Running Workouts for Beginners A Definitive Guide from a Running Coach

Day one you’re just focused on making it around the block without dying and then weeks pass, months pass and you start to wonder if you need to do more than run at the same pace all the time. Enter running workouts for beginnerswhich are designed to help you change up your running plan without pushing things too far, too fast.

TOO words are the biggest recipe for injury in our sport.

  • Too far
  • Too fast
  • Too much
  • Too many days needed to recover
  • Don’t be a runner who did that too

When to Start Adding Speed ​​Workouts?

Speed. That’s the ultimate goal of a new PR, so adding in track workouts for speed feels like a no brainer.

Why not just start doing speed workouts from the very beginning of your training plan?

While it absolutely benefits everyone from the 5K runner to the marathoner, speed workouts should not be added until the runner has a strong injury free base of running.

This is a fundamental tenant from coach Arthur Lydiard and while he might not have had the science 50 years ago to back it up, now there’s plenty to support this idea.

What constitutes a good base of running? Ideally at least 3-6 months of increasing mileage without any injuries.

We don’t want to ask our body to both be gaining endurance and testing our speed all at the same time. It’s why you often hear about runners having training cycles or training plans being periodized.

  • Early in training the focus is on building a strong foundation (read more on base building)
  • Then we start to increase mileage
  • Then we start adding speed workouts to honey in on our goals
  • Then we peak with our biggest week of training
  • Then it’s time to taper for the race.

It’s hard to drive to LA and Chicago on the same road, my favorite metaphor for considering why we don’t always try to achieve two goals at once…different paths!

Let’s make sure you’re doing this correctly and then we can dive in to example workouts for speed.

How to Start Running Workouts for Beginners?

These little tips will help you to improve speed without sacrificing form.

Fatigue from speed workouts can lead to changing your form in other runs, which you got it, means injury.

In fact, my favorite trick is for all runners is to do hill sprints BEFORE starting to do more traditional speed workouts. These have a lot of science to back up their effectiveness and they force you in to good form, so you are less likely to get injured.speed workouts for begnning runners

How Much Speed ​​Work Should You Do?

As with anything, you can not begin speed workouts and expect to rock every single one. Start out with just a few repeats of your chosen distance, once per week, and work up from there.

Most speed sessions are not done at 100%, in fact very few are and none should be done this way when starting to include speed. It’s an easy way to get injured.

  • During base training, speed workouts should be reserved for once every few weeks.
  • During the final peak weeks of training they may be used up to 2 times per week for athlete not prone to injury.
  • Some plans like the Hanson Method call for more speed and less easy running, that works best for advanced runners.

When to do Speed ​​Work?

Plan your speed workouts at least 2 to 3 days before your long run.

Your legs need time to recover, ensuring that you are able to complete the long run in good form. That means standing tall, not crossing your arms across your body or other varied movements to try and pull power when you just don’t have it in you.

You don’t need complete rest days after a speed session, but you do need adequate recovery before another hard session or long run.

An example a week might look like this:

M: Rest
T: Easy run
W: Speed ​​session
R: Easy run
F: Cross training
S: Easy run
S: Long run with fartleks

Diving in to speed work before you’re ready can easily lead to groin pain while running, calf strains and other injuries.

5 Tips to Prepare for a Running Workouts

Jumping in to any run without a warm up is just asking for an injury, but prior to speed work it’s a guarantee. Even just a short mile run will loosen the muscles and increase heart rate to ensure that your body is primed for the effort to follow.

Better yet, do an actual dynamic warm up that is going to get your glutes firing, which will create more power and better form.

#1 Ease In to Your Pace

Never start your race or run at top speed.

Muscles need time to warm up and elongate, which increases blood flow and prevents the dreaded muscle strain. It’s why we coaches always list a warm up in the workout, don’t skip it.

You also need to ease in to your goal pace over time. Meaning your day 1 speed session you will very likely not be hitting your ultimate race day goal pace.

In 2006, I was so excited to attempt a Boston Qualifying time that I looked up the goal pace and immediately started applying it. But my body wasn’t there yet and as a result I was out with IT Band Syndrome for months.

  • Work up to your goal pace in any session.
  • Maybe that means doing some of your initial speed sessions a little slower or it means doing 5 minutes at goal pace, then 10 and so on.
  • Give your body time to catch up to your goal.

You might get five percent faster, but your injury risk could climb by 25 percent,” PT Clint Verran says. “That’s a bad risk-benefit ratio. I think most runners can hit their goals without going harder than tempo pace.”

#2 Consistency In Your Repeats

The goal is to hit each repeat at the same speed, which is not how most beginners start out. When you’re trying to determine what pace to run aim for a 7-8 RPE (rate of perceived exertion) on a scale of 1-10.

  • Start with short sets (meaning 3-4 reps)
  • Once you can hit the same pace for those reps, begin to add more.
  • Once you can hit 5-7 at the same speed, you can start to increase the speed on the next workout

If you’re nervous about running track workouts<<<— this beginners guide will tell you everything you need to know.

