Bored of repetitive speed workouts? Try this speed ladder workout to keep you entertained while you push yourself to run faster!
Interval runs are a workout I do because they make me faster, not because I particularly enjoy them. I don’t disdain them per se, but if I’m not training for a particular event, I prefer tempo runs and progression runs to build my speed. I am certain that preference is related to the fact that 5Ks terrify me and longer races excite me. I’ve just got more slow twitch than fast twitch muscles in those legs of mine.
But I still do speed work, even during marathon training, and so should you! Interval workouts, whether you do them on the track, roads, or treadmill, are incredibly effective in teaching you to run faster, mentally overcome fatigue and discomfort, and build your aerobic capacities. Whether you are training for a 5K or a marathon, adding intervals into your training every 1-2 weeks will make you a faster and stronger runner. Even if you are not training for a race, speed intervals will help you lose weight since they burn more calories and add variety to keep you from getting bored with your running routine.
Why You Should Do Speed Work
How exactly do speed intervals make you faster? During speed training, you maximally activate your slow-twitch muscles and intermediate muscle fibers, which thus increases your aerobic capacity and teaches your intermediate fibers to help out your slow-twitch muscles when they become fatigued. This improves your running economy and your ability to keep running when you get tired—both very important for any race distance.
Speed work also increases your production of myoglobin, which is an iron- and oxygen-binding protein found in your muscles. Myoglobin transports oxygen to the mitochondria in your muscles, which in turn produce ATP to give your muscles energy. So, as you increase your myoglobin, you improve your body’s ability to quickly transport oxygen to the muscles for energy, making you able to run faster. Speed work is uniquely beneficial in this aspect, as research indicates that high-intensity running is the best way to develop myoglobin.
Finally, speed work will help you adapt your body to store my glycogen. This is one of the reasons half and full marathoners should not neglect interval runs, since glycogen storage is essential to long distance running. Glycogen is the form in which your muscles store carbohydrates for easy energy conversion; the larger these stores, the longer you can keep running before fatiguing. Speed work (running near 100% of your VO2max) rapidly depletes your glycogen stores, thus sending signals to your muscles that they need to adapt to store more carbs.
So, in summary, speed intervals will make you run faster, more efficiently, and longer without fatigue. Doesn’t that sound worth the work?
(Does anyone else find that endlessly fascinating? I can read volumes on this stuff. Total run-nerd here.)
Speed Ladder Workout
Despite that, sometimes interval runs can become a little repetitive, especially if you are incorporating them into your weekly training. 12 x 400 meters, 6 x 800, 3 x 1600 (1 mile) all repeat the same distance, which can even get boring by the end of the workout. The human body is also rather smart (sometimes too smart) and can adapt to a repeated stimulus, thus resulting in a plateau.
In order to bust out of the boredom rut and prevent plateauing, you can add variety to your speed work with this speed ladder workout. It mixes up distances, which keeps your body guessing, your mind entertained, and makes the workout fly by in no time.
I actually did a longer version of the speed ladder workout I’m about to share with you yesterday. I did not want to run yesterday; I was exhausted from a 10 mile hike and less sleep than I need (um, I’m pretty sure I need at least 8 hours a night in marathon training), my stomach has been feeling off for the past week (nothing serious, just that my tummy likes to torture me from time to time), and my legs were heavy from not having a rest day. Still, the speed ladder workout was fun enough where I was able to push myself through fatigue and discomfort and actually enjoy the run!
The speed ladder workout is not only fun, but it is also a great way to add several miles of fast running in without it being intimidating. Since you start out with shorter intervals, the run doesn’t seem very difficult at first. The longest interval is in the middle, and by that time, you’re over halfway done and then each interval gets shorter again.
I wrote the speed ladder workout in two different ways, so you can choose based on your preference. The first is a more traditional speed workout, which can be done on the track or the treadmill (or a marked road). Like most track workouts, the intervals are measured in meters. Roughly speaking, 1600 meters is 1 mile, so 800 meters is ½ mile and 400 meters is ¼ of a mile. (Technically, one mile is 1609.34 miles, but that’s negligible over such a short distance). This is a pace-based workout with the intervals done at 5K pace. If you don’t know your 5K pace, you can follow these tips for determining your 5K pace without a race.
The second workout is more of a fartlek style workout, which is best done on the roads, trails, or treadmill. This workout is great if you are new to speed work or in an off-season between race training, since it is effort-based rather than pace-based. By hard effort, you want to be running hard enough that you are breathing heavily and unable to speak more than a couple words, but you should be able to maintain the same effort for each interval, so you don’t want to run an all-out sprint.
Be sure to warm up with dynamic stretches and 10-20 minutes (roughly 1-2 miles) of easy running and to cool down with 10-20 minutes of very easy running.
Tip: If you are running on the treadmill, I recommend setting the incline to 0.5-1% to mimic outdoor running conditions. I always use a 1% incline when I do speed work on the treadmill.
(Disclaimer: Please always consult your own coach, fitness professional, or health professional before taking on a new exercise program. When you are doing hard workouts, stay in tune with your body and stop if you experience dizziness, nausea, or confusion.)
Questions of the Day:
How often do you do speed workout?
What’s your favorite type of speed workout?
Just for fun: what’s your favorite food after a hard workout? —> Oats with nuts, seeds, fruit, and kefir. Plus watermelon Nuun!
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