Long ago, runners and coaches learned that intense speed work (VO2 Max workouts like 400–800m intervals at 3,000m pace) and anaerobic training (lactic acid-producing workouts like 300m repeats at 1500m pace) performed year-round often lead to a plateau in performance and at worst, overtraining and chronic fatigue.
Instead, runners are encouraged to take a break from VO2 Max and lactic acid-producing workouts during their off-season (a.k.a. base, foundational, pre-competition, preparatory phases). Too much intensity in this range can actually damage the mitochondria and aerobic enzymes you’re working to build during the base phases of training.
Many of us, however, worry about losing speed, or at the very least, don’t want to skip our running group’s weekly track workouts. Not to worry. Here are three great ways to maintain speed yet rest the VO2 Max and anaerobic systems:
Leg Speed/Form Training
Leg speed/form training is by far my preferred way to include faster running during the base/off-season phase. In fact, all of my Base plans include leg speed training in the last few weeks as a great way to prep the body for faster running. Runners completing the Base plan find they are very ready for their more intense workouts and enjoy the break from just doing easy runs all the time.
An example of a leg speed/form training workout is 10–15 reps of 10–15 seconds at a fast but controlled effort using excellent running form with full recovery (usually 45–90 seconds) walk or jog. Done 1–3 times per week, this develops great running form, leg turnover and makes the transition to faster workouts later in the training cycle, much easier.
Leg speed/form training is also the safest way to keep doing some faster running while avoiding VO2max and lactic acid-producing training. Each repeat is short enough that you never get winded during the interval nor have to “dig deep” to complete it. Leg speed (aka strides) take very little out of the runner and recovery is very quick.
Leg speed/form training works great for inexperienced, young and/or long-distance runners and, completed 1–3 times per week, feed the “need for speed” but don’t stress the musculoskeletal, VO2 Max or lactic acid systems.