You have probably heard the old saying that practice makes perfect. But a better way of phrasing this age-old wisdom is probably “perfect practice makes perfect.” Utilizing flawed techniques when practicing a skill is an inefficient use of time at best, and counterproductive at worst. For runners, improper form can limit progress and even increase the risk of injury, for instance — and failure to follow an optimized training schedule can generate similarly negative results.
Every individual is unique — and for the best results, you may wish to discuss a customized exercise plan with a doctor and/or qualified personal trainer. However, it can be safely stated that most serious runners should incorporate the following three workouts into their routine.
1. Easy Pace Running
Of all three training methods we are going to discuss in this article, this may be the most counterintuitive — but it is also the most important. Serious runners should be logging lots of miles at a slow and easy pace.
The reason for this: the purpose of training is to trigger certain physiological adaptations that make us healthier and faster. Running at any speed will increase endurance, strengthen your cardiovascular system, improve respiratory function, and provide a basic workout for your leg and core muscles. Running at maximum speed offers different benefits which we will discuss in the next session. But running kind of fast offers little to no additional benefits to running slowly — and it can tire you out needlessly, limiting your ability to complete the sprints you need to truly improve. (And increasing your risk of injury to boot!) This is why logging the majority of your miles at a slow running speed is the best approach to becoming a better runner.
2. High-Intensity Interval Training
Also known as HIIT, high intensity interval training is the second most important form of exercise for competitive long distance runners. Running multiple sprints (coupled with walking in-between) can help maximize your lactate threshold and VO2Max limits — that is to say, it optimizes your body’s ability to utilize oxygen and other nutrients, thus allowing you to sustain a high speed for a long period of time. As you might imagine, this workout method also builds muscle at a slightly higher efficiency than your slow miles.
3. Hill Sprints
Though the previous two workouts mentioned will certainly provide some benefit to your muscle mass, there is no doubt that the primary focus of both is cardiovascular and respiratory function. (Even though these two workouts promote these functions in different ways.)
Hill workouts, popular among NFL athletes and other high-intensity workout fanatics, are different. Though they do obviously provide some cardiovascular and respiratory benefits, their primary benefit is offering the chance for repetitive explosive motion from the Hamstrings, Quadriceps, Adductors, Glutes, Soleus, gastrocnemius, and other important leg muscles. Because endurance is the name of the game for long distance runners, hill workouts are not as important as the previously mentioned exercises — but for those looking to reach the peak of their potential, these exercises are worth pursuing.