Coach Jeff

Written by Coach Jeff


Should Your Training Plan Include Speed Work If You’re Not Training For a Race?

One thing that keeps me excited about coaching after all these years is that every runner I work with has different goals.

Some are training for their first race, others are qualifying for Boston, and many are using running as a way to stay fit or get healthy.

Most training plans and articles focus on the subset of runners who are training for a specific race, but that’s not very helpful if you’re just running to stay fit, lose weight or maintain between races.

So, the question is, how do you structure your plan if you’re not training for a specific race? More specifically, do you need to include speed work into your weekly routine?

In this article, I’ll examine the roll of speed work in your training plan if you are not training for a specific race, outline why you should include it, and give you some workouts to try so you can maximize your results.

Goal: Improve Your Overall Health

The case for speed work

You’ll build stronger muscles

Speed work recruits different muscles than slow runs do and also strengthens the bones, ligaments, and joints, so they can absorb and adapt to higher workloads.

This effect is similar to weight training. The heavier the weight you lift, the stronger your muscle will become because the muscle is having to resist more weight. With speed work, the more you push the leg muscles to move faster, the more total muscle fibers you activate and the more explosively you contract them. This results in greater strength and injury resistance.

You’ll boost your heart health.

Speed sessions evoke an increase in the maximal stroke volume of heart. This is a fairly complicated cardiologic discussion but simply stated, stroke volume is the amount of blood that can be pumped from the heart in one stoke. A greater stroke volume decreases the heart rate and, in a sense, makes the heart more efficient.

You’ll see progress.

One of the biggest challenges of not training for a specific race is staying motivated. Running an easy pace every day is going to get boring and feel like you’re not making any progress.

By running speed workouts – and repeating the same type of workout every two to four weeks – you’ll find that you’re running faster, or with less effort, and this is going to make you feel like you’re getting fitter.

Even if you don’t have a race goal, all that motivation will keep you going when you don’t want to get out the door or the weather gets bad.

Sample workout

Short, explosive hill sprints are a great way to have fun with speed work, especially because they are not too difficult.

1. Choose a hill that has a fairly steep grade (5-8%).

2. Warm-up your muscles by running a mile or two or perform the Lunge Matrix.

3. Starting at the bottom of the hill, sprint up as fast as you can for 15 seconds.

4. Slowly walk back down, jog very easy for 3 minutes, and repeat. Start with 5 repeats and work your way up to 10.

Goal: Lose Weight

The case for speed work

At an easy pace, running a mile burns about 100 calories. However, the faster you run, the more calories you’ll burn during that mile. Plus, high-intensity training keeps your metabolism revved even after the workout is over. What’s more, research seems to suggest that the after burn – the number of calories your body burns after your workout, when your metabolism is revved – lasts for longer when you run faster.

Sample workout

Short, fast interval workouts at near maximal effort will maximize calorie burning. Try this workout:

1. Warm-up with an easy mile of running and some dynamic stretching.

2. Run 400 meters at 90 percent effort. You should be breathing very hard when finished.

3. Jog slowly for 2 minutes to recover.

4. Repeat 4 to 8 times.

Goal: Training Between Races

The case for speed work

Speed work helps maintain efficiency by stimulating the central nervous system and activating more slow twitch muscle fibers.

More importantly, speed work helps reduce injury by gradually introducing speed into a training schedule.

Many runners get hurt when they try to run at speeds their muscles, tendons and ligaments aren’t ready for. Easy speed sessions help prepare those muscles for the harder workouts when you get back to training.

Sample workout

The fartlek workout (a Swedish term for speed play) is a great way to inject a little speed but still gives you the freedom to run by feel and avoid the mental stress involved with a more structured workout.

1. Warm-up with an easy mile of running and some dynamic stretching.

2. Run anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes at a moderately hard pace. You shouldn’t be gasping for breath, but it shouldn’t be easy either. The actual pace isn’t important – it’s the fact that you ate “turning your legs over” and providing your body with a change of pace.

3. Recover by walking or very slowly jogging for an equal time you ran hard. If you ran 2 minutes hard, recover for 2 minutes.

4. Repeat until you’ve done 20 to 30 minutes total of fartlek running.

As you begin to setup your training plan, consider what your goals might be (even if you’re not training for a specific race) and begin adding speed work the right way to maximize your results!

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