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The what, when, why and how of any hard effort

Rob Krar

We all know that doing workouts are a necessary part of any training plan. But have you ever wondered why?

Rob Krar

Why workouts matter?

The purpose of any workout or hard effort is to put slightly more stress on the body than what it is normally used to. As a result of this increased stimulus, the body adapts to become faster, stronger, more efficient and able to endure more over time. The workout provides the stress; the improvement comes as an adaptation.

Running a bit faster, for longer or with an added degree of difficulty (say, up a hill) are all ways in which the body can be stressed in order to stimulate improvements and adaptations (not to mention just running more mileage). No one form of stress is better than another, rather all have an important place and purpose in any training plan.

What workouts should you do?

When it comes to choosing a workout, there are lots and lots of options. However there are really just a few different types of workouts:

Strength: Workouts that aim to build a stronger, more resilient and durable body that can handle subsequent training. These workout feel hard but actually place less stress on the body. E.g. Long hill repeats: 10x 60sec; 5 x 2minutes up a long gradual hill

Speed: Workouts that train the body to become more efficient while running at faster speeds. E.g. Strides, hill sprints and short (200m-800m) intervals/repeats including fartlek runs: 8 x 100m strides; 10 x 10sec hill sprints; 10 x 400m@5KP; 5 x 800m@10KP; 8 x 2min at a hard effort

Endurance: Workouts and runs which help become more comfortable running at a hard but sustainable speed and also allows for a greater overall volume of training (at a higher intensity). E.g. Long (1K or more) intervals, tempo and long runs: 5 x 1 mile@10KP; 4 x 3K@HMP; 20-30minute tempo@MP; 25-35K long run at a moderate pace

When to do them?

Depending on your goals and timelines, all types of training can and should be incorporated into any training plan. Often after a period of base-building, strength and basic speedwork (strides and hill sprints) can be added, which is then followed by a speed-specific phase and finally an endurance phase.

In all cases, every type of training should be reintroduced and occasionally added at various points throughout a training cycle. Although exceptions do apply, attempting to develop a greater endurance capacity without the prerequisite strength and speed will be difficult. Likewise, it is hard to acquire speed without strength and a sufficient base.

Most runners should only attempt a few (two or three at most which includes a long run) workouts per week. It is also necessary to reiterate that any type of workout needs to be preceded and followed by a sufficient period (usually a few days) of rest in order to allow the body to rest, recover and adapt from the harder effort. Without sufficient recovery, adaptations will not take place or be delayed and improvement may be hastened or not occur at all. The risk of injury and burnout is also much higher.