How to Run Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals

Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals offer a challenge a step above Standard Track Intervals that will task you physically and mentally. These workout sessions are intended for runners with a strong running base, but you don’t need to be ultra-competitive to reap the benefits offered by mixing it up with these creative repeats. Ladders start with a shorter distance for the first repeat before working the way up the “rung” to longer distances, while mixed intervals focus on differing distances to enforce running control and overall fortitude.

Why Run Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals

From a physical standpoint, Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals increase speed and endurance. Akin to Standard Track Intervals that focus on building running strength, with endurance gains due to the duration and maintaining a healthy pace during a rest period, these sessions further expose physical limits. This is achieved by taxing the running body early in the workout, as is the case with ladders when you start with a shorter distance for the first interval and progress upward in distance.

Forced Discomfort

Mixed intervals act in the same manner as Ladders, except they can wildly vary in distance/pace, forcing discomfort as you work your way in and out of the repeats while attempting to maintain consistent splits across the intervals (ex. If you can run a mile repeat in 6:00 minutes, an 800-meter repeat should be faster than 3:00 minutes).

Mental Benefits

Both Ladder and Mixed Intervals tax the mind as much as the body. With ladders, you incur lactic acid buildup and “race debt” early on in the workout that you must overcome to maintain pace goals during the next rung of distance. Mixed intervals bring another level of mental fortitude with a focus on pace control as you attempt to stay on target for a workout that may include 200-meter and 2000-meter repeats.

Emotional Strength

There is also an emotional value in these types of interval training since it can break the monotony of running the same interval workout week after week. It also creates a lot of fun for a group of runners to take on a unique workout and challenge together. For those that relish in the running community, the bonding of a tough workout cannot be understated.

Increased Confidence

In the end, Ladder or Mixed Intervals will greatly increase your running confidence as you gain control and the fortitude to overcome. This is imperative for competitive runners on race day but just as important to non-competitive runners who need to push through a hard mile or part of their run.

How to Run Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals

Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals focus on building lactic acid/”race debt” early in the workout to strengthen endurance and mental toughness for the remainder of the intervals. The recovery periods should also be maintained at a decent pace, as this part of the workout really builds endurance and the ability to pop back into your pace. For competitive runners, the aggressive start at an increased pace may mimic the start of a race where runners jostle for position before settling down into their pace.

Running on the Track
Running on the Track

Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals Guidelines

  • A warm-up and cool-down of at least one mile each
  • The recovery period between each repeat should be at 50-70% of the last intervals speed and equal to the length of the interval (i.e. if you run a 400-meter repeat, your rest should be 400 meters at half to 75% of the pace of the interval just completed). To increase the challenge, reduce the distance of recovery between intervals (ex. 400 meters rest between each 1600 meter repeat)
  • Interval training distance should be less than your desired race distance. As an example, if you are planning to train for a 2-mile race, your interval distance should never be longer than 3000 meters
  • Interval training should be done once a week, with a recovery run the day after

Ladder and Mixed Intervals Difference

Where Ladders and Mixed Intervals differ is in their structure. Ladders are heavily focused on creating “race debt” early on that you must overcome, while Mixed Intervals push the ability to not only overcome high lactic acid build-up but control pace as you pop in and out of varying distances. These are very distinct goals, and one is not better than the other, as both have different angles they hit your body and mind with. The following offers guidance for both of these interval sessions.

Ladder Intervals

  • Start your Ladder with a shorter distance, such as 200 to 400 meters, before stepping up by 400+ meters to a distance between 1600 to 3000 meters. It is just as important to go up the ladder as down to maximize a strong end kick/speed at the end of your effort
  • A common ladder structure is a total of 5000 meters with intervals of 400, 800, 1000, 1600, 600, 400, and 200 meters. The most challenging part of this workout is the longest distance of 1600 meters, after which you descend down the ladder with an emphasis on speed
  • Ladders can include multiple repeats such as 2×200, 2×400, 2×800, 1×1600, 2×600, 2×400, and 4×200 meters. This provides an opportunity to get creative while determining how best to tax your system
  • Ladder Intervals are best maximized by going up and down the “ladder” for a complete workout, as the mental and physical benefits to descending distances after a long interval enforce the capability to run negative splits with increased confidence… a huge tool in a runners arsenal

Mixed Intervals

  • Akin to Ladder Intervals, start with a shorter distance of 200 to 400 meters before modulating distances
  • An example Mixed Interval progression is 200, 800, 400, 100, 1600, 200, 1200, 600 meters
  • Where Ladder Intervals can be compared to “realism” in painting, Mixed Intervals are far more “abstract” and should increase or decrease distance per interval by half or more to emulate surging and teach your body control at varying paces

Both Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals are creative within the bounds of forcing an aggressive pace early. From there, let your creativity take it where it may. Some runners have even introduced pushups and crunches in between repeats.

What to Avoid When Running Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals

Ladder and Mixed Track Interval workouts are not without risk of injury, so it is imperative to be prepared and follow common rules that also apply to Standard Track Intervals:

  • Consult with your doctor before attempting Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals or any intense running training session/program
  • Build a strong running base and gradually move into running track intervals
  • Never static stretch before a workout, as this can lead to pulled muscles and other injuries. Instead, perform dynamic stretches to gently warm up your muscles
  • Don’t run track intervals if you are injured or recovering from an injury
  • If possible, don’t run track intervals alone but with a running club to support and challenge each other
  • Don’t run with music, as this can take away from the mental toughness and confidence-building aspects of the workout
  • Don’t run one way for the entire workout, but switch the direction by running the opposite way to balance out the strain on your legs. In Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals, you could switch directions every interval or halfway through your track session
  • Make sure you properly hydrate before your run and get lots of fluids, nutritious food, and rest after a Ladder and Mixed Track Intervals training session
  • Don’t become discouraged if you can’t complete the Ladder or Mixed Interval workout, as it is acceptable to walk/jog your way back into the workout or try again another day as it takes time to build up the necessary strength for these intense intervals
  • If you feel like you are pushing too hard or close to an injury, back off and call it a day. Your body is likely warning you of an issue
  • Only run Ladder or Mixed Intervals once a week, and it’s best to avoid running them for two weeks straight. Rather a sample program could be Standard Track Intervals in weeks 1 and 3, with Ladders in week 2, and Mixed Intervals in week 4. Armageddon Track Intervals can also be substituted for a Ladder or Mixed Track Intervals training session for those physically and mentally prepared to take it on.


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