Interval Training for the PFT Run

Airman runs during track workout at Scott Air Force Base.
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Robert Walker, 375th Civil Engineer Squadron section commander, runs during a workout at the James Gym track on Scott Air Force Base, Ill., July 29, 2020. (Airman Isaac Olivera/U.S. Air Force photo)

I received an email asking whether interval training was a good way to improve speed in your military physical fitness test run. The answer: Absolutely.

"But what exactly is interval training and how do I determine what speed I should train?" the question continued.

There are some general formulas that can help you determine where you should be, but I like to use the following method of determining interval workout components, including distance, run and rest interval, repetitions and time. Each of these components of interval training affect the other.

I do not use a general calculating formula but a more specific running approach, since we all are different types of runners. For example, a runner runs the Marine Corps three-mile timed run in 21:00; that's a seven-minute pace per mile. To get a perfect score on the USMC run, one has to run an 18:00. a six-minute per mile pace. How do you get to be a better runner so you can drop three minutes off your run time?

Follow the steps outlined below, and you will have an idea of how to integrate interval training into your regimen:

1. Time yourself in your PFT run.

The Navy, Coast Guard and Air Force use the 1.5-mile distance.

The Army uses the two-mile distance.

The Marines use the three-mile distance.

2. Determine a reasonable goal for your PFT run.

3. Find your goal time for the PFT run. Divide your goal to figure out the mile pace.

4. Divide your mile goal pace into eighth-, quarter- and half-mile distances.

The following distances are great for any of the military PFT run interval training, and the times listed below will help our sample runner decrease his run time to a 6:00 mile.

For instance, the USMC runner should train at:

-- Half-mile times should be run in 3:00.

-- Quarter-mile times should be run in 90 seconds.

-- Eighth-mile times should be run in 45 seconds.

It is recommended to walk or slowly jog as a recovery method between the timed runs above. The interval of rest depends on your fitness level. Walk to rest if you are a beginner or average runner and jog to catch your breath if you are more advanced. The walking distance usually is equal to or half the distance you just ran. So if you ran a 3:00 half-mile, walk or slowly jog a quarter-mile. Now you know your pace at each distance ... time for the workout.

Putting all the components of interval training together creates a challenging workout that will help you decrease your PFT run time:

-- Repeat 3-4 times

-- Run a half-mile at goal pace

-- Walk or jog a quarter-mile

-- Repeat 4-6 times

-- Run a quarter-mile at goal pace

-- Walk or jog an eighth of a mile

-- Repeat 4-6 times

-- Run an eighth mile at goal pace

-- Walk or jog 100 yards

Do this workout two times a week, combined with two longer runs of three to five miles during the week. In a few weeks, you will see your running pace increase and your mile times drop while making your pace easier to maintain. Here are a few more tips to help you pick up your pace and stay injury free:

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1. Breathing

Take big, deep inhalations and exhalations similar to the way you yawn. This will help your body get the oxygen it needs. Slow down the running pace if you need to, but concentrate on your breathing.

2. Stride and heel/toe contact

When jogging, open your stride but lean slightly forward to a point where you will land near your heel (closer to the ball of your foot -- not the bottom of your heel) and roll across your foot, pushing off the ground with your toes. Many people run flat-footed, back heel or on their toes, causing stress on their lower back, hips, knees and ankles. You can eliminate this by following the simple audio test. If you can hear your feet hitting the ground when you run, then you are running wrong. It should sound like your shoes are rolling on the ground quietly. Comfortable running shoes will aid in prevention of injuries.

3. Arm swing

You should have a relaxed arm swing but very pronounced. Swing your hands from about chest high to just past your hips in a straight line. The term "hip to lip" is a good way to remember this when you are running. Your arms should be slightly bent but not flexed.

4. Relaxed upper body

You should relax your fists, arms, shoulders and face. This causes the oxygenated blood that you need to go to your legs to go to your upper body, too. The only things that need to be working when you are running are your lungs and legs.

5. Start slowly and warm up

Do not stretch your legs until you have warmed up your body by jogging or biking slowly for about 5-10 minutes. Run every other day if you are just beginning and only add mileage to your run as you feel comfortable.

Good luck with your running program.

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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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