Whether you are an avid runner or find yourself in the staunch no-running crowd (I struggle with the in-between), there is a case to be made for speed.  For runners looking to reduce their 5k, 10k and Half-Marathon times there is no better way to take minutes off a PR than working two or three speed sessions into weekly workouts.  For non-runners weekly speed-work sessions can be a kick-start to fat burning and muscle building.  Recruitment of the fast-twitch muscles used in sprinting can lead to rounder backsides, stronger legs and increased agility.  Here are a couple of simple speed-work concepts that are easy to employ, with silly names you wont forget, guaranteed to bring you from slow to silly-fast:


Tabata (tuh-bat-tuh)


This method uses 20 seconds of intense activity followed by 10 seconds of active rest for a total of 8 rounds, resulting in 4 minutes of work.  This can be done on a track on a neighborhood football/soccer field or on paths/sidewalks. (This can be a great rowing workout as well.) Once you have warmed up completely, it is easiest to set up a watch timer for 10 second intervals.  Sprint for 20 seconds (two sets of beeps on your 10 second timer), then walk for 10 seconds (one set of beeps).  Repeat continuously for a total of 8 rounds (4 minutes).


In the original study, athletes using this method trained 4 times per week, plus another day of steady-state training, and obtained gains similar to a group of athletes who did steady state work 5 times per week.




Fartlek, which means “speed-play” in Swedish was developed in the 1930’s as a solution to increase the speed of Swedish cross country runners while also reducing their overall level of fatigue by reducing overall mileage wile increasing the quality of the workout.  The original fartlek protocol is as follows:


  • Warm up: easy running for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Steady run at hard pace for 1.5–2.5 km
  • Recovery: rapid walking for about 5 minutes.
  • Start of speed work: easy running interspersed with sprints of about 50–60 m repeated until slightly tired
  • Easy running with three or four “quick steps” now and then
  • Full speed uphill for 175–200 metres
  • Fast pace for 1 minute.


The whole routine would be varied in terms of length of each portion of the routine based primarily on feel and is then repeated until the total time prescribed on the training schedule has elapsed.  For many runners the “by-feel” nature of the workout above can be unnerving and requires discipline and solid running experience to execute correctly.  As a runner employing the technique above, knowledge of your own limits and strengths as well as honesty regarding the level of effort put in is essential.  For most runners, simplification of these principles is appropriate.   Some simplified variations are included below:


  1. Fives

Warm up: 5 minutes

Steady state: 5 minutes of quick running.

Active recovery: 5 minutes of brisk walking.

Transition: 5 minutes of jogging.

Repeat the steady state, active recovery and transition until a total workout time of 30-60 minutes is reached.

  1. Mean Minute

Warm up: 10 minute jog

10 second sprint

20 second jog

30 second walk

Repeat for 15-20 minutes

Each workout try to cover more ground than the last workout in the same amount of time.


Try mixing these into your weekly workouts and reap the benefits of speed work.


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