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It’s no surprise that so many of us choose running when it’s time to do cardio. Not only is it super-accessible and a massive calorie blaster, torching upwards of 800 calories an hour, but logging miles also helps build core and lower-body strength, increases endurance, and puts you in a better mood. (They don’t call it “runner’s high” for nothing.)
One study found that jogging just five minutes a day can even significantly reduce your risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
But the pavement isn’t the only place where you’ll see benefits.
“Running regularly makes you stronger in the gym, too,” says Andrew Kastor, head coach of the Asics Mammoth Track Club and LA Road Runners. “It teaches your body to repair damaged muscle tissue better, which allows you to decrease recovery time between reps. Plus, you’ll burn fat and clear lactic acid out of your system more efficiently, making it easier to go harder in all your workouts.”
But there’s a catch: To get the most out of your miles (and prevent injury), you can’t keep running the same routes at the same pace every week, notes Kastor. Otherwise, your body will get bored and you will stop progressing. “Mixing up your workouts—incorporating some speed sessions, hill training, and endurance runs—will engage more muscles, boost your burn, and improve overall performance.”
Here are some of our favorite ways to keep you running strong and long.
Want to be a better runner—or just get more out of your workouts? Try to include at least one of the high-intensity training plans from coach Kastor, designed to build strength, speed, and stamina into your regular fitness routine each week.
In order to become a more efficient runner, you need to push your pace every now and then, notes Kastor. “This short track session will help increase your lactate threshold, or your body’s ability to go harder (and faster) for longer.” Ideally, you’ll use your pace from the first lap (400 meters) to determine your speeds for the following intervals. (Or use the rate of perceived exertion, RPE—how difficult it feels on a scale of 1 to 10.)
Note: One lap around a standard track is 400 meters; one mile is about four laps, or 1,600 meters.
Goal: Shave one to two seconds off each interval every week.
Get more out of the treadmill by incorporating both inclines and speed into your routine. “Bumping up the incline will activate your glutes and hamstrings, strengthen your hip flexors, improve your running form, and increase your speed,” Kastor says.
|Clock Time (min)||Speed||Incline||Workout|
|0 – 5||3.0 – 3.5||1||Warm up with a well-paced walk.|
|5 – 10||4.5 – 6.0||1||Run easy.|
|10 – 20||4.5 – 6.0||2 – 7||Increase incline by 1% every 2 minutes while maintaining pace.|
|20 – 30||6.0 – 8.0||1||Reduce incline to 1%, and pick up your pace to a hard effort (about an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1 to 10) for 1 minute, then recover with a walk or jog for 1 minute. Repeat for a total of 5 intervals.|
|30 – 35 (or 40)||3.5 – 4.5||1||Cool down with a short walk or light jog.|
Goal: Increase your total number of intervals by two each week.
“Distance runs, like this one, improve your cardio capacity and teach your body to burn fat more efficiently. Plus, the built-in strides will boost your speed and efficiency,” Kastor says. This workout is 60 minutes; however, you should start with a distance that is only 10% longer than you normally run. If possible, tackle a somewhat hilly terrain, too.
Goal: Increase the number of strides you perform each week until you’re up to eight total. You should also up your total distance by 10% each week for three weeks. On your fourth week (recovery), drop it back down to 10 minutes less than when you started. For Week 5, begin at the distance you did in Week 2, and then build again from there.