The 10 running workouts you need to know about

When I first started running I would do the same basic workout every day. I would run between 2-4 miles at the fastest pace I could run. It's no wonder that I never really progressed and eventually burned out.

Listen, running isn't meant to be boring! And it certainly isn't meant to be monotonous...running the same route, same mileage, same pace everyday is a recipe for disaster.

Not only is this type of running a hindrance to your physical progress but it also makes running dull and boring!

If you haven't learned about all of the different running workouts that you can (and should) be doing, I'm here to help!

Not only will these different workouts get you excited to run again, they will also help you become a stronger runner in no time!

Another thing to note is that workout names can often get confused with the intensity spectrum and/or heart rate zones. This is where things can get really confusing...

An intensity spectrum is a way of measuring your effort or RPE - Rate of Perceived Exertion (how hard you feel you are working). An example is when a plan says "run at 80% of your max effort." Or, "run at an easy pace." It will take a while for you to get comfortable with the intensity spectrum so don't be disappointed if you don't know what your pace should be for "85-88% max effort"!

Another way your plan might structure your workouts is with heart rate zones. You might see something like "run 3 miles in Zone 1 and 2 miles in Zone 2." These "zones" are generally referring to heart rate zones. Zone 1 is the lowest, Zone 5 is the highest. You can find copies of Heart Rate training zones with a quick Google search. Remember, heart rate zones depend on your age!

Heart rate zones can be a pain because...well, you need a heart rate monitor! You can use a chest strap monitor like the super popular Polar or you can use an activity tracker like the Garmin Vivoactive 3 (which is what I use everyday!). Either way, just read some reviews to make sure the HR tracking system is reliable and fairly accurate! There are some cheaper options out there but I can't attest to how accurate those monitors are.

(Amazon Affiliate links are used in this article. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. These links do not change the price you pay.)

Alright, I'm about to list a bunch of running workouts and it's going to be a little overwhelming, especially if you aren't familiar with them already. There are lots of different names for the same workout so I will list as many as I can so that you won't be confused by a different name later on.

I'm not going to get into which workout you should be doing or how frequently, that's what your running plan is for!

You should know that each of these workouts is used for a specific reason. Some are designed to increase your top end speed, some are used to build aerobic endurance.

The most important thing to take away from this list is that different workouts will be more important than others depending on your goals!

If your goal is to run a personal best in a 5k, you aren't going to want to focus on long runs. If your goal is to finish your first 50 mile race, you might not spend as much time on tempo runs.

Find a good plan for your goal and stick to it the best that you can!

Alright, let's start talking about workouts!

Shakeout - A shakeout run is just a super easy run meant to stretch your legs and get the blood pumping. Usually when someone refers to a Shakeout run they are talking about a very short, very easy run that they might perform before a race or a long run. This is less of a workout, more of a warm up.

Tempo/Threshold/Lactate Threshold/Anaerobic Threshold - There are quite a few names for this type of run but essentially this a hard run where you are pushing the pace past your comfort zone.

The level of effort is also defined a lot of different ways- 80-90% max effort, or the hardest you could push for a 20-30 minute run. You don't want to be killing yourself on this type of run but you do want to be running at a slightly uncomfortable pace.

Lactate buildup is what causes the burning sensation in your muscles so if you're not feeling the burn on these, you gotta pick up the pace!

These runs are going to be hard on your body and you'll need a day or two to recover from them.

Vo2Max - This is the next step up from the Tempo run. It should be about 90-95% of your max effort. Again, it's not a full sprint but it should be about the fastest you can run a mile.

Vo2Max runs are often done in intervals where you may run 2-4 x 1/2-1 mile intervals with as much rest as you need in between. This will allow you to push hard, get a rest, and push hard again. Obviously you will need to adjust the distances and rest periods based on your aerobic level.

These runs are going to be very hard on your body and you will need a day or two to recover from them.

Progression/Build/Negative Split - A progression run is fairly self explanatory, you start at a modest pace and continually increase your pace until the end of the run.

When you have a "negative split" on a run that means you ran the second half faster than the first. This is the goal on these types of runs. These workouts can help you get more comfortable learning how to pace yourself as you are getting tired.

These runs should not be extremely hard as they are not meant to be tempo runs. Your starting pace can be almost a warm up pace and your final pace can be your marathon pace. The goal is to cover a moderate distance and focus on maintaining a consistent, progressive pace.

