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Short On Time? Run Fast To Boost Performance

If you can't run a lot, you're better off running hard.

If you can’t run a lot, you’re better off running hard.

Increasing your training volume is one proven way to racer faster, but for a variety of reasons this isn’t always possible or realistic for many competitive age-group runners. So for the time-strapped runner, is there another effective path to improvement?

In 2010 a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Norwegian researchers compared the effects of a high-volume, low intensity training regimen and a low-volume, high-intensity training regimen on various physiological parameters and on running performance in experienced male distance runners. Twenty-six runners participated in the study. For 10 weeks, half of them ran 43 miles per week at a moderate pace and the other half ran 31 miles per week, logging some of that distance at a moderate pace but much of it at approximately lactate threshold pace, which is roughly the fastest pace a fit individual can sustain for 40 to 60 minutes.

All of the runners submitted to physiological and performance testing before and after the 10-week training period. Both groups experienced significant improvements in running economy, but members of the low-volume, high-intensity group experienced much greater improvements in VO2 max and velocity at lactate threshold (that is, the speed they could sustain for 40 to 60 minutes). More importantly, members of the low-volume, high-intensity group improved much more in a high-intensity run to exhaustion, adding some 301 meters to their distance covered, on average, compared to 218 meters for members of the high-volume, low-intensity group.

RELATED: Speed Development For Distance Runners

What does this study tell us? It tells us that you can get more out of 31 miles per week of running if some of those miles are faster than you can get our of 43 miles per week if none of those miles are fast. What this study does not tell us is that high intensity is simply “better” or more important than high volume in training for distance running. We don’t need a study to show us generally what is the most effective way to train for distance running. All we have to do is look at the training methods used by the world’s best runners. And most of the world’s best runners incorporate a moderate amount of high-intensity running into very high-volume programs. In other words, they get the best of both worlds.

Of course, most of us mere-mortal runners are neither willing nor able to run 100-plus miles per week as most elite runners do. Therefore, it is all the more important for us low-volume runners to consistently include high-intensity running in our training. It’s not always pleasant, but it provides the greatest performance bang for your training buck.

RELATED: 7 Ways To Increase Speed Without Increasing Mileage


About The Author:

Matt Fitzgerald is the author of numerous books, including Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2012). He is also a Training Intelligence Specialist for PEAR Sports. To learn more about Matt visit