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how to run better

How to run better | 5 + 2 exercises to build strength and speed

As a beginner, running is all about being consistent and gaining a baseline fitness level. But as you progress and begin to set new, loftier goals, you may find yourself striving to run better, faster, and farther. To do that, you will need to do more than just log miles.

Here’s how to fine-tune your training to run better and advance from a beginner to an intermediate runner.

Training Zones

To become a better runner, each workout will need a specific purpose. Whether it’s to build speed, endurance, or to recover from a hard training load, varying the duration and intensity of your workouts is a must.

But before you can begin including intervals and tempo workouts into your running regimen, you’ll need to know your individual heart rate training zones. Begin by determining your maximum heart rate by subtracting 220 minus your age or performing a field test with a heart rate monitor.

Once you know your maximum heart rate, you can use a percentage of this number to determine your specific heart rate training zones. Most Polar heart rate devices will have training zone metrics included in their software that provides alerts to help you stay in your desired heart rate zone.

Here’s a breakdown of heart rate training zones as a percentage of your maximum heart rate:

Zone 5: 90% to 100% of your maximum heart rate. Like zone 4, training in this heart rate zone is anaerobic. But because the heart rate is higher, the duration is usually shorter than zone 4 intervals and lasts less than five minutes.

Zone 4: 80% to 90% of your maximum heart rate. In an anaerobic training zone, longer intervals lasting up to 10 minutes are common in zone 4.

Zone 3: 70% to 80% of your maximum heart rate. This zone is still mostly aerobic but usually consists of a mix of higher and lower intensities during the same workout. Fartlek and tempo runs are two examples.

Zone 2: 60% to 70% of your maximum heart rate. Known as the aerobic training zone, workouts in this heart rate range are completed to increase endurance.

Zone 1
: 50% to 60% of your maximum heart rate. Running in this zone is generally done for recovery between higher intensity workouts.

For more information on heart rate training zones, look at the heart rate chart.

Speed Work

If you want to get faster, logging miles and concentrating solely on distance will only take you so far. Once you know your heart rate training zones, you’ll want to include intervals into your weekly training regimen to improve your speed and endurance.

Keep in mind that because intervals are done at a higher intensity than base mileage, you’ll need to add recovery workouts or days off in between these sessions. Aim to complete no more than two interval sessions per week if you’re new to interval training, and keep interval mileage to no more than 10% to 15% of your total weekly mileage.

These two workouts below are an easy way to introduce basic intervals into your weekly running routine:

Workout #1: Straights and Curves

While these can be done on the road, ideally, you’ll have access to a 400-meter track.

Warm-up with a five- to 10-minute jog, then run one to three miles (depending on your fitness), jogging the turns slowly and running the straights as a stride – gradually building your pace to 80% to 85% of your maximum speed at the 75-meter mark, then gradually decelerating to the turn.

If the workout becomes too strenuous for you to maintain, it’s also ok to walk the turns to catch your breath. Cool down with a slow 5- to 10-minute jog.

Workout #2: 400s

If you’ve got a goal in mind for your next race, completing intervals at your race pace can help you get used to what the effort will feel like and help your legs build the strength required to maintain the pace.

After completing a slow one to two-mile warm-up, complete five to eight 400-meter intervals (once around a track) at your goal race pace. For example, if you want to run a 5K at an eight-minute per mile pace, you should shoot to complete each 400-meter interval in two minutes or less.

Recover for about 90 seconds in between each interval. As these become easier, increase the number of intervals to match your race-day distance (a 5K would equal 12 intervals). Cool down with a one- to two-mile jog.

Strength Training

While it’s true that to become a better runner, you’ll need to spend most of your training time running, supplementing with strength training is an easy way to get stronger faster and prevent many common overuse injuries.

Here are a few basic bodyweight and core exercises that can help boost your running performance:

  1. Planks

    This exercise will strengthen your core, lower back, and shoulders. Begin by holding the plank position for 30 seconds to one minute, increasing the length of time as you gain strength. Aim for two to three sets.

  2. Squats

    This lower body exercise will strengthen the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Start with 3 sets of 15, and progress by either adding weight (such as holding a kettlebell) or including an additional movement, such as a jump squat.

  3. Overhead lunge

    This lunge will strengthen your core, legs, and shoulders. Complete three sets of eight to 10 repetitions with each leg, using a set of lightweight dumbbells or kettlebell for the overhead portion of the exercise.

  4. Stability ball bridge with hamstring curl

    This core exercise will also focus on building glute and hamstring strength. Aim to complete three sets of five to 10 repetitions.

  5. Clamshells

    Fatigue can often cause hip drop in runners, leading to ITBS or other common overuse injuries. One way to avoid this is to strengthen the glute medius. Complete three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions on each side. Progress this exercise with a resistance band around the knees.

Find Training Partners

As your workouts increase in difficulty, motivation can sometimes be hard to come by. Having a reliable training partner or a dedicated running group that you can train with a few times per week is an excellent way to keep yourself from skipping a workout and can help you keep your runs from becoming a chore.

Ideally, you’ll find a training partner or running group that’s slightly faster than you are  someone about 30 to 60 seconds faster per mile. Lean on your training partner for their knowledge if they’re more experienced, and run with them on the days when you want to push yourself. It can be a great way to motivate yourself and provide a visual goal to shoot for.

Just remember that when you eventually get faster, return the favor and offer to train with others who aren’t quite as good of a runner as you.

If you liked this post, don’t forget to share so that others can find it, too.

Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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