Whether an experienced athlete or a novice runner, it's important to understand the various running workouts available and their purpose. This will allow you to mix things up in your workout routine, making your training more effective and beneficial.
For instance, incorporating different running workouts in your routine strengthens your muscles & cardiovascular system and boosts your aerobic capacity. At the same time, it improves your endurance, efficiency, and running economy. More importantly, it eliminates boredom in your training to keep you more motivated and minimizes the chances of overuse injuries.
If you want to become a faster, stronger athlete, your training program incorporates these workouts.
But, which are these running workouts, and what does each entail? This guide describes all the different running events any runner can add to their training schedule.
Here they are!
Types of Running Workouts
1. Tempo runs/ Threshold workouts
A tempo run is a broad term that refers to a 'comfortably hard' effort that you can maintain for a prolonged duration, like in a marathon. However, you can also do this running workout at other moderate efforts like an hour-race pace or a half marathon, provided most of the energy is aerobic.
In essence, muscles accumulate lactic acid when you run, causing them to feel fatigued. Tempo run workouts increase the lactate threshold to help you run for longer without making the muscles feel tired. In addition, it trains the muscles to resist lactic burn, thus preventing you from getting tired quickly during a race.
Lactate threshold intensity is the fastest pace that less-fit runners can sustain for 20 minutes, or highly fit runners can maintain for 1 hour. Therefore, the main aim of this workout is to increase the pace you can claim for an extended duration. Similarly, it increases the time one can maintain at a relatively fast pace.
The tempo run is an excellent running workout for long-distance runners. It motivates marathoners to run faster at an uncomfortable pace for longer. Specifically, the tempo run workout pace is slower than the sprint speed but faster than the mile pace.
According to specific research published in the Strength & Conditioning Journal, tempo runs are associated with enhanced running performance. Moreover, it's one of the critical factors that make the top-performing athletes stand out from the rest.
In addition to building lactic acid tolerance, tempo runs improve aerobic fitness, develop your speed & strength and increase your running endurance.
How to perform a temp run
- Determine your threshold run pace. The tempo run pace is about 85-80% of the max heart rate. To calculate your tempo run pace, subtract your age from 220, and divide the outcome by 85%. This will give you your heartbeat per minute. Your tempo run workout pace will be the comfortably hard pace that will keep your heart working at that rate.
- Perform a 10-min easy run to warm up.
- Increase the speed to your threshold run pace and keep it up for 20 - 40 minutes. Alternatively, you can split your workout into shorter sets that add to the total duration.
- Perform a 10-min easy run to cool down. If you're a beginner, don't do a tempo run workouts more than two times a week.
2. Interval training for runners
Interval training for runners is perhaps the most difficult but one of the best running workouts for speed. As the name implies, this exercise alternates high-intensity and low-intensity workouts for recovery.
These workouts include timed periods of hard running workouts, with sessions of standing, walking, or jogging in between each high-intensity exercise. The recovery intervals give the body adequate time to clear out metabolic by-products that usually cause fatigue.
More notably, this workout type simulates fast running leading to improved running economy and increased lactic acid tolerance. Moreover, interval training promotes various physiological changes like increased heart strength and increased ability to supply oxygen to the working muscles.
Still, on benefits, studies show that interval training helps to improve a runner's aerobic capacity. At the same time, it enables your legs to run at faster speeds and builds stronger muscles. For that, it's a great running workout for beginners and elite athletes.
However, the intensity of the interval training will vary depending on your experience level, race goal, etc. For instance, if you're training for a 5K race for the first time, your interval workout may include walking as the low-intensity exercise and a short jog as the high-intensity exercise. On the contrary, high-intensity exercise can mean a fast run for experienced/ advanced runners.
How to do interval training?
- Do an easy jog to warm up
- Run at a fast pace for 30 seconds
- Alternate with 60–sec of a slow walk. Walking for recovery
- Repeat the 30-sec speed interval and recovery period
- Repeat the recovery and speed interval for about 17 minutes.
- Walk for 1 minute to cool down.
3. Base runs
As the name implies, base running workouts build the base mileage of your formal training. They're relatively short top moderate-length workouts performed at an athlete's natural/ comfortable pace. More importantly, they make up about 65 -80% of your workout routine and aren't that challenging.
Nonetheless, consistency stimulates significant improvements in endurance, aerobic capacity, & running economy. In addition, they help with recovery, establish a workout routine and improve your running form.
Baserunning workouts allow your body to get used to the habits and biomechanics of running. On the same note, they allow your body to adapt to physiological requirements of running like energy utilization, lactate management, anaerobic/ aerobic capacity, etc.
