Speed Workouts to Run Faster
A distance runner’s training schedule typically involves easy effort runs, long slow runs, and hard quality workouts. These usually follow easy efforts or active recovery runs. Speed workouts train the body to recruit fast-twitch muscle fibers, which you may not use during easy training runs. These workouts also stimulate the neuro-muscular system to fire impulses that train your feet to move faster, provide a stressor for the heart to get stronger, and improve running efficiency/economy. With these workouts, you can run faster.
Speed workouts are also known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). As the name suggests, HIIT refers to repetitions of high-intensity bouts of exercise performed at 100% VO2max and more with sufficient rest intervals between repetitions. When intensities are higher than VO2max, they refer to the anaerobic domain where carbohydrate is predominantly used for providing energy. During the workout, the body relies on an ‘oxygen-independent’ pathway when there is an absence of oxygen for breaking down carbohydrates to produce energy. In this type of metabolism, energy is produced at a very high rate.
What are the benefits of speed workouts?
1. Improves your VO2max
There is an improvement in the amount of oxygen that the body can absorb in a minute, resulting in advancement in endurance or athletic conditioning.
2. Increases speed
Due to extreme efforts in sprinting, the body develops the ability for increased speed.
3. Increases power
The body recruits type II muscle fibers that deliver force in a short time, which translates to improved power.
4. Increases overall athleticism
HIIT engages the upper body, core, lower body musculature, and the aerobic and anaerobic systems, resulting in an all-round balanced athletic body.
How to perform speed intervals
The three important things to note when taking up speed interval training are medical clearance, intensity, and warm-up.
Getting medical clearance
As you need to do speed workouts at 85%-100% of your maximum heart rate, it is important to check with your health practitioner and get clearance for performing them. If you are a beginner runner, then apart from being healthy, it is necessary to have some reasonable mileage under your belt that is in the region of 25km–30km per week.
Keeping track of the intensity
High-intensity runners perform speed intervals at an intensity, which is of an extreme level. You may monitor your intensity either by using your heart rate through a heart-rate monitor or via the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale.
A warm-up is a crucial part of speed interval training because you need to prepare the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems to take the rigors of high heart rates and forces on muscles/bones. Begin with a jog for about 5-7 minutes, followed by some whole-body dynamic stretches before you start doing the speed workouts to run faster.
Types of speed intervals to run faster
Also known as striders/pickups/accelerations, strides are short accelerations that last for 20-25 seconds. While doing this workout, you run at 90%-95% effort with a focus on running mechanics and form. It is advisable to do strides once or twice a week in four weeks. Here is how you execute strides:
- Accelerate smoothly for about 6 seconds before focusing on leg turnover to deliver a fast pace that gets your heart rate really high. The RPE should be about 8.5.
- Hold the fast pace for another 6-8 seconds. Relax your body, focus on running tall, drive the arms to match your stride rate, and try landing on midfoot instead of the heel.
- Decelerate smoothly for another 6 seconds and let your body come to a jog/shuffle. Walk for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes to get your heart rate to settle. Begin the next set when you are ready.
How many sets should you do?
The idea is to do about three to four sets with a recovery of about 90 seconds after each set. After about three to four weeks, you may increase the number of sets to six. Do not attempt to rush them by cutting recovery time.
2. Hill sprints
Here are the steps to do hill sprints:
- Choose a steep hill or set the treadmill to about 10% incline. Now move up the hill until your effort level reaches about 9.5 on the RPE scale.
- Try and keep the effort constant. Hold this effort for 30 seconds and then walk downhill for recovery.
3. Descending ladder
In this workout, start your run with a lower effort level and longer work period and get progressively faster with a shorter work duration. The workout structure involves:
- 3 sets x 4 minutes at an effort level of 8.0 on the RPE scale with a 1-minute recovery time
- 3 sets x 2 minutes at an effort level of 9.0 on the RPE scale with a 2-minute recovery time
- 3 sets x 30 seconds at an effort level of 10.0 on the RPE scale with a 90-second recovery time
4. Multiple set speed intervals
In multiple speed intervals, the idea is to do several speed intervals in sets that have extended recovery between sets. The structure of the workout contains:
- 5 sets x 20 seconds at an effort level of 10.0 on the RPE scale with a 60-second recovery time between sets. Recover for 2 minutes and proceed to the next set.
- 5 sets x 20 seconds at an effort level of 10.0 on the RPE scale with a 60-second recovery time between sets. Recover for 2 minutes and move on to the next set.
- 5 sets x 20 seconds at an effort level of 10.0 on the RPE scale with a 60-second recovery between sets. Recover for 2 minutes.
5. Pyramid speed interval
Pyramid speed is about building an interval structure that starts with high intensity for a very short duration, and the period of the workout increases in a manner wherein the intensity becomes moderately low. Then, you build up again to high-intensity before bringing you back to the start of your workout. The structure for pyramid speed interval includes:
- 20 seconds at an effort level of 10.0 on the RPE scale with a 60-second recovery time
- 40 seconds at an effort level of 9.5 on the RPE scale with a 90-second recovery time
- 60 seconds at an effort level of 9.0 on the RPE scale with a 60-second recovery time
- 40-second at an effort level of 9.5 on the RPE scale with a 90-second recovery time
- 20-second at an effort level of 10.0 on the RPE scale with a 60-second recovery time
Also read: What Is Pyramid Speed Interval Workout?
You may incorporate speed interval workouts once a week into your yearly training schedule. As part of your in-season training, these speed intervals will be in addition to other speed exercises such as tempo and VO2max workouts. With high-intensity running, your body will undergo neuro-muscular adaptations, and you will notice improvements in force, power, and running economy in the long run.