Fartlek - Fartlek literally means "speed play" in Swedish and it's a fun, unstructured workout designed to get your legs moving quickly while still getting in some good mileage. Much like intervals, Fartlek runs should include fast paced spurts mixed in with slow, easy paced intervals. The reason I think Fartlek runs are so fun is because there doesn't need to be any sort of structure to them.

You don't need to plan out the distances, times, or paces that you will be running. You just go run! Speed up when you're feeling good, slow down when you need to rest. This kind of workout provides you with the freedom to do what feels good for your body at the time.

Personally, I run Fartleks when I'm looking to have some fun and enjoy my run rather than get in a brutal workout. When you're looking for that...use an interval workout!

Intervals - Like we talked about with Fartlek workouts, intervals are intense periods of running follow by recovery periods. The main difference between intervals and Fartlek run is that your interval runs should be a bit more intense and they should be more structured.

An example of an interval workout would be 2 minutes at about 90% max effort followed by 3-4 minutes of easy jogging to recover and catch your breath. Repeat 6 times.

You can, and should, change the times or distances of your intervals, but you always want to be pushing very hard, between 90-100% of your max effort.

Always warm up before you start doing your intervals to avoid straining muscles!

These are going to be hard days which will require a day or two of recovery.

Strides - Strides are kind of a weird workout that people often confuse with intervals. This is a form and acceleration workout meant to focus on your mechanics. To do Strides properly find a flat or even slightly downhill area to run. Start running and gradually increase your speed until you are at top speed for a few seconds before you slow down and eventually stop. When you have finished the interval, rest as long as you need to fully recover.

The reason these are different than intervals is because the speed is not the focus here. You want to be exaggerating and focusing on your running mechanics and overall form as you accelerate through the strides. The end goal here is to ingrain that exaggerated form into your mind and create muscle memory so it becomes natural to you.

When performing strides make sure you don't accelerate too quickly, that's a good way to pull a muscle!

These should not be used as an intense workout and are often added onto the end of an easy run or tempo run.

Repeats/Hill Repeats - Repeats are similar to intervals except they are generally done for longer periods of time. Again, these are periods of more intense running followed by a rest or recovery period. Generally with repeats you are running 1 km or 1 mile followed by a rest period, then you repeat that several times. The purpose of this workout is to allow you to push the pace since you'll be getting a generous rest period after your interval.

Hill repeats are an especially popular workout for people looking to build leg strength and top end speed. Hill repeats will also help improve running form and efficiency, making it easier to run further and faster.

A common mistake I see runners make is trying to find the steepest hill possible for their hill repeats. It isn't necessary! Even a slight incline will make a big difference. An example of a hill repeat workout could look something like this: 80-90% max effort up the hill, easy jog down. Repeat 6-8 times.

These are going to be very taxing on your body and generally require a few days recovery.

Easy/Recovery/Zone 1 - These easy runs should be your bread and butter. These types of workouts should make up anywhere between 75-90% of your workouts in a month. Slow, easy runs are the best way to build your aerobic base and burn fat while keeping recovery times to a minimum.

You should be running at a comfortable pace where you can hold a conversation with very little heavy breathing. Sometimes, especially for recovery runs, your pace can feel painfully slow, some people even refer to these types of workouts as "junk miles", insinuating that there is not much benefit to ever running at this pace.

This could not be further from the truth. More and more studies argue that it may be more beneficial to workout at low intensities and high intensities, but not in between. When you're supposed to be getting in an easy run, make sure it's actually easy!

These runs should not be very hard on on your body and shouldn't require much, if any, recovery.

Long run - Just like it sounds, a long run is a long, slow run meant to focus on distance and time on your feet, not pace. Depending on your goals and your running experience your long run can be anywhere from 6 to 30 miles!

You really need to pay attention to your nutrition leading up to a long run since you could be running upwards of several hours. Gels and other race-fuels (easily digestible carbs) should be used during your run once you are able to break the one hour mark.

If you feel like you can't maintain your pace for the distance you need to run, sacrifice your pace, not the distance. Long runs are extremely important for building endurance and improving your aerobic base, but they are also vital for gaining the confidence you need to keep running even when you feel like you are hitting "the wall".

Long runs are extremely hard on your body and should be followed by at least 2-3 days of recovery.

Remember, these workouts are tools to be used if and when they are applicable to achieving your goals. Don't feel like you need to be integrating all of these workouts into your running plan. Like I said above, easy runs should make up the vast majority of your training sessions with some of these other workouts sprinkled in!

What do you folks think about this list? Did I miss any workouts? Are there other names that you call these workouts?

Leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite workout is, and why!?

As always, thanks for reading!


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