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Types of running: from sprints to tempo training

You might think that running is a bit mundane. That it’s just not for you. Or you just don’t have the time to commit to a long run. Well, it might be that you actually haven’t found the right type of running that works for you. 

That’s where different types of running training come in. Not only do different styles of running keep things fresh but they can also help you to achieve different fitness goals. From speed to endurance, cardiovascular health to mental resilience and even strength. So, to get you up to speed, we’re going to take you through the different types, an overview of them and how to pick which one (or combo) might be right for you. 

Why are there different types of running?

Despite what many people think, running isn’t just about speed or endurance. Running can help you achieve a range of different fitness and aesthetic goals if used correctly. Each running training technique has different levels of intensity, potentially different terrains and varying periods of work. As a result, you can use different styles throughout your training program to improve in areas where you might be lacking. What’s more, you can also customise them to your level of fitness, using them to help increase the amount of time you can run, your speed, the amount of distance you might cover or decrease your fatigue. 

Let’s run through them 

Sprints 

Short but intense. Sprints are all about running short distances as fast as you can, repeatedly. 

Best for: speed, explosive power, fat burning, conditioning, sprint finishes. 

How to roll into your running routine: Find a flat piece of land or track. Pick a time or distance to sprint for. For example 15 seconds or 100 meters. You want to warm up with some light jogging and dynamic stretches before going into your sprints. Be sure to leave at least 1-3 minutes between each sprint to let your body recover. 

As you get more comfortable with sprints, you can begin to increase the time or distance, decrease your rest time or increase the number of sprints you do per session. Just be sure to only move one variable at a time for a few weeks to help you to achieve consistent and trackable results. 

Tempo training 

A run that feels challenging or ‘comfortably hard’ for a sustained level of time. Also known as an anaerobic threshold or lactate threshold run, it aims to build lactic acid in the muscles. Tempo training runs should not be as long as your standard run. 

Best for: speed, endurance, reduced feelings of muscular fatigue. 

How to roll into your running routine: The key to tempo training is having an understanding of your regular pace or heart rate. In terms of pace, you should look to be running at around 25/30 seconds slower than your 5K race pace or 85-90% of your maximal heart rate. This faster pace should only be in the middle period – sandwiched between a warm-up and cool-down section of the run. 

Hill repeats 

These are tough but also super effective. Repeated sprints up a hill in short segments. They are much higher intensity than your standard run, so be sure not to overdo these and incorporate plenty of recovery between them. 

Best for: full-body muscle strengthening, aerobic tolerance, stamina, pain tolerance. 

How to roll into your running routine: Find a suitable hill with a manageable incline for your fitness level. Pick your distance also based on your level of fitness. Remember, this is a sprint, not a jog up a hill. Warm up thoroughly, especially focusing on your calves and hamstrings with dynamic stretches. Sprint from your chosen distance to the top and slowly jog back down again. Repeat this 3-5 times depending on your fitness level. Cool down and stretch your whole body – this is truly a full-body workout so don’t forget your arms and feet when you stretch. 

Fartlek 

Swedish for ‘Speed Play’. This is the fun sister of interval training, focusing on having a good time with unstructured intervals of work and rest. 

Best for: those new to running, to build up body awareness, general fitness levels. 

How to roll into your running routine: Fartlek is a lot more fast and loose than most running types. You should look to include areas of intensity and rest paces – this could be sprints and walking, fast pace and jogging. Essentially you can make it up as you go along, using landmarks such as bollards or street lamps, the bass drops in your music or just intuitively working hard when you feel like it and not when you’re tired. This is a great way to play with running if you’re not into the mundanity of just consistent-pace running. 

Base 

The old faithful. Most people would class this as just running. This is your classic run you know you can do comfortably and frequently without too much effort. The key here is consistency. 

Best for: aerobic capacity, general fitness level. 

How to roll into your running routine: These should be planned throughout your week in parallel with one or a couple of the other types of training. It all depends on how much you want to run each week and what your goals are. If you’re just looking to keep fit or run in collaboration with another form of training e.g. weightlifting these are the best to stick with. Regardless, be sure to warm up and cool down effectively every time. There’s nothing worse than post-run twinges. 

Long 

Designed to challenge your mental stamina and help to push you towards longer races such as a half, full or ultra-marathon. Of course, a 'long' run will be different for everyone. 

Best for: mental resilience, endurance, aerobic capacity, pacing. 

How to roll into your running routine: A truly long run shouldn't be a daily or even bi-weekly occurrence for most. As well as your standard warm-up and dynamic stretching, consider taking along a snack and water pack if your long run takes you over an hour. To progress in your long runs, be sure to keep a close eye on your pacing, overall time or add small increments of distance when you feel ready. 

Recovery 

Easy-paced and perfect to shake off the tough-session cobwebs. This shouldn’t push you but give your body time to recover throughout the week. 

Best for: recovery, injury recovery. 

How to roll into your running routine: Plan these the day or a couple of days after a particularly tough session to start building you back up for another long or intense run. This will all depend on how many times you run a week, how experienced a runner you are and what your goals are. The more experienced or closer to a race you may be, this run could be within 24 hours of a tough session. For those new to running, just focusing on stretching and mobility is usually enough to keep you limber. 

Interval 

A mix of short, intense bursts and longer, slower periods or walking or jogging. Intervals are usually timed – for example, 30 seconds high intensity, 1-minute low intensity. 

Best for: running efficiency, endurance. 

How to roll it into your running routine: Intervals are generally more intense than your standard run so be sure not to overdo them or have too much of a lengthy run. Start with 10-30 minutes, alternating between the slow and fast-paced intervals. This will all depend on your fitness levels, of course, so don’t be afraid to start slow and build up. Be sure to take yourself through a full body warm-up and cool down as intervals can be particularly demanding. 

Progression

A planned rate of pace that progresses throughout your run. This can be useful for race practice, helping your body to adapt to changes in intensity throughout a run. 

Best for: mental strength, stamina, injury recovery, teaching the body to increase speed throughout a race. 

How to roll it into your running routine: The first 25% of your run should be a steady warm-up pace. Once you hit the 25% mark increase to your standard pace. This shouldn't be challenging but it shouldn’t just be your recovery pace either. Hold this for the next 50-65% of your run. In the final 25-10% you should really push your pace – think fast race finishes. This gentle progression and ‘long warm up’ means that you’re primed for a speedy finish without taking an intense toll on the body. The distance percentages and pace should all be based on your level of fitness or running experience so be sure to plan before you set off. 

Whatever your goal or type of training you enjoy, there’s a type of running for you. Now you’ve got all the info on the different types, all that’s left to do is to get running! Want some more advice on how to take your running technique to the next level? Join our newsletter for the latest features.

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