Running Program Building Blocks

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written by runnergirl training

The Internet, bookstore shelves & running clubs are full of information (or misinformation) about running programs. How do you know if the program is balanced?

 Running programs, just like all other sports and fitness programs, need to have a variety of key components to be balanced. This helps to prevent injuries and also helps to reach your goals. You can always just slap together whatever workouts you want but that increases the chance of injury, burnout and not meeting your goals.

Basic aspects of a balanced running program include:

Speed Work (hill repeats, track workouts, fast runs)
Tempo Runs (lactate-threshold, race pace)
Intervals (alternating fast & slow)
Long Runs (LSD or long sloe distance)
Non-Running Workouts (cardio, resistance exercises, sports)
Rest Days (completely no exercise)

In the sea of running programs it is important to find the right one for you. They vary on race distance and the arrangement of the workouts during the week. It is also important to remember that this is YOUR program and you can be flexible with it. I have seen many runners live and breathe by their running program. It’s ok if you need to switch Tuesday’s track workout with Thursday’s interval run. Just remember to use common sense when swaping workouts. The day following a tough workout should be an easier workout. Avoid situations like placing an interval day following a leg day at the gym.

If you are training for a race remember that each of these key components are going to play a big role for race prep. If you throw out all speed work you will find that in a race that necessary surge of energy will be missing. If you crop down your long runs because you don’t have the time to commit to them during the race your body will not be accustomed to the demands of the increased mileage.

Here is a quick overview of each facet of a balance running program.

Speed Work
There should be 1-2 speed workouts a week. One of them may be an interval workout. They are at 90-100% of effort. They should be followed by an easy workout or rest day. They can be run by distance (3 miles) or by time (run as far as you can in 45 min). For example, if running 3 miles increase your pace to be faster than your tempo runs by 30 seconds/mile or faster than your long runs by 1 minute/mile.

Tempo Runs
There should be 1-2 tempo runs per week. They are ran at 90% of maximal effort. These are the runs that are comfortable and difficult at the same time. They are to increase the body’s tolerance and processing of lactate levels. When muscles work more intensely than they can rid themselves of waste that accumulates and causes discomfort, inefficient energy system as fuel and eventually fatigue. These workouts raise the ceiling of reaching that point. Races feel less difficult because of tempo runs.

There should be 1-2 interval workouts per week. The length of intervals can vary but a 3 to 1 guide is a good starting point. For example, 3 minutes of work and 1 minute of rest (slow run or a fast walk). There are a lot of other interval workouts to use. Here are 2 common ones:

Ins and Outs is an interval (and also speed) workout where you alternate fast and slow periods with fence posts, trees, road signs, etc. If you have 4 trees in a row it might look like fast to tree 1, slow to tree 2, fast to tree 3 and slow to tree 4. This can be performed for a set time (10 minutes) or distance (the length of a block).

Whistle intervals are where someone (even yourself) have a whistle or timer that signals to change speed. The sound indicates to change from fast or slow speeds. This can be performed for a set time (30 minutes) or distance (4 times around a track).

Long Runs
There should be one long run every or every other week. These are performed around 60-70% of maximal effort. They are typically scheduled on the weekends in most running programs. A rest day should follow it and the day prior should be an easy workout to avoid depleting energy stores for the long run. Some training programs will have the longest long run at a shorter distance than the race. For example, the longest run for a half marathon (13.1 miles) might be 10 miles. Some runners (like myself) prefer to run at least the race distance before the race. Find a training program that fits your needs.

Non-Running Workouts
This can be 1-3 days a week depending on your training program. This is a great time to lift weights, play sports, use a variety of machines at the gym, or be active with your friends and family outside. Forget being focused on miles and effort level and just have fun! This goes a long way to prevent overtraining injuries and mental staleness.

Rest Days
Depending on the race length there may be 1-3 rest days a week. A rest day should have no exercise. This doesn’t mean to lay on the couch but it means to refrain from workouts. This allows your body to muscles to recover, rebuild energy stores and prevent injuries.

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