Get better, faster results by trying something new in your training.
There’s an old way to do almost everything. For example, listening to cassette tapes on your Walkman, connecting to the Internet with a modem, and wearing leg warmers on the treadmill would all be considered by most as old ways of doing things. There are also old ways to train, which may prevent you from seeing the results you want. Over the following pages, we offer up some new ways to spice up your workouts and get better, faster results.
Old Way: Long, easy run
New Way: AT/LSD combo run
If you’re an advanced runner with a history of long runs on your legs, making the long run of higher quality by combining long, slow distance with acidosis (lactate) threshold pace helps you break past plateaus. These runs simulate the feeling of the marathon, use up muscle glycogen at a faster rate, and train your legs to run fast when they are fatigued. Run about 12 to 16 miles, with the first 10 to 12 miles at an easy pace and the last 2 to 4 miles at acidosis threshold pace, which corresponds to your fastest sustainable aerobic pace (about 10-15 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace for most runners).
Old Way: Intervals at 5K race pace
New Way: Know the purpose of the workout
Knowing the purpose of the workout helps you train more specifically because you know what you’re trying to accomplish. To improve your acidosis threshold, do workouts at threshold pace (10-15 seconds per mile slower than 10K race pace or 20-25 seconds per mile slower than 5K race pace for most runners). To improve your VO2max and your ability to transport oxygen to your muscles, run intervals with work periods of 3 to 5 minutes (800 to 1,200 meters) at 1.5- to 2-mile race pace. To increase anaerobic endurance, run intervals with work periods of 45 to 90 seconds (300 to 500 meters) at mile race pace.
Don’t try to get faster by running the workouts faster than the pace at which you need to run to meet the purpose of the workout. Distance runners don’t do workouts to practice running faster. They do workouts to improve the physiological characteristics that will enable them to run faster in the future. As you progress, make the workouts harder by adding more reps, lengthening the distance of each work period, or decreasing the recovery intervals rather than by running faster. Only increase the pace of the work periods once your races have shown that you are indeed faster.
Old Way: Strength training in the gym
New Way: Plyometrics
Although strength training can play a supportive role in increasing muscle strength and power and reducing your risk of injuries, it can’t improve the most important factors that enable you to run faster races, including cardiac output, which determines how much blood your heart pumps per minute; the amount of hemoglobin in your blood, which determines how much oxygen is transported in your blood to your muscles; your muscles’ capillary density, which determines how much oxygen is delivered to your muscles; the amount of mitochondria in your muscles, which determines how much oxygen your muscles use to produce energy; and your muscles’ ability to use fat as fuel, which occurs only when you’ve been running long enough that your muscles start running out of carbohydrates.
Plyometrics, on the other hand, which include powerful jumping and bounding exercises, increase muscle power by exploiting muscles’ elastic property, enhancing the rate at which your muscles produce force against the ground. Try to spend as little time on the ground as possible between hops, bounds, and jumps to maximize muscles’ release of stored elastic energy. Try the exercises below on a soft surface, such as grass, track, or gymnastics mat.
Sample Plyometric Exercises
Single leg hops: 1) On one leg, hop up and down; 2) hop forward and back; 3) hop side-to-side.
Double leg bound: From a squat position with both legs, jump forward as far as you can.
Alternate leg bound: In an exaggerated running motion, bound (which looks like a combination of running and jumping) forward from one leg to the other.
Squat jumps: With hands on hips in a squat position, jump straight up as high as you can. Upon landing, lower back into a squat position in one smooth motion, and immediately jump up again.
Depth jumps: From a standing position on a one-foot tall box, jump onto the ground and land in a squat position. From this squat position, jump straight up as high as you can.
Box jumps: From the ground, jump with two feet onto a box about one foot high, and then immediately jump into the air and back down to the ground. As you get experienced with the exercise, try jumping with one foot at a time.
Old Way: Running the same types of workouts all year long
New Way: Periodizing your training throughout the year
Humans are creatures of habit. We do the same things over and over again and, while we may not always expect a different result, we certainly hope for one. But if you always train the same way, you’ll end up with the same result. Periodization, which began in Europe in the 1910s in response to the need to vary the training of athletes who were training year-long, is a method of maximizing fitness and performance by structuring training programs into periods or phases using programmed variation of training loads and recovery in a cyclic fashion. It involves focusing the training stimulus to one or two variables at a time and manipulating and systematically changing those training variables over the course of the training program. To periodize your own training, work backward from your most important race and plan your cycles of training, devoting adequate time to aerobic and anaerobic variables. Within each training cycle, vary and polarize your training so that some days of the week you run more and some days you run less, and some days you run very hard and some days you run very easy.
Old Way: Stretch before or after you work out
New Way: Stretch at other times of the day
While it may feel good to stretch your hamstrings and quads before or after your workout, there’s little scientific evidence that stretching before or after exercise decreases your injury risk or improves exercise performance. Where stretching can help you the most, however, is when you use it as part of flexibility training to increase your functional range of motion, which can counteract the stiffness you get from sitting at your desk all day and help you to reduce injury risk. When stretching to increase flexibility, doing it apart from your running workout seems to have the greatest benefit.
Old Way: Running to work out
New Way: Running to work in
In our fast-paced society, we rarely take time for ourselves. Running to work out is just one more thing you have to schedule into your day. But the best way to never miss a workout is to make running an important part of who you are rather than something you do. So, instead of seeing your workouts only for their physical benefits, see them for their emotional and psychological benefits as well. You can use running to work through professional and personal issues, develop ideas, explore your feelings, and become the person you want to be. So work in rather than work out.
To get the most from your workouts, it’s time to make some changes. By replacing old ways with new ways, not only will you be rewarded with better results, you’ll never have to be seen in public with leg warmers.
About The Author:
Dr. Jason Karp is a nationally-recognized running and fitness expert, 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, and owner of RunCoachJason.com. He holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. A prolific writer, he has more than 200 articles published in international running, coaching, and fitness magazines, is the author of five books, including Running for Women and Running a Marathon For Dummies, and is a frequent speaker at international fitness and coaching conferences. For his popular training programs and an autographed copy of his books, go to RunCoachJason.com.