Workouts: High-intensity Intervals on a Stationary Bike

running-advice-bugWe’re constantly telling people here on the blog to do “quality” workouts — meaning high-intensity workouts that improve running efficiency. We also tell our runners that cross-training is a good idea and is especially useful when injured. A reader named Mark wrote in to us asking the following question:


“I’ve been struggling with a nagging foot problem that won’t seem to go away, so my doctor told me that I should take time off running. I hate just sitting on the stationary bike pedaling aimlessly. Can you suggest a good workout to do on the stationary bike?”

First Mark, you’re correct to be seeking out something other than just aimless pedaling. Just the other day, I was in the gym watching someone spin the pedals so slowly, while reading a newspaper, that I thought he might just walk up and down the stairs once or twice and probably get the same workout. One of the dangers of the stationary bike, especially when equipped with a TV, is that you can just sit there pedaling slowly watching your favorite shows and forget that what you want to do be doing is: increasing your heart-rate, working on pedaling technique and building strength.

Let me give you an easy way to structure a workout that will produce a high-quality, high-intensity result, and should leave you breathless to get off the bike at the end. The focus on this workout is going to be on sprint intervals with a couple of longer, slower, hard intervals. But you can adjust the mix of the intervals as you like once you’ve got the hang of it. This workout will take about 45-55 minutes, depending on how you adjust the intervals.
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Workouts — What does “Going on the top” mean?

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

A reader names Jenny writes in with a question this week that I think a lot of people might not know the answer to. Here’s Jenny’s question:

“I’m training for my first triathlon so I went to a local swimming club workout. It was my first time out and the coach told me that the workout was to swim 50 meter intervals and “go on the top”. I didn’t know what he meant, so I just followed the crowd. What the heck did he mean?”

First, Jenny, I’m glad that you asked the question of someone, but don’t be afraid to ask your coaches. We often get into a lingo and forget that people don’t all know what we mean. I’m certainly one to use colorful language at times. For the most part, coaches will be happy to explain. Who knows if you’re dealing with someone who wouldn’t, so let me tell you what “going on the top means” and how it applies to both swimming and running.

“Going on the top” — or other variations of the term like “going on the bottom” or “leaving on the 10s” — are a way to use the clock to derive the rest interval of your workouts for group of people.
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Workouts — An early season pace and fitness gauge

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

Last week in my Workouts Column I wrote about strength building drills. This week, I’d like to move to a different topic, which is a workout to find and gauge your fitness early in the season as we are now. If you’re just coming back from an off-season break and you want a workout to tell you where you are after that break, try this workout.

Workout: The One Mile Fitness Gauge

Workout Summary: Coming back from an off-season break can introduce a great deal of uncertainty into the minds of runners. How much fitness did I lose? Did I retain any of the speed that I had last season? Where should I start? Am I starting over? A lot of the answers to these questions are determined by the length of the off-season break and what the runner did on that break. If there was a total break and you spent a few weeks (or months) sitting on the couch, then you may have some work to do as the season begins. But all is not lost. You likely haven’t lost all of your speed from the previous season. What you probably have lost is some of your fitness, which translates into the distance that you can maintain your speed. So coming back from a break, you are likely able to push fast for a few miles and then you’ll feel yourself getting fatigued. This is normal and your fitness will come back in a few weeks.

But in the mean-time, when you hit the track for those first few workouts, you might be in need of a workout that gives you a feeling of some security around where you are going to go over the course of the season. I have one for you here. This workout uses one mile intervals that are done at a relaxed pace that should still feel good even this early in the season. At the end of the mile, you’ll push the pace hard. The result will be a one mile interval done at about your tempo pace — or a bit faster than your marathon race pace. And this will be a good indication of where your fitness should be after you’ve rebuilt your base over the next few weeks or months.

