The 10-20-30 Workout Can Improve Running Performance, Study Suggests

New research says this formula works well even if you don’t sprint at maximum effort.


  • Research found that doing 10-20-30 intervals can improve 5K time and VO2 max, even if you don’t go at maximum effort.
  • Experts suggest adding this workout to your schedule one to two times per week.

There are numerous options when it comes to interval training, but new research in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports suggests one strategy may be better than others: 10-20-30 intervals.

This workout involves one-minute intervals consisting of 30 seconds at low speed, followed by 20 seconds at moderate speed, and 10 seconds at high speed. You’d repeat this five times, recovering for 30 seconds between efforts.

To test whether this formula would improve running performance, researchers recruited 19 male runners and had all of them do these intervals, but split the group so half the participants did maximum effort on the sprints while the other half performed the sprints at about 80% of their max.

In order to gauge performance, participants ran a 5K on a treadmill and did a VO2 max test at the beginning and end of the six-week study. They did interval training twice a week during the study timeframe.

Even with the difference in effort, all participants achieved performance progress, which came as a surprise, according to lead researcher Dr Jens Bangsbo, professor of exercise physiology in the department of nutrition, exercise, and sports at the University of Copenhagen.

“We didn’t expect to see such strong results with the lower-effort group,” he told Runner’s World. “However, it’s likely related to the fact that training 80% of one’s maximum [effort] still gets the heart rate up significantly compared to a runner’s typical training.”

Challenging the heart in this way leads to improvements in heart function and circulation, Bangsbo added. Over time, that can help performance because the cardiovascular system is more efficient and there’s an increase in maximum oxygen uptake (or VO2 max), which can make harder efforts feel easier.

For participants in the study, those in the reduced effort group achieved an average improvement in 5K running time of 42 seconds compared to their starting time. Those in the faster, all-out group only shaved an average of 24 seconds off their original 5K time. Both groups improved maximum oxygen uptake by 7%.

Working on Your Speed? Time to Try Yasso 800s

In terms of why the 10-20-30 combination may be particularly helpful, Bangsbo said it’s because it’s much easier to follow compared to other type of interval training options, especially when it comes to the sprints.

“You’re only doing 10 seconds of really demanding work, and these are followed by 30 seconds of active recovery,” he added. “In other types of interval training, runners are often suffering for much longer during the intense exercise periods.”

Researchers suggested that to benefit from these intervals, beginners should start with one set per week while more experienced runners can do two sets weekly.

Not only can these 10-20-30 intervals boost performance, but they may have other health benefits as well, added Bangsbo. In his previous research, this interval strategy showed benefits for blood pressure and cholesterol. Plus, he said it offers one more huge advantage: It’s enjoyable.

“Many people find interval running fun because it offers a change, and with the 10-20-30 training, that can be done with people at all running abilities, so there’s a social element, too,” he said.

READ MORE ON: interval training speed speed training vo2 max

Copyright © 2024 Hearst