What is speed work, and how do you introduce speed work into a training plan?
So, what is speed work?
Speed work is generally at-race-pace intervals or even faster than your VO2 max pace. Your VO2 max is a measure of how much oxygen your body can use. With proper speed work, running economy improves, so a runner can expend less energy and run faster at the same effort level over longer periods of time. Speed work elicits both mental and physical persistence, teaching runners to manage being uncomfortable running at faster paces.
How do you introduce speed work into a training plan?
Below are 3 strategies to properly add speed work into a training plan:
- Mindset – speed work is demanding on the body. It will not only require more fueling (eating more), it also means you should consider whether the athlete you’re working with is practicing good recovery methods (rest, cross training, etc) necessary for supporting speed work. In addition, coaches, trainers, rehab professionals, and athletes need to understand the role speed work plays in a particular training plan. A runner training for a 5k will benefit from different types of speed work than a runner training for a marathon. Establishing the proper association to speed work will help the athlete understand the process and purpose within their individual plan.
- Build running resilience first, then introduce speed. Incorporating speed work into a training too soon can put runners at a risk of injury. The best coaches know that adding intensity (speed work) and mileage at the same time isn’t the best approach and rehab professionals see these injuries all the time. Taking time to build a solid foundation with easy mileage and consistent running leads to running resilience. Depending on the runner’s background, the base building phase may be a few weeks or a few months. Once experience and mileage is established, there’s room to add higher intensity. A good rule of thumb is that mileage should increase by no more than 10 percent each week during base building.
- Start small. Consider prescribing the addition of striders after a few runs to introduce speed in a runner’s training plan. Striders (ex. 20-30 sec intervals with rest between) are an excellent way to practice running form and get used to moving a little faster. Performing hill repeats (ex. 4-6x 20 sec hill repeats) are another way to introduce speed and build strength. Fartlek training (ex. 3x 2 mins on, 1 min off) is a great way to introduce speed work into a training plan, allowing runners to experiment with varying efforts. Lastly, prescribing tempo running (usually between 25-40 secs slower than race pace) can aid in the athlete learning sustained effort and ultimately adapt to quicker-paced workouts later in the training plan.
We hope this helps! If you’re looking for more information on adding speed workouts check out our Endurance Coaching Course.