Note carefully that this is not a time trial. A one mile time trial, which is very useful in predicting pace, would be one mile run all-out (meaning as fast as you can). This workout combines two paces: a relaxed up-tempo pace for the first three laps and then a hard pace for the last lap. The combination of paces makes this workout different than a time-trial in how it feels and the end-result.
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Workouts — a strength-building workout for recovery days

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

I’m picking back up on our weekly workout series, which has been on hiatus since the end of the fall marathon season. Every week, I write about a workout that might be useful to you in your training. Today’s topic: a good strength-building workout that you can do on a recovery day when you might be feeling fatigued or just need a break from your mileage. This workout will give you a lot of bang for your buck on a day when you don’t feel mentally ready to hit it too hard.

Workout: Strength-building Drills

Workout Summary: It happens to runners. They do a hard workout and then the next day they feel totally flat, fatigued and not ready to go again. So what do they do? They hit the road for a few easy miles. The impact of these miles? Not much really. Those short mileage, slow jog days, don’t add much to your fitness. In fact, if you’re too baked to run, then those easy miles are probably just dealing your recovery. But if the fatigue is mostly mental and you are up for a workout, one suggestion would be a running drill workout that you’ll do at your local track or football field. Running drills, also called plyometrics, isolate individual aspects of your running stride to build muscular strength in specific areas. These are the equivalent of doing sit-ups or push-ups for your running muscles.

Today’s workout starts with an easy warm-up jog and then goes into a series of drills that are all kept to short distances. Why are the distances short? So that you can concentrate on your form over these short distances and keep from getting sloppy. You will want to do these drills on a soft surface, such as grass, rather than on the road.
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Workouts: 30/30 and 50/50

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

This is week seven in our continuing series of favorite speed workouts. If you’re looking for the earlier posts, they are all filed in the category called “workouts”.

Workout: The 30/30 and 50/50

Workout Summary: Today we’re looking at two related workouts that offer very different experiences. Although they look similar in name, there is a fine distinction between the two that makes one pretty painful and the other a lot more fun. These two workouts — the 30/30 and 50/50 — both work on raw speed, because the intervals are short. And they will tax you, because they are continuous efforts. This makes them great workouts to add in the mid-season to work on speed while keeping the workout going for a good period of time.

The first of the two workouts is the 50/50. In this workout we’re talking about 50 meters hard followed by 50 meters easy. 50 meters is half the length of the straight part of the track or half way around one of the corners. That means that in each of the four sections of the track (two straights and two corners) you’ll run one hard effort and one easy effort.

The second of the two workouts is the 30/30. In this workout — very different from the last — we’re talking about 30 seconds hard and 30 seconds easy. Not seeing the difference yet? Read on to find out what makes this workout so much harder than the first.
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Workouts: 1,200M Intervals @ 10K Pace

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

This is week six in our continuing series of favorite speed workouts. If you’re looking for the earlier posts, they are all filed in the category called “workouts”.

Workout: 1,200M Intervals at 10K Pace

Workout Summary: The 1,200M interval is a longer interval than most runners may gravitate too when heading for the track. Three times as a long as a 400M interval, the 1,200M forces the runner to work on pacing more than shorter intervals. Heading out too fast in these intervals will result in a melt-down at best and that’s why they are so great.

In this workout, you’ll do less intervals — on the order of three to six of them — because of the longer distance. The pace of these will be approximately your 10K pace (about 4-6 seconds per 400M lap slower than your 5K pace). The rest interval will be in the range of 45 seconds to two minutes depending on your level of fitness.
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Workouts: Interval Pyramids

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

This is week five in our continuing series of favorite speed workouts. If you’re looking for the earlier posts, they are all filed in the category called “workouts”.

