If you haven’t set foot on a track since high school gym class, you’re missing out. “There are so many possibilities when you’re training on a track,” says Joe Holder, a USA Track & Field certified coach in New York City. You can get in your HIIT without a timer—let the straightaways (approximately 100 meters) be the stretches for your sprint intervals, instead of a set number of seconds—as well as think outside the oval for its extras: namely, bleacher stairs to bound up and an infield for body-weight exercises. And those speed drills are just what you need to get running faster and stronger. Runners who did interval workouts twice a week, alternating 10-meter all-out sprints with 25 seconds of rest, improved their top speed by 5 percent within one month, according to findings in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
Unlike steady runs, which are aerobic exercise, sprinting on a track is anaerobic exercise—that is, the short, intense bursts tap your body’s ability to break down carbs in the absence of oxygen. Improving your anaerobic capacity will boost your muscles’ threshold for fatigue, giving your legs more staying power during races. Plus, the hug-the-curves nature of running on a track (typically a quarter mile, or 400 meters) increases the activation of certain muscle groups like the abdominals. “You can literally sprint your way to better abs,” Holder says.
Switching up distance, intensity and recovery times will also keep your workouts exciting and allow you to adjust for different goals. If you want to get better at 5Ks and 10Ks, aim for shorter recovery times and you’ll increase your ability to resist fatigue, Holder says. To get stronger, increase your speed, which engages more muscles. And if you’re gearing up to run farther distances, slowly start adding length to your speed intervals.
Whichever you pick, start with a 1-mile jog to warm up, followed by dynamic stretches, including knee hugs, leg swings and lunges, which mimic motions you’ll do during your run. Finish with running drills like high knees. Post-workout, cool down with some ab moves such as planks or boat pose to promote core endurance, and finish with another light 1-mile jog if you’ve got it in you.
Ready to run? Choose a goal and work one or two sessions a week into your routine on nonconsecutive days.
If your goal is to PR your next race, speed workouts are essential. The challenge is to avoid tensing up your muscles during each sprint. “When you’re relaxed, it ensures that the prime muscles you need for sprinting are firing correctly,” Holder explains. Go hard—you can do anything for 10 to 20 seconds, the typical work period. Plus, you’ll have plenty of time to rest between intervals.
1. Do four 100-meter sprints (a quarter of 1 lap) at 90 percent of max effort, walking 2 minutes between sprints. Recover for 5 minutes.
2. Do four 60-meter sprints (just more than half of the straightaway) at 95 percent of max effort, walking 2 minutes between sets. Recover for 5 minutes between sets. Perform 2 to 3 sets.
3. Do four 30-meter sprints (about a third of the straightaway) at 100 percent of max effort, walking 2 minutes between reps. Recover for 5 minutes between sets. Do 2 to 3 sets.
“Speed endurance workouts—ones that have you push at your race pace for long intervals—help you to muster that extra kick when you think you have no more to give,” Holder says. To build up that stamina, you’ll crank your speed for longer distances and have less time to rest than during regular speed workouts, but you’ll work at 80 percent of your maximum intensity rather than 90 percent. You still won’t be able to hold a conversation, but you also won’t be panting.
1. Do three 800-meter intervals (2 laps) at 80 percent of max effort, walking for 90 seconds between sprints.
2. Do three 600-meter intervals (1½ laps) at 80 percent of max effort, walking for 90 seconds between sets.
3. Do three 400-meter intervals (1 lap) at 80 percent of max effort, walking for 90 seconds between sets.
4. Do sixteen 200-meter intervals (½ lap) at 80 percent of max effort, walking for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
Head to the bleachers and find a stretch of stairs that will take you no more than 15 seconds to ascend. This type of stair workout recruits more muscle fibers than running on level ground, Holder says, and working on an incline will force you to lift your knees higher and push through your feet with more force in order to propel yourself forward. You’ll build strength in your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves—plus training like this will make tackling hills feel easier.
1. Sprint up the stairs 6 to 10 times, walking down and resting 2 minutes between sprints.
2. Run up the stairs 6 to 10 times, skipping every other step. Walk down between sets and rest for 2 minutes.