5 Speed Workouts (Interval Training) Every New Runner Should Try
As you’re becoming a runner you may start to wonder, how can I get fitter and faster? Can you just simply add time to your workout as you get stronger, or increase the distance you cover? In time, there will be changes with appearance and performance, but in order to increase speed, interval training, a powerful tool, needs to be incorporated into your workouts once a week. Tom Ecker, an expert on coaching techniques from Iowa once described interval training as “the most effective single training system ever devised.”
The workouts listed below, which involve running specific intervals or time or distance at a specific pace, can help you develop endurance, speed, stronger legs and lungs. But most important, it can prevent your exercise regime from getting stale, says coach and exercise physiologist Susan Paul, author of our For Beginners Only column. And by breaking up the distance into smaller intervals, you can cover more distance overall.
“If you just go out for 30 minutes over and over every day, it can be very boring,” says Paul, who is program director for the Orlando Track Shack Foundation. With interval workouts, “the time goes by much quicker. They engage your mind, and the body goes along with it.”
Some of these workouts are best done on a track. Yes, tracks can be intimidating. But just because you’re at a track does not require you to run fast. A track is an ideal setting for a beginner because it’s flat, traffic-free, and the distance is measured. Find out everything you need before hitting the track in this article featured in Runner’s World. If you don’t have access to a track, a treadmill, any flat traffic-free stretch of road will work, or a loop around your block
Try one of the workouts below each week. On most plans, speed or interval type workouts are done on a Tuesday or Thursday giving you time to rest in between cross-training and long run days. When you’re ready to incorporate these workouts into your schedule, increase the time or distance of each of these by 10 to 20 percent a week.
You will be working muscles that haven’t been worked before, so stay alert for aches and pains (beyond typical muscle soreness) that persist during your run and after you’re done. Common muscles that are effected the most by speed workouts are the calves and hamstrings. Find out more about when to run and when to see the doctor , another article featured in Runners World.
Always start your workouts with 10 minutes of “dynamic” stretches or drills such as high knees, butt kicks, and leg swings forward and side to side to activate the major muscles used. Search the internet for more warmup exercises. Jason Fitzgerald, pro runner, has numerous YouTube videos on it. Hal Higdon’s book, “Run Fast” is another great resource on how to train for short races.
In addition, leave 10 minutes to bring closure to your training by doing the essential static stretches for runners. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds or more to lengthen the muscle and increase range of motion. See some examples at the end of this article.
Below find workouts that Paul suggests, whether you’re just getting moving, starting to run, or returning to running after taking time off.
Straights and Curves
How to Do It:
Walk for five minutes to warm up. Then run the straight stretches of the track and walk the curves. Repeat that cycle twice. Leave water at a spot that you can drink after you finish each loop. On the run segment, get into a rhythm that feels comfortable, says Paul. “Don’t sprint.” As your fitness improves, you can start to pick up the pace.
If you don’t have access to a track, you can run this on the road. Just use different landmarks to mark your walking and running intervals. You might run to a tree, mailbox, telephone pole, or stop sign. Then walk. Once you catch your breath, pick another landmark to run to. Then walk to recover. Repeat the cycle two or three times.
What It Does
This helps you get your body and mind accustomed to picking up the pace and running faster for short periods of time. The short intervals make the bouts of hard work seem doable. With each walk break you have a chance to recover enough for your next bout of hard work.
How to Do It:
In this workout, alternate between your easy, medium, and fast paces. Warm up with three to five minutes of walking. Then ramp up to your easy pace (see below) and hold it for two to three minutes. Then shift into your medium pace and sustain it for one minute. Then shift into the fast pace for 30 seconds. Repeat the cycle two or three times. Walk for five minutes to cool down. Use this guide to find each gear:
Easy: Conversational pace; a pace where you could chat with a friend running alongside you. This is a rhythm that feels like you could maintain it all day long if you had to.
Medium: This should be faster than your easy pace, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re speeding. You would prefer not to hold a full conversation, but if someone asked you a question, you could answer in two- or three-word sentences.
Fast: Quicker than your medium pace. In this gear you should be able to say one or two words but, if someone asked you a question, it would make you mad because you wouldn’t want to expend the energy to answer them. Don’t sprint all-out or push to the point of pain, or where you feel you’re going to pull something. You should feel like “I’m okay, I just don’t want to do this for very long.”
What It Does:
This workout will elevate your heart rate, boost your fitness and calorie burn, and keep you from falling into a rut with the same easy pace. “It makes running fun, ups the intensity, and recruits different muscle fibers,” says Paul. “It’s like adding spice to a recipe.” By getting used to what different paces feel like, you can get more benefits out of all your workouts going forward, whether you’re doing a recovery run or racing in your first 5K. Why is that important? “If you’re aware of your running pace, you can control your effort based on the distance or the purpose of the workout or in the race,” says Paul. What’s more, it can help you stay injury-free. If you run the same pace all the time, you recruit the same muscle fibers, in the exact same way over and over. That, says Paul, sets the stage for many common overuse injuries, like runner’s knee and IT-band syndrome. “If you mix up your paces, you recruit different muscle fibers, and some different muscles,” says Paul. “You get more balanced out.”
The Even Steven
Walk to warm up, then run three laps around the track. Try to run each loop at the same pace, within five seconds faster or slower than the previous loop.
WHAT IT DOES: This workout builds endurance and teaches you to maintain a steady, consistent effort, which is what you’ll want to do in your first race. “Runners of all abilities tend to just start running as fast as they can, until they tire out and have to quit,” says Paul. Knowing that you have three loops to do, you’ll learn to start your first loop slower and get into a rhythm that you can maintain for all three loops.
The Long Run
How to Do It:
Want to stretch out your workout for longer? Take walk breaks before you need to at even intervals. That may mean running for just 20 seconds, at first, says Paul. You should be running at a pace that’s easy enough to hold a conversation she says. “If you can’t, slow down.” On the other hand, if you’re running so easy you can sing, pick up the pace, she adds.
What It Does:
This helps you build endurance without getting injured or discouraged.
How to Do It:
Covering the same old route can get downright old. Run or walk to someplace nearby that you usually drive to and that involves going farther than you usually do. Go to the grocery store; meet a friend at the gym and arrange to get a ride home.
What It Does:
This builds endurance, and it’s fun. “It feels like you’re on an adventure,” says Paul. And it really changes your perspective! Never noticed that hill before? You will now! Check out more workouts from Runners World. Click on the link below.
Below are examples of stretches you can follow up your workout with.
Dynamic Stretches For Runners