Speed Ladder Workout and Why You Should Do Speed Work

Speed Ladder Workout

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.  

Speed Ladder Workout

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.

Speed Ladder Workout Fartlek

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.

[Tweet “Bored of repetitive workouts? Try this speed ladder workout to stay entertained while you run faster! via @thisrunrecipes #fitfluential #runchat”]

(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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14 Responses

  1. I have a love/hate relationship with speed work:) I am just getting used to doing it now, and its not as bad as I once thought. Its nice to change things up and do different workouts- I used to always do the same workouts with 400s or 800s and they got so boring. Thanks for sharing some great ideas!

  2. I’m a fan of ladders–they really do push you. I did a great ladder style workout when I tried out the Nike Frees–increase speed while decreasing length and then vice versa. And we did ladders with the trainees a few weeks ago, and I think some of them were really surprised by how well they did, while others were not so happy with the results!

  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! Love the nerdy stuff. My face kept inching closer to the screen as I got increasingly more excited about what you were saying 🙂 I don’t do a lot of speed work (heck, I don’t run that much these days either!) but when I have, I really felt a difference in my physical endurance. The worst part is starting from scractch and feeling like a turtle again!

    1. Yes! I totally get that way whenever I read about nutrition science stuff also – it just fascinates me! Starting speed work after time off is so rough – whenenver I switch from base building I have to do fartleks otherwise I think I’m going to die!

  4. I do speed work at least once per week. I usually switch between intervals, tempo runs or fartleks. This is super interesting stuff! Cool to know what is actually happening when we put in the work. After a hard workout, I don’t have an appetite so I reach for drinks- my favorites are Nuun (currently Tri Berry flavor) or Fairlife chocolate milk. So yummy!

  5. Great workouts! I try to do speed work at least once a week. Most of the time it’s a tempo run, however I’m hoping to get in about 5 quality track workouts this training cycle. Best food after a hard workout – frozen banana, a smoothie of some sort, and some Cheerios. So weird, but so delicious 🙂

  6. Ugh speed work! It’s a necessary evil in our world. I actually prefer interval workouts to tempos or progression runs. The notion that I’m running faster for shorter amounts of time seems to make it feel better! Haha and I LOVE ladder workouts. As much as I don’t enjoy the speed workouts, I always feel so accomplished afterwards.

    1. Haha yes a necessary evil is such a good way to describe it! So true, the workouts themselves often aren’t enjoyable, but that sense of accomplishment is unbeatable.

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