Different Types of Runs and How To Build Them Into Your Training Program
The concept of exercise progression is fairly straightforward. As one progresses from a beginner level to a more advanced physical conditioning, the workout focus becomes more intense. This is how the body responds to stress. The body adapts to the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal stress placed upon it, necessitating the need to keep upping the stress (ie, intensity and/ distance) level.
Benefit of running workout variety
There are several common types of running workouts that serve different purposes. Keep in mind that workout variety is important in a training program, so as to stimulate various energy systems and to keep making progress. Although, a program does not have to incorporate all types of workouts at once. An important aspect of a well-structured program is to incorporate workouts that challenge an athlete, but not to the point that it results in injury and/ or overtraining.
Types of running workout
Check out the types of workouts you can do, listed according to hierarchy — from the least to most intense.
1. Recovery run
In terms of effort, the upper level of a recovery is the lower level of an easy run, at ~50% of one’s maximum heart rate. As the name suggests, this run is often used as a way to recover from the previous day’s hard run, or in preparation for one the day after. It should be performed at a very easy intensity and while running, it should be easy to have a conversation. Due to the easy nature of this type of run, it is often used by beginner runners to adapt their bodies to running, both in terms of musculoskeletal stress and cardiovascular adaptation.
When done for the purpose of recovery, the runs should be 30 minutes or less, and done up to two to three times per week. If a beginner is using them to adapt their body to running, three to four days per week is likely the correct amount, as rest days will need to be integrated as well.
Using a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale of 1-10, with 10 being the hardest, this type of run would be around 3-4 RPE.
Also read: Science of Progression: How to Improve Consistently
2. Base run
This type of run is typically placed toward the beginning of a program (often termed: base period), but after an athlete has enough fitness to run for at least 30 minutes non-stop. Base training runs are characterized by relatively low intensity, but that is higher than that of recovery runs. The purpose of these runs is to develop an individual’s aerobic system. Like recovery runs, these runs should be performed at a steady intensity.
Base runs are done two to three times a week during the base training period, with a focus also on rest and recovery. They start off with around 30 minutes in duration and typically last up to 90 minutes as an individual progresses. The RPE range for this type of workout is 4-5.
3. Long steady distance (LSD) run
These runs are often referred to as “long runs”. They are used as a benchmark to determine if a runner will be sufficiently prepared for a race based on the time and/ or mileage. The point of an LSD run is to increase the endurance of a runner and with that, one’s aerobic fitness level as well. The intensity during the run should be as steady as possible (5-6 RPE).
LSD runs increase in distance as the running program progresses. As for training for a race, the longest LSD run typically occurs the week before a runner starts to taper for their race. Typically, just one LSD run is completed per week. However, in some cases, it may be one LSD run every other week. These runs can last between 45 minutes to over three hours — depending on the point in the training program and the speed of a runner.
4. Tempo run
Tempo runs are done for the purpose of increasing one’s lactate threshold (LT). From a functional standpoint, when someone runs slightly above their LT, their leg muscles will likely begin to fatigue and they will begin to get out of breath. Therefore, by raising one’s LT, an individual will be able to run at a faster pace without getting out of breath or feeling fatigue in their leg muscles as quickly.
Tempo runs are typically structured as either the whole run, or one or two blocks of time within a run. For example, a total run time might be 60 minutes, but minutes 20 to 30 and 40 to 60 are done at tempo pace — with the rest of the run done at LSD pace.
The running intensity during a tempo effort should be steady and at or around one’s threshold intensity. Threshold intensity refers to a pace that one could maintain for 60 minutes and could be considered “comfortably hard”. A runner could speak a sentence while running at threshold pace, but it would be labored.
Depending on what training phase an athlete is in as well as their fitness level and experience, one to two intensity-based workouts are typically included in a weekly program. Often, at least one of these would be a tempo run.
5. Race pace run
As the name suggests, these runs are done at one’s expected race pace for some of, or the full distance of a training run. Race pace runs are a form of tempo runs. They are done at the full race distance, typically middle to short distance races (15K and below). Conversely, race pace runs for races 15K and above, such as marathons, generally are not done at race pace for the whole distance. Rather, these have periods of race pace tempo integrated into the run. For example, the total distance of a marathon training run might be 24km, but 10km-20km might be at marathon pace, while the rest of the run would be at LSD pace.
These runs are characterized by starting off at a relatively easy intensity, and gradually increasing the intensity throughout the run to the point where a runner is running at a very hard intensity at the end. Therefore, a runner might start off at a 4 RPE and end at a 9 RPE. Aside from the physical benefits that come from this type of workout, such as increased aerobic conditioning, it is also valuable from a mental stamina standpoint. It requires an individual to keep pushing harder and harder even though they are likely fatigued.
Like LSD runs, these runs should be done at most once per week and likely just once every other week. Due to the stress of them, it would be wise to incorporate at least one recovery or off day before and after this type of run. The duration of a progression run should be based on the individual, but a good starting time would be 20 minutes and build up in 5-0 minute increments.
