Can You Run Faster by Training Slower?

Training slow has been seen as a sign of weakness or laziness. However, if you want to run (or bike, or swim) faster, a smart approach is to slow down and train “slowly by slowly.”

Brock Armstrong
7-minute read
Episode #382

Go Fast, Occasionally

Remember in the study, the fastest runners spent 71 percent of their training in Zone 1 but they also spent eight percent giving it their all! And when I say giving it their all, I mean it! Running at 85 percent of your VO2 Max is uncomfortable, to say the least. And this is the other piece of the puzzle. Yes, you need to spend time going slow but when it is time to go hard, you have to be ready to go hard! And this is a mistake that many of us runners make. We don't go slow enough on slow days but we also don't go fast enough on fast days. We tend to just fiddle around in the middle somewhere. 

Elite coach, author, and researcher, Dr. Phil Maffetone, says that building a solid aerobic base fitness is accomplished by training exclusively aerobic (or Zone 1) for three to six months depending on the runner’s history. Dr. Maffetone also says that during this period, anaerobic workouts should be avoided because it can actually impair the aerobic system. Therefore, each workout during base training should be 100% aerobic.

After a solid base is built, that is when I like to start introducing some of those fast and hard Zone 3 training sessions. Here are three of my favorites:

Hard Strides After a good warm-up, run one minute at your maximum sustainable pace (as fast as you can sustain without pooping out before the minute is up) and then jog easy for four minutes. Repeat this six to eight times. Then cool-down appropriately.

30 by 30s Warm-up with an easy 10-20 minute jog. Then run 30 seconds at your maximum pace followed by 30 seconds at a very, very easy pace. Repeat this 30 seconds hard and 30 seconds easy 20 times. Cool down with 10 minutes easy jogging, slowing to a walk and hit the foam roller and the showers.

7 and 3s Warm-up for 5-10 minutes with an easy jog. Then do the following four times through: run hard for seven minutes (as fast as you can sustain for the entire interval without slowing down), then recover with a light jog (or fast walk) for three minutes. Cool-down for 5-10 minutes with an easy jog and walk. Then foam roll and stretch out.

Smart, Not Lazy

To echo what Dr. Maffetone says on his website, training slow has often been seen and considered as a sign of weakness or, worse yet, laziness. However, as we have learned today, if you want to run (or bike, or swim) faster, a smarter approach is to slow down and go “slowly by slowly.” but also remember that when it is time to go hard, you must truly make it count.

You will still encounter people who think that anaerobic training (or speed work) is the only way to build speed, but by developing a strong and solid aerobic system you will indeed get faster and you will also avoid the wear and tear (that can potentially lead to sickness and injury) that often accompanies anaerobic training, especially when it is introduced too much, too soon.

And finally, remember, in the words of Patrick Sang, “work hard, not every day.”

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About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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