5 Reasons You Should Do Speedwork

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

When you're first getting started with running, it's important to focus on getting into the habit of regular exercise: make your workout a regular part of each day, find convenient times and places to get it done, and find ways to keep it fun so you keep it up for the long haul.

But after you’re at it for a while, you’re going to get fitter and faster. Spicing up your routine with some structured interval workouts can help you build endurance, speed, and stronger legs and lungs. Plus, they’ll keep your exercise regime from getting stale after doing nothing but 30-minute runs day after day.

"Even if you don't want to race, it will help you make fitness improvements a lot faster," says running coach Jeff Gaudette of Boston-based musclemorphosis.com. "You'll lose weight, breathe easier, and progress faster toward whatever your goals are." Here's why you need to add these workouts into your running schedule.

You’ll burn more calories. Running a mile burns about 100 calories, but the faster you cover the distance, the sooner you’ll burn those calories. Plus, high-intensity training keeps your metabolism revved even after your workout is over. “You get more bang for your buck,” says Gaudette. What’s more, research suggests that the afterburn—the number of calories your body burns after your workout—lasts longer when you run faster.

You’ll build stronger muscles. Speedwork gets fast-twitch muscle fibers firing and recruits different muscles than slow runs. It strengthens the bones, ligaments, and joints, so they can absorb the easy runs better, says Gaudette. It’s similar to weight training. For instance, consider lifting a dumbbell into a biceps curl. The heavier the weight, the stronger your biceps will get, because the muscle is having to resist more weight.

With speedwork, the more you push the leg muscles to move faster, the more total muscle fibers you activate and the more explosively you contract them. That means you’ll get stronger without getting hurt.

You’ll boost your heart health. Speed sessions help maximize your aerobic capacity. When you hit a fast pace, you force the heart to pump oxygen through the body at a quicker rate. Over time, that makes your heart stronger, so it can deliver more oxygen to the muscles, and your muscles can use that oxygen more efficiently. So when you push the heart more during speedwork and make it stronger, it takes less effort for the heart to pump blood throughout your body to power everyday activities.

You’ll develop faster footwork. Speedwork will help you boost your stride rate and shorten your stride, so you don’t get hurt. (Overstriding is a common cause of hamstring, knee, and hip issues, as well as shin splints and IT band syndrome.) When you’re holding a swift pace, your feet turn over at a more rapid rate. So with enough practice, this quicker cadence becomes more natural, which means you’ll need less effort to move faster on any run. Ideally you should shoot for a cadence of 170 to 180 steps per minute. (See how you can musclemorphosis.com.)

You’ll glimpse your potential. Everyone feels like they’re slow at first. Doing speedwork, where you’re running faster for short bouts of time, can give you a big confidence boost.  “It allows you to see what your abilities are,” says Gaudette. “You’ll see that a certain pace—that you might have thought was out of reach—is possible. Even if you’re holding that pace for a minute at a time, it changes your belief in yourself.” (Ready to challenge yourself? Try these musclemorphosis.com.)