This odd word translates into “speedplay” in Swedish. Traditionally, this run is done at an LSD intensity with short bursts of speed (10-30 seconds) interspersed into the run. The duration and locations as to where the bursts of speed will occur can be predetermined or determined while running. The purpose of fartleks is to train both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, as well as to train the body to adapt to sudden changes in intensity. The intensity of a traditional fartlek workout would be around five for the LSD intensity component and the bursts of speed at a 7-8 RPE.
It must be noted that fartleks can also apply to run/ walk programs. For beginner runners, walking for the majority of a workout, but incorporating several short running bouts is helpful in adapting the body to running. Therefore, this run/ walk structure is by definition, a fartlek.
Running hills is one of the best ways to increase one’s cardiovascular conditioning due to the difficulty of running uphill. As an individual runs relatively slow uphill, there is also likely less of a chance for injury as compared to running at the same intensity on flat terrain, such as a track where the speed is higher. Additionally, there is more activation of the glute and core muscles when running uphill as compared to on flat terrain. Therefore, running uphill is great for developing the glutes and core strength.
Hills workouts are structured in many different ways. Here are some examples:
- Six hill repeats of a half-mile hill
- Run up to the top of the mountain
- Run from point A to point B, which has three, one-mile hills
As you can see, hill workouts can be structured as intervals or steady hard runs. Regardless of the structure, the constant is that they are performed at a hard intensity (7-9 RPE). If a running program is specifically focused on hills due to the event being trained for, a program may have up to two hill-focused workouts per week during the peak training phase.
However, when training for races that are not hilly, or if training for a hilly race but not during the peak phase, hill workouts would likely be done one time per week. It is important to note that it is normal for running routes to encompass hills that make up a large portion of one’s running environment. However, this section is referring to hill-specific workouts.
Intervals is a generic term used to denote any type of running workout that alternates periods of intensity and recovery. However, intervals are most commonly used to denote very high intensity running periods separated by an easy run or walk.
There are various structures of intervals:
Ascending: Interval length gets longer as the workout progresses
Example: 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,600 meters (1 minute jog in between each interval)
Descending: Interval length decreases as the workout progresses
Example: 1,600 meters, 800 meters, 400 meters (1 minute jog in between each interval)
Straight: Same interval length
Example: 400 meters, 400 meters, 400 meters (1 minute jog in between each interval)
Pyramid: Interval length increases then decreases
Example: 400 meters, 800 meters, 1,600 meters, 800 meters, 400 meters (1 minute jog in between each interval)
The purpose of intervals is to increase one’s aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. As they work both energy systems, they are a very efficient way to increase one’s running fitness and performance. Interval type workouts are also commonly referred to as High Intensity Intermittent Training (HIIT). Prior to starting an interval workout, it is strongly suggested to perform some sort of warm-up (for instance, a 10-15 minute jog) to prepare the muscles and cardiovascular system for the upcoming workout.
The intensity during a high intensity interval workout is between an 8-9 RPE. Due to the high intensity of intervals, they should be done at most once per week.
Strides are short (10-20 second) running efforts that are usually done prior to, and after a run. Typically, four to five strides are done at a time. The purpose of the strides is to enhance the body’s neuromuscular connections as it pertains to running with good form. When done prior to a run, the primary reason is to prepare and adapt the body to the upcoming form requirements.
For example, if running a 5K, doing strides prior to the race will prepare the body for muscle activation, flexibility, and overall form needed to race the 5K.
When done after a run, strides help to train the body and mind to maintain good form even when tired physically and mentally.
Strides aren’t done before and after each and every run. They are most commonly done before short (10K and below) race distance and intense workouts and after base and LSD runs.
The goal during strides is to maintain as close to perfect form as possible. The speed profile of strides should resemble an arc — start off slow and gradually build up speed until you’re just below your all-out sprint speed. Then gradually slow down, all the while focusing on proper form.
Also read: Heart Rate Training: Role and Importance
For a beginner just starting a running program, some form of a run/ walk program would be best until they can run for at least 20-30 minutes non-stop. At this point, a runner can transition to primarily running workouts (eliminate or greatly reduce the run/ walk workouts), with the majority of the runs being at recovery run intensity. There is also a focus on rest and recovery to ensure that the body is recovering during this time. This training phase typically lasts between 2-3 weeks. After this point, the base training phase is typically integrated. This is the point at which many training programs begin.
Most training programs are broken down into phases (often called, periodization). Each phase typically has a primary focus on developing a specific physiological adaptation. It is important to note that while a training phase may focus on a specific workout type, there will be other workout types integrated into the training phase as well.
Sample training phase
Here is a hierarchy of training phases from the start to end of a traditional training program with the primary workout type(s) noted. While not listed, rest days and recovery runs are a part of all training phases.
As you see, a complete running program is one that incorporates a variety of run types to focus on different aspects of fitness such as endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and increasing one’s anaerobic threshold.
The most important aspect of programming is that the workouts should correlate to where an individual is at in terms of their fitness level. For example, the predominant type of run that is integrated into a program will be very different for a beginner versus an in-shape, experienced runner. To minimize the chance of injury and to properly progress, the type of workouts should be progressed based on hierarchy.