Training, Testing and Resting Issues for Runners

Runners participate in Pride Month 5k.
Runners take off from the starting line of the Pride Month 5k run, which takes them through Huffman Prairie at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, June 24, 2021. (Wesley Farnsworth/U.S. Air Force photo)

When it comes to creating a perfect workout, you need to find a balance with specific training exercises related to your goal and intensity but still allowing for proper rest between sets. The problem is, there is no one set rest time, intensity effort and training protocol that will fit everyone’s needs and abilities.

One person’s warmup could be another person’s full workout. Rest periods could be an active rest or up to several minutes of complete recovery rest, depending on an individual’s goals and training events.

Complicating the process is the fact that, as you get into better shape, you can dial up the repetitions, sets and intensity while decreasing rest periods. This makes personalizing your program a top priority.

In military fitness testing, there are many ways to prepare for the runs, calisthenics, weight lifts, swims and rucks. Here are a few ideas to help you not only find the right amount of recovery and intensity to push on the running portions, but also how to structure resting periods as you improve your cardio endurance and overall work capacity. Some of these rest periods also will apply to other workouts (swimming, calisthenics, weight lifting, etc.).

For timed runs, you may have seen workouts on the Military Fitness Pages that focus on learning to run at a set goal pace for your upcoming testing distance. If you need to run a 1.5-mile timed run, you may break it down to 400 meters, 800 meters and one-mile intervals as you progress. You also can use methods, such as a longer slow distance, to build a base, sprints to build speed and tempo runs to build set pace endurance.

Define Pace Goal Intervals

Goal pace is one minute per mile faster than your current mile pace when you are trying to improve by dropping a minute or more on your timed run mile pace. If you run an eight-minute mile now and will be tested in the 1.5-mile timed run, your current pace for 400 meters is two minutes, 800 meters is four minutes and your one-mile pace is eight minutes. As you try to get faster, set the goal pace to seven-minute miles and do your intervals at the following paces: 400 meters at 1:45, 800 meters at 3:30 and one mile at seven minutes.

Types of Recovery Models

Doing a few sets of 400s may not be that challenging when you first start, but multiple sets with a recovery time of one minute or less will start to get challenging very quickly. Consistency will enable you to see improvements as you learn to run faster by running at your future goal pace. You now just have to get into shape so that you can handle the new pace for longer testing distances in the military fitness test ranges of 1.5 miles, two miles and three miles. This will take time.

Shorter Rest

When you have a longer race distance that you break down into shorter intervals, you will want to rest to a point where you do not recover fully after each set. If running at a goal pace for 400 meters pushes your heart rate to 180 beats per minute (BPM), your goal is to do these 400-meter runs with a lower heart rate and less effort.

The next set goal is to get your heart rate down by walking easy and taking deep, controlled breaths until you are back to normal and can speak without labor. This is usually a heart rate of 120 BPM for most people. Can you do this in one minute? Does it take two minutes?

As you progress, this rest will shorten and you one day can even “rest” by doing a slow jog lap between goal pace sets. That is when you know you are starting to get into prime running shape for these fitness tests.

Medium Rests

As you are starting out, you may need longer rests. Beginners may need medium to long-range times to recover. That is only natural.

Certain workouts may require a little more time to recover to 120 BPM or less, including faster-than-goal-pace workouts or high-intensity sprinting intervals. This rest may take one to two minutes to get back to a normal workout heart rate (conversational rate, not full recovery). Of course, your previous experience with these workouts may mean more or less time for you to recover fully for the next set.

Longer Rests

Longer rests can last up to five minutes between sets and most likely will include walking, stretching and some light activity before you run again. Some heavy weightlifting recovery models also have rest periods in this zone if you want to be fully recovered for the next max-lift rep. In running, these longer rests are reserved for very deconditioned runners or for advanced runners doing amazingly fast longer distance intervals. Those would include 20-mile interval sets in preparation for longer and faster timed runs in the three- to six-mile distances.

The agreement on what times make for short, medium and long recovery periods is near universal. Whether those definitions fit your personal training model depends on your current abilities and conditioning, your specific testing distances, your goals, your weekly fitness budget (times per day and days per week) and your timeline to improve. These variables are different for each person, and no one size fits all.

Here’s how to figure out your running workouts for the week. Start off by understanding the basics. How many miles are you currently doing each week, and what is your goal? Make sure to progress only 10%-15% in volume or time training each week from your current point.

If you are at zero, then you need a beginner’s running plan that may have you running only a mile a day or every other day, with non-impact cardio in between. In subsequent weeks, you will progress with the 10%-15% increases if you are not in pain.

The best way is to start testing your 400-meter times at a fast pace, steady testing pace and longer and slower running pace to see where you are on time and heart rates. How much time does it take to recover from each event before you can match the time and effort again?

Use that time as your initial recovery period for a variety of running workouts (goal pace, sprint and jog intervals, tempo runs, long slower-pace runs). See a week of running workouts that may help to arrange your week.

More Articles to Help with Running Plans

Determining the Right Running Program

Personalize Your Running Program

Beginner to Advanced Running Plan

Favorite Running Workouts

Need for Speed Workout

Interval Workouts

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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