#3 Work on Improving Your Cadence

Instead of increasing the length of your stride, shorten it.

The optimal foot turnover is 90 footfalls per side, per minute. The best way to gauge your current RPM is count each time your right foot hits the ground for 10 seconds.

(Right footfalls for 10 seconds x 2) x 6 = total footfalls in 1 minute

Again don’t try to change everything at once. Instead, focus on counting your footfalls a few times throughout the run and then slowly try to quicken your stride to reach that ideal number. And yes that footfall works no matter what your pace.

Read more about how improving your cadence could make you faster with less effort!

#4 Include Group workouts

Many runners find that doing speed sessions with a group helps them to push through the final reps or hit a faster pace by letting their competitive nature kick in.

Enjoy celebrating the hard work with friends, but make sure you’re running your own pace. It’s great to ask people about where they started to remind yourself you will get faster with time.

While I know that beginner speed workouts might feel like a group is an intimidating place to go, you’ll often be surprised. If done on a track then everyone can cheer each other on, while doing what’s right for them.

#5 Incorporate Running Drills

Speed ​​can also be improved by improving your running form and power.

Here’s a video of speed drills for runners you can add in to the beginning of a run, which will ensure that your glutes and quads are activated for optimal speed.

Plyometric exercises have proven extremely beneficial to those seeking more speed. That means things like squat jumps, speed skaters, high skips, switch lunges, single leg hops and yes even burpees.

Beginner Speed ​​Workouts

Since these are running workout for beginners, you’ll notice none of these require heading to the track or running full out. That’s intentional!

Spend at least 2-3 months becoming comfortable with adding speed before jumping in to any consistent track workouts. And of course those I’m focused on beginner speed workouts here today, the truth is ALL of these running workouts are designed to help any runner improve.

With my athletes, I always recommend starting with hill workouts as the first form of any speed training.

It builds additional leg strength which can help prevent injury and improve running form {while going uphill runners are forced to pick up their knees}.

speed workouts

Strides

Running strides once a week at the end of an easy run, is a fantastic way to ease in to speed work. It’s something that elite runners use all the time and is 100% available to YOU!

Even those doing low heart rate training can throw in strides because it’s a VERY SHORT pick up.

Learn how to run strides.

Hill Sprints

Start with 5 x 10 seconds of running hard uphill at the end of a workout. Over the following weeks increase the reps to 10, then drop back to 5 and increase the total time spent running uphill.

  • 4 x 25 seconds up a 5% incline
  • 3 x 30 seconds
  • 4 x 1 minute up a 3% incline

Get more tips on how to add in hills for strength!

Fartleks

Fartleks are simply unstructured speed bursts throughout the workout. A great way to start is I’ll sprint to the next light pole or at the beginning of each new mile I’ll speed up for a minute.

The best thing about these is you can simply play with them…hence the origin of the name means “speed play”.

See more examples of fartlek workouts.

Interval Workouts

A great way to introduce intervals is to work in to the faster speed by doing a workout like the following:

3 minute walk, 5 minute jog, 1 minute fast pace X 3-5.

As you get used to the pick ups you can decrease the walk breaks and jog breaks until your workout is 1 minute jog , 1 minute run x 5-10 reps.

  • Intervals can be done in time or distance
  • Intervals can be as short as a 30 second sprint to miles at marathon pace
  • The harder the effort the shorter the interval
  • Ensure you are taking enough time to recover with a walk or jog between intervals to do the next one at the same pace and with good form

Tempo Runs

I do NOT believe tempo workouts should be included for beginning runners. But I wanted to make sure you know what they are since you might hear about them from others.

Definitely want to sure you now how to run a mile without stopping before stepping up to something like this.

A basic tempo run includes a 15 minute warm-up, 20 minutes at a challenging {but sustainable} pace and a 15 minute cool-down. This workout alone helps your body begin using oxygen more efficiency on race day.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a way of measuring physical activity intensity level and how hard you feel like your body is working. So yOur pace should be roughly 30-40 seconds faster than 5K or an 7 on the RPE than what it normally would be. As you progress, you’ll work towards an 8 RPE.

Read more on tempo runs and how fast to do them.

Playful Running

Workouts for speed don’t have to just be about hitting the track or pushing yourself to the point of puking!

There are some seriously fun ways to work on your speed as well:

  • Play mind games with yourself like I’ll sprint to that next stop sign
  • Do an out and back loop where you try to run home faster than you went out
  • With friends take turns having one person lead and thus vary the pace
  • Get your kids involved in a game of tag

Hopefully this gave you some new information to really think about how speed can start to be incorporated in your plan without risking injury.

Still looking for more ideas?

You don’t have to go this journey alone. Get answers to your question, get the right plan, stay injury free and enjoy the miles with a running coach.

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