all the time, we don't train our bodies to improve. Our body adapts over time, so in order to continue to progress, it's important to change some variables to avoid plateaus in our running performance. Interval workouts are an effective way to add in bouts of higher intensity activity to our workouts to send the signal to our body to continue to get stronger and faster.

The Intensity Pyramid Workout

The intensity pyramid running workout. Save to your favorite fitness pinterest board for later

The intensity pyramid running workout. Save to your favorite fitness pinterest board for later

With this intensity pyramid workout, we'll start out at a moderate intensity to warm up, then every three minutes increase intensity. Once we reach peak intensity, we'll back off and work our way back down the pyramid. 

I use intensity as a guide instead of assigning paces when I share workouts on the internet because there are a wide variety of fitness levels that read this blog. One runner might find that a nine-minute mile pace is their high-intensity pace, while that may feel like an easy jog for another. When you determine the pace by intensity or the Rate of Perceived Exertion and the talk test, you always work at our own fitness level. If you're interested in workouts that are customized to your individual fitness level, see me about online run coaching

Intensity can be increased by running faster or increasing the elevation. If you are on a treadmill you could increase the incline to increase the intensity without increasing the speed. 

How to Determine Pace for This Workout


You can learn more about finding your perfect running pace in this article.

The Workout


After a dynamic warm-up, start your workout at an RPE 5. This is a moderate intensity pace, not too easy, not too hard. You should be able to hold a full conversation at this pace. 


Time to pick up the intensity to a RPE 7. You can do this by either increasing speed or increasing elevation. This pace should feel a little harder than your first three minutes but not so hard that you can't maintain the pace for three minutes. At a RPE 7 you are out of breath, but you can speak a few words or a sentence between gasps of breath.


This is your highest intensity interval. At an RPE 9, you probably can only get out one or two words at a time (and they might sound like swear words). It is a near-max effort, but three minutes can feel like an eternity in treadmill time, so make sure you choose a pace that you can maintain for three minutes. If you want to shorten this interval to one or two minutes, do what is best for your body. Never arbitrarily follow a workout on the internet. Start with one minute if you need to, then work to build up to three minutes for your highest intensity interval over several weeks or months. Always work at your own fitness level to avoid injury, frustration, and burnout. 


Time to start coming down. Lower the intensity of your top effort and stay strong for three minutes.


Bring the intensity down another notch for three more minutes. 


Recover by walking or jogging for three minutes or however long it takes for your breath to fully recover. 

Although this is a short workout, it is a high-intensity workout and is appropriate for advanced or intermediate runners who have a solid running base of at least 10-15 consistent miles per week for at least six to eight weeks. If you are a beginner runner, work on improving your endurance and consistency before attempting a high-intensity interval run.

Always allow at least 48 hours between hard effort workouts. Our bodies adapt (get stronger and faster) during the rest period after the workout, not during the workout itself. If you don't allow your body the proper time to repair, recover and build, you won't see the full benefit of your hard efforts. Most runners will thrive on just one or two high-intensity workouts per week. Highly trained athletes with an optimized recovery protocol may be able to handle three. 

Give it a shot and let me know how it goes.


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