Whether you aspire to be a competitive racer or run just for fun, there are many benefits to doing speed work during your training sessions. Speed work not only helps you become a faster runner but a stronger runner.

When it comes to speed work, it doesn’t really matter how fast you run. Speed work is performed relative to your own pace and fitness level. It’s all about running harder and faster than what you normally run, not as fast as other people may run.

Here are 5 good reasons to include speed work in your training:

  1. You’ll build stamina. When you run faster, your heart has to pump oxygen through the body at a quicker rate and this makes your heart stronger over time. As you improve your aerobic capacity, it takes less effort for your heart to pump during everyday activities.
  2. You’ll get stronger. Speed work uses more muscles than slower runs. In addition to slow-twitch muscles, you’ll get your fast-twitch muscle fibers firing. Running faster strengthens muscles, ligaments and joints, improves your running economy and increases your ability to keep running when you get tired.
  3. You’ll improve range of motion. As you run faster, you improve the flexibility of your hip flexors, extensors and glutes.You’ll also boost your stride rate and the quicker cadence will become more natural, making it easier to run faster with less effort.
  4. You’ll burn more calories. On average, a runner burns about 100 calories per mile. If you increase your speed, you’ll cover more mileage and burn more calories in the same amount of time. High-intensity training also keeps your metabolism revved, so you’ll continue to burn extra calories even when you’re done running.
  5. You’ll boost your confidence. You may think you’re running slow but when you add faster intervals, even if only for short periods of time, it gives you a glimpse at your potential.

How Often Should You Do Speed Work?

Runners at all levels can benefit from speed work, but if you are training for a race, here are some general guidelines for incorporating speed work in your training plan:

  • 3K – 10K races: Include one speed workout per week at race pace or faster.
  • Half or full marathon: Include weekly speed workouts in the first 4 – 6 weeks of training to help improve form and increase the number of steps you take per minute. These workouts should be run at a hard to very-hard pace. Later in your training, speed work takes on a less important role.
  • Post-race: Avoid speed work in the 2 – 4 weeks after a race. Speed work stresses the body and this is a time when your focus should be on recovery.

To get in a good speed session, you can incorporate tempo runs, fartleks or intervals in your training. And don’t go by the old adage of “no pain, no gain.” Sometimes the pace you run during your speed workout isn’t the fastest pace you can possibly run. For example, during a tempo run, you may run at a pace that you can sustain for an hour but you’ll only run for 30 minutes. That will leave you feeling like you can run longer or could have run faster, but you shouldn’t.

After a hard training session, your body needs time to recover. So make sure you incorporate rest days into your training following speed work. Giving your body the time it needs to rest after hard training days helps you improve strength and speed faster than if you keep pushing yourself without adequate recovery periods.