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by Jason Lakritz, PT, DPT, FAFS, NYC Running Coach

Posted in Blog.

February 21st, 2020

Intro to Speed Workouts for Runners

All runners have heard about “speed” workouts and about how they can improve performance. A fact often missed, however, is how intense these speed workouts are for your body. Let’s talk about the best way to incorporate speed training into your weekly routine for maximum benefits and minimal risk of injury or burnout.


Running faster increases the stress placed on your muscles, tendon, and bones. As you fatigue and get that awesome burn in your legs – your form starts to break down and more stress is placed on your muscles, tendon, and bones. I often hear stories of runners starting to do speed work and instead of the workout providing gains in their performance, they end up getting injured. Whether you are a first-time runner coming back from an injury, or just returning to running from a rest period, learning how to incorporate speed training back into your program will be key in keeping you healthy and improving your performance.


Here are a few tips to help you with your training:


1. Increase one variable at a time. There are three variables that can be changed in your workouts.

  • Frequency, or the number of times you run in a week.
  • Duration, or how long each run is.
  • Intensity, or how fast you are running.

I would change only one of these variables at a time. Get to the frequency (number of days) you want to run a week and your desired duration of each of those runs. Once you have established your baseline running plan, you are now ready to introduce intensity into your program, AKA “speed work”.


2. Know the type of speed work you want to do and how to appropriately run the paces of those workouts.

Types of speed work include:

  • Tempo
  • VO2 Max
  • Sprinting
  • Fartlek
  • Interval
  • Repetitions

Understanding why you are doing what you are doing will help you achieve the desired outcome of your workout.

For example:

  • If you are doing a tempo workout of 4×1 mile, it should feel “comfortably hard” and you should be able to take very short rests (60 seconds) and keep pace.
  • If you are doing 4×1 mile as a VO2 max session or at 5K pace, the effort will feel much harder during the interval and you will have to take more rest between intervals (2:30-3:00 minutes) to keep pace.


Both workouts are great, but the key is to understand that the days following each workout should be different. Following tempo effort, you should be able to recover faster and you might even be able to do another speed workout that week. Following the VO2 max/5K pace effort which would be much higher, requires more easy days following your workout to allow your body to recover before taking on another speed session.


Most commonly, especially in team settings, I see athletes do a workout more intensely than what the workout calls for. This creates more stress on the body. The athlete is not allowing their body to recover. At best, this will just lead to a plateau in performance – at worst it could lead to injury.


Example of a possible first 4-weeks of speed training

  • Week 1:
    • 10×1-minute on and 1-minute off
    • the 1-minute on is at half marathon effort and the 1-minute off is at normal easy pace
  • Week 2:
    • 8×400 meters (1/4 mile) at tempo effort with 60-seconds rest
    • Tempo effort should feel comfortably hard, or, if rated on an effort scale, should be at about 7/10
  • Week 3:
    • 4×800 meters (1/2 mile) at tempo effort with 60-seconds rest
  • Week 4:
    • 2×1 mile at tempo effort with 60-seconds rest


This program changes the length of each interval but keeping the same pace. This will make each week a little more challenging. You could also change the pace at which you are running but keep the length of the interval the same.


This is just one example of how to create a program with a gradual introduction to speed work. The important thing to remember is to change one variable at a time (intensity, duration, frequency) and to understand the purpose of the pace you are running so you can recover adequately in time for the next workout.


Looking for some help with your speed work? Join Physical Therapist & Running Coach Jason Lakritz this Saturday, 2/22 at 10am at the East River Track for a Pace with Purpose INTERVAL Speed Session.


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