Workout: Interval Pyramids or Pyramid Workdouts

Workout Summary: The pyramid is really a whole class of workouts in which you will run progressively longer intervals followed by progressively shorter ones. If you were to chart out the distances of the intervals, they look like a pyramid with the distances getting longer on one side (200M, 400M, 800M, 1,200M) and then getting shorter on the other (1,200M, 800M, 400M, 200M). What’s nice about this type of workout is that the progressively longer nature of the up side of the pyramid means will mean that each interval generates more running while fatigued (a good thing) and the down side allows you to mentally get relief as the intervals get shorter.

Pyramids are also nice, because they can be configured in many different ways to keep them fresh and fun. For example, on days when you are looking to extenuate distance, you might start the intervals longer (1,200, 1,600, 2,000) and on days when looking for more speed start them shorter (50M, 100M, 200M, 400M). They aren’t as boring a running countless reps of the same interval over and over again either.
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Workouts: 16x200M at 5K Pace

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

This is week four in our new series of favorite speed workouts. If you’re looking for the earlier posts, they are all filed in the category called “workouts”.

Workout: 16x200M @ 5K Pace

Workout Summary: One of the tricky things about speed workouts is balancing the need to a marathon runner running faster without having them sprint at top speed. The 200M interval is actually a great distance for a lot of reasons — for one thing everyone from beginners to the most advanced runners can get and keep their speed up for 200 meters. In addition, the distance is short enough that 200s are a nice mental break on days when runners are recovering or just mentally tired — they just “feel” short.

The main reason to use a 200 meter interval is to work on your quicker running speed. But keep in mind that since most of us are training for longer distances, such as the marathon or half-marathon, we don’t want to sprint these 200s. Instead, you’ll run more of them and run them at your 5K pace, which should be hard, but sustainable over three miles under race conditions.
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Workouts: 10x800M at Marathon Hour/Minute Pace (AKA Yasso 800s)

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

This is week three in our new series of favorite speed workouts. This week I’ll take you through a workout that is famed for its simplicity, but has some underlying math (yes, I said math) that makes it magically more complex than it appears.

Workout: 10x800M at Marathon Hour/Minute Pace (AKA Yasso 800s)

Workout Summary: When I first heard about the Yasso 800 a long time ago and I remember my first thought: “geez, that’s really easy to remember!” and so it is. Bart Yasso of Runner’s World, in a 2001 article authored by colleague Amby Burfoot, set out a simple workout that goes like this: run 800 meters (two laps on your track) in the time of your marathon goal in hours and minutes (e.g. 3:00:00 = 3:00) — if you could work up to about 10 of these, then you’re ready to handle that pace for the marathon.

So what this meant was that if you were trying to run a marathon in 4 hours and 15 minutes, then you would run your 800 meter intervals (about 1/2 mile) in 4 minutes and 15 seconds each. If you could sustain that for five miles (10 x 800M) then you probably had the speed base to handle that pace in the marathon. Of course, you still need to do the long training to build your overall endurance, but this would be a predictor to see that you had the cardio-vascular efficiency to support that marathon pace. It sounds so simple, but there’s more here than meets the eye. Read on to understand how this workout really works.
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Workouts: 3x300M with 15 seconds rest x 3

Coach Joe English

Coach Joe English

This is week two in our new series of favorite speed workouts. Last week I considered a workout that most people wouldn’t really think of as a speed workout at all (the 5,000M). This week I’ll take you through a very fast workout that you can do on either the road or track.

Credit goes to my friend Coach Dean Hebert who loves this workout as much as I do.

Workout: 3x300M with 15 seconds rest x 3 slightly faster than 5KM pace

Workout Summary: Here’s a workout that’s going to really get you running fast and you’ll blow through this workout quickly as well. As a runner, I like workouts that feature very short rest intervals, because once the workout starts you get it over with quickly. In this workout, you’ll do 3 x 300M with very short rest (10-15 seconds). You’ll then take a full recovery (3:00-5:00 minutes) and repeat the set two to three times. You’ll do these slightly faster than 5KM pace. This means that you’ll be doing 900M in each set with two very short recovery breaks and then getting a full recovery before jumping into the next set.
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