Tough Running Speed Workouts

by | Feb 20, 2015 | Fitness

Usain Bolt isn’t the only person who should be cranking into fifth gear. Adding a speed session to your running routine will get you back into shape faster, so you’re ready for that 5K or marathon down the road. Plus, you’ll burn as many calories as you do in a long, plodding run you do after work—but in half the time. Try these four speedy workouts to ramp up your running fitness.

Up-and-Down Fartleks

Fartlek is a funny name, but this training technique is a must for boosting your pace. It’s Swedish for “speed play,” meaning you vary your bursts of speed. “You can perform this workout almost anywhere,” says Andrew Lemoncello, a former Olympian in the steeplechase and assistant coach at McMillan Running Company. “I prefer to do these workouts on dirt roads since it’s easier on my legs, and the undulating terrain forces my muscles to work a little bit harder than flat road.”

Do this: First, warm up for a mile, and then start your intervals. You’ll run as hard as you can for the prescribed amount of time, and recover with a jog for 90 seconds.

You’ll be able to push harder during the 1-minute intervals than during the 3-minute intervals. However, there’s no set pace you’re trying to hit. Instead, work on effort levels of pushing as hard as you can for the set amount of time. If you’re new to running or just getting back into the sport, do the first two intervals, then build up to the rest as you get more fit.

Interval 1: Sprint for 1 minute, recovery jog for 90 seconds
Interval 2: Sprint for 2 minutes, recovery jog for 90 seconds
Interval 3: Sprint for 3 minutes, recovery jog for 90 seconds
Interval 5: Sprint for 2 minutes, recovery jog for 90 seconds
Interval 6: Sprint for 1 minute, recovery jog for 90 seconds

Hill to Tempo
No runner wants to crash before the finish line, so you need a way to work through fatigue. That’s why this drill teaches your legs to handle tiring challenges over and over again.

“The hill repeats require explosive muscle contractions, burn glycogen, and make your legs feel like JELL-O,” says Jeff Gaudette, head coach at Just when you think you can’t run any longer, Gaudette has you run at threshold pace. This simulates running pace at the end of a race when you’re tired, and teaches your body how to push through, he explains.

Do this: After warming up, find a long hill with no more than a 10-percent grade. Sprint uphill for 90 seconds at 90 percent effort—or about your 5K pace—with a slow jog back down the hill as recovery. That’s one round. Do 6 total rounds.

After completing the uphill sprints, run easy for 4 minutes to recover. Finish off with a two to three mile tempo run at about 70 percent effort—or around your half-marathon pace.

Speed-Body Combo
Get ready, because this drill throws everything at you. It incorporates a variety of training zones to build a body that’s in race shape, says Tom Kloos, head distance coach of the Bay Area Track Club in Oakland, California.

Do this: Start with a 20-minute aerobic run—running hard, but easy enough that you can keep up a conversation—and finish at the base of a 10 to 12 percent grade hill. Run the hill for 20 seconds, with an easy jog back down for recovery each time. That’s 1 round. Do 8 to 10.

Focus on form over speed when getting back in shape: run tall, drive your knees, and focus your eyes up the hill. As your fitness improves, you can work on increasing your aerobic run to an hour, and your hill intervals to 10 one-minute intervals, says Kloss.

And you’re not done quite yet. After your last hill, perform this quick body-weight session and dynamic core circuit. “A weak core allows the arms and legs to cause rotation of the center of mass,” says Kloos. “This means energy is being wasted going in directions other than straight forward.”

Body-Weight Session

Do each exercise for 20 seconds before moving on to the next one.

BURPEE: From a standing position, simultaneously squat down and lean forward, and then move straight into a pushup position. Lower your chest to the floor, and in one fluid movement, explosively push yourself back up and into a standing position. Without pausing, repeat the movement.
MOUNTAIN CLIMBER: Assume a pushup position with your arms straight; bring your right knee in toward your chest. Return to the starting position, and repeat with your left knee. Keep repeating this as fast as possible.
JUMPING JACK: Stand with your feet together and your hands at your sides. Simultaneously raise your arms above your head and jump up just enough to spread your feet out wide. Without pausing, quickly reverse the movement and repeat.
SPLIT JUMP: Stand in a staggered stance with your feet 2 to 3 feet apart, your right foot in front of your left. Keeping your torso upright, bend your legs and lower your body into a lunge. Now jump with enough force to propel both feet off the floor. While you’re in the air, scissor-kick your legs so you land with your left leg forward. Repeat, alternating your forward leg for the duration of the set.
PUSHUP: Assume a pushup position, with your arms straight and hands below and slightly wider than your shoulders. Bend at the elbows and lower your body until your chest nearly touches the floor. Pause, and push your body back up.

Dynamic Plank Circuit

Continue to switch between the three following moves. Do this for 5 minutes straight.

FRONT PLANK: Start in pushup position but with your weight on your forearms. Brace your abs, and hold.
SIDE PLANK: Lie on one side with your legs straight, and prop up your upper body on your forearm. Raise your hips so your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders, and hold.
REVERSE PLANK: Start face up with your weight on your forearms and elbows under your shoulders. The heels of both feet will be resting on the ground with toes pointed upward. Raise your hips and prop up your body to form a straight line from heels to shoulders, and hold.

Hops Drill

You aren’t running here, but you’re building muscles that are necessary going faster. “This exercise develops functional tension in the lower body, particularly the calves and feet,” says Joe McConkey, head coach at the Boston Running Center. “This helps you gain a faster, more energy-free spring response occurs every time your foot hits the ground.”

Do this: Stand tall on your right foot, and slightly bend your left knee so your left foot is behind you and off the floor. Keeping your right leg straight, come up on the ball of your right foot. Lightly hop up and down. You should jump only about 2 centimetres off the floor. (This video is a good example.) Don’t let your heel touch the floor the entire time you’re hopping. Do a maximum of 100 short hops, and then switch legs. That’s one round. Work up to a total of 5 rounds.

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