In terms of distance, base run workouts for track runners are not particularly long. This ensures that you're adding good mileage to your weekly training routine without using much energy. In addition, your maximum heart rate should be around 79- 80% ( Zone 2) during a base run if you've got a heart rate monitor.
Example base running workouts
- Run for 45 minutes at an easy/ natural pace while keeping your heart rate low.
- Run at a conversational pace for about 6 miles without aiming to hit a specific rate. Instead, focus on resisting the impulse to run fast.
4. Recovery runs/ Easy runs
Also known as easy runs, recovery running workouts are almost similar to base runs. However, they're done after high-intensity or long-run exercises and involve running slower than you would on-base workouts.
More importantly, they keep your legs moving after a strenuous effort to help you recover. At the same time, they keep the heart rate low since they involve training at a comfortable pace. As a result, they're considered the most accessible form of running workout for any runner.
Instead of resting after an intense workout like interval training, this low-intensity exercise images soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons, and muscles. This promotes blood to these tissues, helping to get rid of by-product waste. Moreover, it adds mileage to your workout program without overexerting your body.
Another benefit of easy runs is that they allow your body to overcome any soreness or fatigue. Moreover, they build up your endurance and stamina without stressing your muscles.
An excellent example of a recovery run is running 3 miles or for 30 minutes at a leisurely pace, the day after tempo runs, hill reps, or intervals.
5. Fartlek running workouts
Fartlek is a fun Swedish name that refers to 'speed play .'And true to its name, this type of workout aims to make faster paces enjoyable with less intensity and structure. In addition, this training involves quick alternating runs with slow recovery jogs. Therefore, it's similar to interval training, but it's unstructured and less intense, instead of working out on a strict run/rest pattern.
When doing fartlek workouts, you may decide to pick a specific object like a lamppost and run fast until you get to it. Once you do, choose another thing like a car and run at a leisurely pace towards it. Repeat this process as you alternate between fast and slow running while naming different obstacles to reach along the way.
With fartlek training, how fast or long you run does not matter. However, you need to ensure that you're changing the speed throughout the run as you encounter different obstacles. Alternatively, you can do a structured fartlek session for distance or time, opting to sprint 250m or pick up a speed for 500m whenever you see a particular object. However, this type of running workout is well-suited for runners that don't use trackers for their running sessions.
What are the benefits of fartlek runs? First, this type of workout helps to improve your sprinting and race tactics. Also, a certain study demonstrated that fartlek running workouts help improve muscle endurance in young adults after 3 months of training.
How to do a fartlek training workout
- Run at a comfortable pace to warmup
- Continue running for about 4 miles at the same speed in four fartlek intervals
- Pick a landmark such as a street sign, tree, or postal box and sprint towards it.
- Jog for a few minutes before sprinting towards another milestone or accelerating up a hill.
- Make sure you vary your pace, distance, and sprints for each fartlek workout session.
6. Progression runs
In a progression running workout, a runner starts at their natural pace and increases the speed as the race progresses. Instead of creating a race at an intense rate, this exercise forces you to conclude the run at a faster pace. This helps your body work harder and put out the final push as you come towards the end of a race.
This workout is more accessible than most interval and threshold runs but more challenging than base running activities. They are moderately complex, with less recovery time than more intense workout sessions.
All in all, these workouts have various benefits, including increasing stamina. More notably, they teach the body how to finish faster than when you started, which is the main aim of most athletes in different running events. In addition, progression improves your aerobic systems and gives your body enough time to warm up before increasing your pace. This allows you to engage in a strenuous exercise routine without feeling fatigued.
Examples of progressive running workouts
Fast finish workout
- Run for 45 minutes at a comfortable/ natural pace
- Run at a hard speed for the next 10 minutes
- Finish the last 5 minutes at your maximum running pace
- Run at a leisurely pace for the first 15 minutes
- Increase the speed to a comfortably hard rate for the next 15 minutes
- Finish the race at a hard pace for the last 15 minutes
7. Long run workouts
A long-running workout is an integral part of endurance running workouts for several long-distance runs, including different types of marathons and cross country running. It's also an excellent workout for novice runners, even if they don't have a marathon.
Generally speaking, long-run workouts are longer than other running workouts. Their main aim is to increase the athlete's raw endurance. However, the duration or distance needed to achieve this effect will depend on your current endurance level.
Like other forms of running workouts, long runs offer several benefits. These include; building heart/ muscle strength, improving endurance, and teaching the body to burn fat instead of glycogen to fuel the body. Also, it boosts your confidence in running long-distance races and improves your aerobic capacity.
More importantly, the long-running duration involved in this workout helps runners develop mental toughness. However, the time of your long-running weekly workout should not exceed 20 - 25 percent of your total weekly mileage. Exceeding this limit increases your chances of injury and creates an imbalance in your workout schedule. So, if you cover about 30 miles every week, your long-running workout should be around 6 - 7.5 miles/ week.
