What is the best speed workout that runners can/should do?
I’m somewhat surprised that I get asked this question as often as I do, but I get it.
If you’re a runner with performance goals and you want to get faster, you probably don’t want to waste your time doing a speed workout that isn’t very effective, right?
So then, which speed workouts are worth your time and which ones should you avoid?
Why Do a Speed Workout Anyway?
I used to be of the thought that if you wanted to get faster as a runner, you had to practice running faster. And there is no better way to practice running faster than nailing a good speed workout.
That said, I absolutely believe that it’s important for all runners to at least do an occasional speed workout.
Because of the many benefits of speed work!
A good speed workout will, among other benefits, help to:
- Improve muscular strength.
- Improve force production.
- Strengthen tendons and bones.
- Improve your running form.
And guess what?
Basically, whatever your running goals happen to be, all of those benefits will help you to make progress toward your goals!
So yeah, even if you don’t want to get faster doing a speed workout once in awhile is definitely a good thing.
What is a Speed Workout?
Before we get into what the best speed workout actually is, and yes there will be an answer, let’s start by clarifying what we are calling a speed workout to begin with.
Personally, and I know some of you will disagree, but I view pretty much any workout that isn’t done at an easy level of effort as speed work.
- Short repeats? Speed work.
- Long repeats? Speed work.
- Hill sprints? Speed work.
- Tempo run? Speed work.
Disagree? That’s fine.
Let’s not lose the forest for the trees, ok?
In order to get the benefits listed above from a good speed workout, you clearly need to be running hard. Can we at least agree on that?
The Best Speed Workout for Any Runner
Enough screwing around, let’s grab the bull by the horns eh?
If you’re going to do one speed workout for the rest of your life, which one should it be?
Not so fast Rocky. Though, to be fair, he is right to a point.
You see, there isn’t one magical speed workout that is better than all of the other options that are available.
The best speed workout is the one that you are able to just hit out of the park virtually every time.
Let’s not kid ourselves, some speed workouts are “easier” than others.
Now, I don’t mean that one is necessarily easier than another.
What I mean is that we each have different workouts that we are better able to lock into and really crush. Likewise, we each have some workouts that we just really struggle to ever get right.
Is there a value in trying to improve your performance in the speed workouts that you struggle with?
But if you’re only doing a handful of speed workouts each month, you’re better off predominately doing the ones that you can reliably nail.
Feel like you’re holding back a little bit every time you do 400 m repeats? But feel like you can really settle in at tempo pace and grind out some uncomfortable miles that aren’t quite all out?
The longer repeats/tempo runs should probably be your go to speed workouts.
And if the opposite is true, that you’re able to drop the hammer for a minute or two but struggle to push hard for much more than that?
Then stick to the shorter repeats.
The physical benefits and adaptations, as long as you’re doing the workouts with the appropriate level of effort, are virtually identical from one speed workout to the next.
Diz, What About You?
You may have heard me say something along the lines of “I haven’t done a proper speed workout since August of 2018.”
And as this episode/post is released in June of 2019, that is still true.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t pushed it a bit in the last 10+ months.
In that time, I’ve done quite a few races where I’ve definitely run harder than easy pace and I’ve also mixed in a number of fast finish long runs.
The fast finish long run, at least as of right now, is probably my favorite workout.
Does it qualify as a speed workout?
Depends on who you ask. I’m not even sure that I would class it as a proper speed session, but it’s certainly still a good workout!
But here’s the thing, since I’ve stopped doing “proper” speed workouts I’ve continued to get faster.
Here are my marathon times over the last 9+ months:
- Pocatello Marathon: 4:25:16
- Prairie Fire Marathon: 4:17:58
- 7 Bridges Marathon: 4:03:48 PR (One week after Prairie Fire!)
- Big Beach Marathon: 3:57:32 PR (One week after Bear Bait 50k!)
Ultimately, when it comes to speed workout, for most of us less is more.
Are they beneficial? Absolutely!
But should most of us be doing at least one, maybe two, speed workouts per week?
Whatever speed workouts you enjoy most/are most able to really push yourself for?
Do that workout a couple of times a month.
And if you want to mix in another workout on occasion, that’s probably ok.
But stop looking for the perfect speed workout, because there really is no such thing.
What is Your Favorite Speed Workout?
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