What is speed work?
Speed work, known also as Fartlek helps to push your body to a higher intensity of running but over short distances with programmed rest. This can be as simple as 1-minute run, 1-minute jog; or as complex as 4x 300m reps with 90 secs rest in between as well as hill reps and intervals within a long/tempo run!
So why speed work?
Doing intervals at varying speeds helps to increase your aerobic capacity. Your aerobic capacity is the ability of the heart and lungs to utilise oxygen and get it to the muscles. The higher your aerobic capacity, the more efficient and ultimately faster you will be.
When should I do them?
Speed work should be done ideally when you haven’t done a high intensity exercise the day previous (unless the premise is to do the work under fatigue). The work will be taxing and if you are new to speed style sessions it will be a shock. The days after recovery sessions or rest days would be advised.
Evidence-based research by Koral et al. (2018) suggests that
Sprint interval training in the field is a time-efficient and cost-free means of improving both endurance and power performance in trained athletes.”
We can also see from the research that even short-term use of speed intervals can improve people speeds. Denham et al, (2015) found that adding in short maximal interval sessions 2-3 times a week created a means of improving cardiorespiratory fitness and 5-km endurance performance.
Overall, adding speed work into your training schedule is great to help you improve your personal bests and be a better runner.
Denham, J., Feros, S.A., & O’Brien, B.J. Four Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves 5-km Run Performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Aug;29(8):2137-41.
Koral, J., Oranchuk, D. J., Herrera, R., & Millet, G. Y. (2018). Six Sessions of Sprint Interval Training Improves Running Performance in Trained Athletes. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 32(3), 617–623.