Lastly, incorporate other types of running workouts into your long runs. For example, you can include a tempo running workout mid-way through the run to simulate running on heavy ends as you approach the end of the race. Alternatively, you can incorporate intervals into the race or progress the pace from start to finish.
How to do a long-running workout?
- Jog at a comfortable pace to warmup
- Run for about 60 minutes during the long-running workout. This helps to prepare your body's metabolism for a long-distance race. However, if 60 minutes is too long for you, run for as long as you are comfortable.
- As for the pace, it was run at a 10- 20 percent slower speed than a marathon pace. For instance, if you run a marathon at 8 minutes per mile, the long-run rate should be around 9 - 10 minutes per mile.
- As an alternative, you can gradually increase the pace as you progress to finish near the marathon pace.
- Ensure you hydrate and consume about 75 carbs/ 300 calories per hour every 15 minutes during the long run.
8. Hill repeats
Hill reps aren't the most fun type of running workout since it may seem intimidating. However, it's one of the most beneficial forms of running activities to incorporate into your training routines. It leads to significant improvements in aerobic capacity, strength, and speed. Also, it improves your ability to withstand pain and high-intensity fatigue.
As the name suggests, hill reps are short segments of uphill running at explosive speed. The ideal hill rep workout features a steady, moderate incline of around 4 - 6%. In most cases, hill reps are performed at the end of base runs since it's a safe way to incorporate high-intensity exercises into your workout routine.
Another thing worth mentioning is that hill reps generally require more significant energy expenditure and muscle engagement. For that reason, they're an excellent workout for runners at various levels. In addition, they help to improve form, strength, and efficiency. But, more importantly, they're a great way to build stamina and strengthen your muscles.
However, it would help if you didn't overdo this running workout as it can quickly cause injury. Instead, allow your regular base runs to be much more comfortable. Then, you can either do hill reps as a stand-alone interval training or as part of a long steady state-run.
How to run Hill Reps
- Perform a 10-min jog and dynamic stretching
- Look for a medium-long hill
- Run uphill at a fast pace
- Jog downhill at a slow pace
- Repeat this process 3 -4 times with 1 -2 min of recovery between sets.
- Do a 10-min cool-down jog and static stretching.
Sprinting is an important workout for every runner, including sprinters and long-distance runners. It helps build power and muscular strength, making it one of the best workouts to get faster. Moreover, these workouts condition your body, allowing you to run for more distance without feeling fatigued.
Sprint workouts generally involve running short distances faster than average, with many repeats during the training. It requires you to run as fast as possible in a short time, making it one of the most challenging running workouts out there. Nonetheless, it raises the heart rate to the highest level, making your workout more efficient. In addition, it boosts metabolism, strengthens muscles, burns calories, and reduces stress.
Example of sprint running workout
- Perform a 10 min warmup and jog and dynamic stretching
- Run 4 reps of 100m at your fastest pace
- Maintain a 3-min break between each rep
- Jog at a leisurely pace for 10 minutes to cool down and do static stretching
That brings us to the end of the 9 different running workouts you can incorporate into your cross-training program. Regardless of your experience level, these workouts will make you a more robust, faster, and less injury-prone athlete. So, if you want to improve your performance, make sure your weekly training plan incorporates various workouts. Doing so will keep you motivated to handle new challenges, prevent your training from being dull and maximize your running efficiency.
With that in mind, put on your running shoes and get ready to try out these workouts!
1. How long should you run for the first time?
The first run of any runner should be around 1 to 3 miles. The main aim of the run is to determine how the body responds to running without causing injuries. Therefore, one should run at a leisurely, comfortable pace and stop before they are exhausted.
2. Is it better to do a running workout in the evening or morning?
Research shows that our bodies have the highest temperatures in the afternoon and the lowest in the early morning hours. Also, studies show that runners have better running performances when their body temperature is higher. Therefore, it's much more convenient to do a running workout in the evening than in the morning.
3. How to breathe while running?
Inhaling and exhaling using your mouth and nose is the best way to breathe when running. It engages the diaphragm for max oxygen intake, keeps your breathing steady, and allows you to expel CO2 fast.
4. How to run for a longer duration without getting tired?
Always ensure you warm up before any form of running workout. You can accomplish this by doing low-intensity exercise and dynamic stretching for 5-15 minutes before the run. This warms up your muscles, thus reducing injury risk and allowing you to run for a long duration without getting tired or fatigued.
5. What are the best types of running workouts for speed?
Running workouts that improve speed include; hill sprints, intervals, fartleks, and tempo runs. These workouts develop muscle strength, giving you faster times and a more explosive start while minimizing the risk of injuries.