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Speed Training for Short and Long-Distance Runners

Adding some speedwork to your training plan, whether you are a trail runners, road runner, long or short distance will have lots of benefits. It will not only help to increase your speed but also provide many other fitness and health benefits. Adding some speed training sessions will also increase your strength, speed, endurance and running form.

Benefits of Speed Training

1. A Stronger Stride

A runner’s stride affects the running speed, by how far each stride carries you and how fast you can complete the stride. There are two phases in a stride; the time you spend in the air, and the time your feet are on the ground. On the ground, you apply enough impact and force to push back into the air. In the air, you reposition your legs for the next landing. The differences in leg speed are determined by what happens on the ground. Runners who quickly apply greater force to the ground get back into the air faster and generate a stronger stride. You must train your nervous system and muscles to increase force production with each stride. Plyo exercises like squat jumps, box jumps, reverse lunge jumps can fire up your leg muscles to help you with stronger strides in speed sessions. 

2. Increase Fast-Twitch Muscles

We start losing muscle mass at around 25-30 years old. For runners, slow-twitch muscles fibers (muscle cells), the ones you rely on most during long-distance runs, are highly resistant to age-related deterioration. On the other hand, the fast-twitch muscle fibers, which support the stride length and strength are required for top performance and speed. Fast-twitch muscle fibers disappear at a rate of 1% each year after the age of 30 years old. This will cause a slower pace reduction of 40% over your lifetime. But by adding some speedwork sessions to your training, you will build up and activate the fast-twitch muscle fibers and cut the fiber loss by half.

3. More Energy and Fat Burn

When and how much fat does our body burns? You burn 100% fat while standing or recovering after a sprint or high intensity effort. When you run at a slow pace, about 70% of your energy comes from fat, during a long-distance run it’s about 50%. At very fast pace or sprints your body uses 100% carbs for energy. But after those high-intensity efforts, your body spares carbs by using 100% fat to fuel your recovery and refuel your anaerobic system.

4. Reduces Risk of Injury

Training for speed doesn’t increase the risk of injury, it reduces it if your train and recover properly. Speed training puts your muscles through a fuller range of motion, improving flexibility. It trains more muscles and more muscle fibers, creating better muscle balance. Speed work also strengthens injury-prone muscles; hamstrings endure loads of up to 8-10 times the bodyweight just before and after your foot touches the ground. So, looking after your hamstrings by strengthening and stretching them will make them much stronger.

5. Stronger Bones and Connective Tissues

Just like your muscles, bones and tendons are living tissue that respond to training by getting stronger. According to some research, runners are less likely to require knee or hip replacement. By adding speedwork you will increase the running’s strengthening effect for bones, tendons, fascia and ligaments. People tend to think that runners will be more likely to get knee and hip injuries, but actually running and training properly with the right recovery will strengthen them. 

6. Increase Running Economy

Running economy measures how efficiently you use oxygen at a given running speed. If you improve your running economy, you will require less oxygen to run at a fast pace. By saving oxygen, you can either fuel a faster pace or maintain your current pace for a longer distance. High-intensity sessions are key to improve the nervous system component of running economy. Many studies have shown that runners can improve the running economy by 6% within 4-6 weeks. 

7. Increase of Anaerobic Endurance

At the start of a run, the first minute is mostly fueled by anaerobic energy, there’s a 40-60 second delay before your body can provide your muscles with enough oxygen to increase aerobic energy production (aerobic energy is created within your muscles). By doing speedwork, you lower the fatigue linked with anaerobic production.

8. Better Balance

Without proper balance and proprioception (awareness of your body’s position and movement in space), every time your foot touches the ground, it will be affecting the landing form and imbalance. Distance running doesn’t provide good training for balance and proprioception. When the body is not trained for proper balance, after a while the nervous system and muscles will shut down if you run on uneven terrain or go over some technical road, which will increase the risk of injury. By doing some speedwork, or running backward, side steps, or single-leg exercises will improve your balance and strength.

9. Improves Agility

Agility helps to handle technical terrains, sharp turns on a trail, hop over some rocks. Agility is based on balance and proprioception. Performing speed training, ladder drill or cone drills will also boost your agility of your run.

10. Easier Strides

Every time your foot lands, your tendons and connective tissues stretch, storing energy generated by motion and gravity. A second later, your release this energy. More than 50% of the energy used during each stride comes from the elastic recoil (rebound of the lungs after having been stretched by inhalation), so strengthening the tendons and nervous system involved will make you stronger, faster and make it more effortless

Speed training is not just about speed, it helps with so many important factors and all types of runs. Long-distance runners will see many benefits from some speed training as well. Train Well, Train Fast, Run Strong!


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