The Simplified Guide to Speedwork
Want to get faster? Add these proven, easy-to-understand drills to your training plan.
There are a thousand and one reasons to love running, but it’s hard to top the feeling of setting a new personal record. So if you’re like us, chances are you’re looking for ways to shave some time off your distance of choice. To help you do just that, we asked a professional coach and elite runners for their top speed-building drills. The best part: they’re super easy to work into your training. Here’s how.
Frequency: once or twice a week
Falling somewhere between an easy run and a race-pace workout, a tempo run is a sustained run at a comfortably hard pace to build speed through endurance efforts. “Running tempo can help you to extend the overall volume of your workouts and recover faster in between intervals,” says Under Armour and District Track Club coach Tom Brumlik. The key, he says, is finding your individualized pace: For advanced runners, that’s usually about 20 to 30 seconds slower than your 5K pace. Newer runners should add another 10 to 20 seconds.
Not sure what your pace should be? There’s an app for that: MapMyRun supplies post-workout analyses of key metrics like stride length, and cadence. And, when synced with connected footwear like Under Armour’s all-new Flow Velociti Wind, it can even provide real-time feedback and coaching. When in doubt, though, you can always fly by feel. “You should still be able to say a sentence or two while running tempo,” explains Brumlik.
The duration of these efforts will vary by athlete and goal, but start with a distance you can handle, says Brumlik. “You want to progress the distance over the course of a training cycle, but you always want to be able to walk away from a tempo run without feeling like you need to lay down and rest after.”
Frequency: two or three sessions per week, four to six reps
Obi Nwankwo began doing strides during his collegiate running career and they're still a mainstay of his weekly workouts. “Strides help you improve form, increase cadence, and build speed—and they’re so easy to do,” he says.
Strides are essentially short, repeated, controlled accelerations when you exaggerate your running form. To execute, first find your “runway,” a straight, level, roughly 100-yard stretch of road or path that’s free of obstacles. Gradually build your speed so that you’re running almost all-out for about 50 yards in. Keep your torso upright and your strides quick and consistent. At the end of your runway, walk or jog back to the start and repeat four to six times. Sprinkle strides into your week after easy runs, long runs, or even as a warm-up.
Frequency: one session per week
At its core, fartlek (a Swedish word meaning “speed play”) is a series of short, fast intervals separated by periods of easy running. Brumlik says that fartlek is especially useful for those runners who tend to get a bit obsessed with the numbers on their watches. “It’s more about effort than specific time or distance,” he says.
To execute fartlek, you can switch from your usual pace or distance guidelines to time. A beginner-friendly approach might look like ten reps of sprinting one minute hard, jogging one minute easy, with the efforts as close to an all-out pace as you can feasibly maintain for the entire minute. For a more advanced athlete, Brumlik suggests eight reps in the neighborhood of three minutes hard, one minute easy. “Don’t overthink it,” he says. Want to play it loose and fun? Run fast from lamppost to lamppost along your route, easing off for an equal distance before ramping up again.
Frequency: one session per week, six to eight reps
Often considered strength work in disguise, hill repeats teach your body how to tackle climbs when you get to them and make you a faster, more durable runner. Kim Clark, better known as @trackclubbabe on Instagram, is a believer. “Doing hill repeats offers many of the same benefits of interval training, just cranked up a notch.”
To perform them correctly, find a hill with a grade of about 5 to 10 percent that will take you about 30 seconds to run up. After a one-to-two-mile warm-up, burst out of the gates and maintain your strong pace all the way to the top. Take an easy walk or jog back down to the start, making sure you’ve recovered before running back up again. Repeat five to eight times until you’re accustomed to the work, and then build up to ten repeats. “Doing repeats can boost your max speed—and help you sustain that speed longer,” says Clark.
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