Ask Mario: When Should Beginners Do Speed Workouts?
A good look at when hard workouts are appropriate for new runners.
I’m new to running and most of the training programs I’ve seen mix jogging and walking. They look so boring! When is it OK for a beginner like me to run fast or do a speed workout?
The short answer is: now! Most beginner training programs recommend that new runners only run slowly and comfortably while building up their weekly mileage—which is important, don’t get me wrong—but over years of working with dozens of new runners I’ve found that small doses of faster running actually helps promote good running mechanics, breaks up the monotony of running easy all the time and stimulates some quick fitness gains. While I don’t recommend full-fledged interval workouts or tempo runs for newbies (give yourself several months to build up to those), just doing a few faster pickups or some short hill repeats 1-2 times a week can produce huge benefits.
RELATED: Basic Speed Workouts For Beginners
John Trautmann, while hardly a beginner, returned to running in 2009 after a lengthy layoff from the sport, during which he gained 72 pounds. In regard to the early stages of his comeback, Trautmann, a former national champion and Olympian in the 5000m, recently told Competitor editor-in-chief Brian Metzler, “When I first started to come back, all I was doing was hard workouts. I wasn’t jogging. I would run hard on my running days and I would be cross-training on every other day…I would do repeat 400s or a short tempo run or some hills. So I was still getting good training in without putting in much mileage in at all.”
While most beginners or those who are getting back into running after significant time off don’t have Trautmann’s competitive pedigree, nor should they attempt running hard every time they lace up their shoes, incorporating small snippets of faster running into their weekly training routine can do a lot of good.
Not only will running fast 1-2 times a week get more muscle groups firing than a typical easy run, it will also add some excitement to an otherwise—lets face it—boring, monotonous routine. A good, safe place to start is by doing a set of fast, short hill repeats once a week. Running fast uphill builds strength and speed while promoting good running mechanics. On a moderately steep hill, say 6-8 percent grade, run 4-8 repetitions of 10-20 seconds in duration at a hard effort. Walk back down the hill for recovery between each repetition. It’s that easy—and very effective.
Another easy addition to your newfound weekly running routine is a simple interval workout. After a few minutes of walking or jogging to warm up your muscles, accelerate to a fast—but sustainable—speed for 10-60 seconds, then gradually decelerate back down to a walk or jog for 30-60 seconds. Repeat this sequence 4-8 times, and use the recovery period to catch your breath and get ready to go again. Do not run at an all-out sprinting speed; focus instead on running relaxed, increasing your cadence and generating more power out of each stride. After completing the series of intervals, walk or jog for a few minutes to cool down and lower your heart rate.
Use these two speed-inspired suggestions to introduce some faster running into your training schedule. You’ll get stronger, faster and put yourself on a path to continued improvement and enjoyment. Remember to be smart about your progress, but most importantly, don’t forget to have fun!
Ask Mario appears monthly in Competitor magazine and weekly on Competitor.com. Have a question for Mario? Submit it here.